Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Living Passion and Art as a Substitute for Life

A photo of smoking and introspective American poet Charles Bukowski
Charles Bukowski

Charles Bukowski is hailed by some as a Bohemian poet, while others consider him merely a bum. For better or for worse, he is like a Nietzschean prophet who defies the laws of gravity and groundedness and who like many other talented artists decided to take a leap and live out his passions. Yes, he may have been driven on by his personal demons, and yes he may have been self-destructive, wreaking havoc on his body and soul, yet at the same time, he was passionate about living.

Sometimes I feel that my passion for life is like second-hand smoke. I dare not lead a life of ecstasy the way Bukowski and many other artists did. For these people it is not about creating art, but actually living it to its ultimate consequences. Life becomes a work and expression of art. He was in the shadow of society, but he did not care what others thought. What mattered most was his own personal lifestyle, and very few people have the guts to live out such a gut-wrenching life of ups and downs.

To such people, joy and ecstasy are the most important motivators. Money to them is worthless in itself and is valued only to the degree that it can bring them pleasure in drink, drugs and sex. Nothing holds them back, that is why I see them as a Nietzschean prototype who verges on the border of madness but wears his heart and mind on his sleeves for all to see and touch.

Although most of us would shrug off this kind of life or might even criticize these people for being irresponsible, selfish and childish, the truth is that we have a certain secret admiration for them. Some part of us would like to live like there is no tomorrow and wake up with heads filled with memories of yesterday's scandalous, obscene and outrageous deeds.

Such a life would be devoid of sentimentality or companionship. It is not about building bridges or foundations. No family, no permanent jobs, no tangible accomplishments. Just fleeting floating life. No romance, but purely physical connections. Love as its basest form, lust, not as a void, but as a spiritual abyss.

A passion that reverberates in every fibre of your body and remains there until your final day. And when that day comes, you can look back and say, yes, I have lived a full life; I have lived out all my fantasies and although I leave behind no lasting legacy, I also, like the untamed lion-hearted Caesar, can claim for myself “veni, vidi, vici.”

But me, I have contented myself with life's mirror, Mistress Art with all her beautiful playful handmaids. Books fill me with the joy I dare not experience. Movies take me to places I would not willingly go. I watch yet in the comfort of my home, with the support of my immediate family close to me. I experience life by observing the daily accomplishments of my son.

The joy I feel is nonetheless real and lasting. I have to work for a living; I need to ensure safety and security; I am tied to the ebb and flow of money, but I grow content by taking pleasure in small things. And whenever I feel stagnant and stuck, it is art that comes to the rescue that fills my soul with images of a life lived to its ultimate consequences, the limitless passion that devours the whole being in a blazing fire.


Vincent said...

I'm a fan of both Nietzsche and Bukowski so your post is of considerable interest to me, on principle.

Your emphasis on the life rather than the art strikes me as rather mis-aimed. It is only through their writings that the two men have any claims on our attention. Their lives are not something to emulate. They were lives with much pain. We can be grateful to them for transcending the wrecks of their lives and producing art. But there should be no question of emulating their lives.

Bukowski had a humiliating childhood, an alcohol addiction and a face like a poorly-made gargoyle. Nietzsche suffered lousy health, near-blindness, loneliness and rejection by his peers, despite recognition of his promise in the form of a professorship granted to him at the age of 24.

But pain can be turned into art, to the benefit of others.

In your piece you skilfully set up a dramatic contrast between such artists and "most of us", in a display of rhetoric which a lawyer or journalist might envy.

But I'd dispute many of the claims you have made. I'd agree that Bukowski carved out his own lifestyle, established a point of view from which he could expose the hypocrisy or the artistic weakness of other poets for example. But surely he cared what others thought - of his artistic output! His actual life was a ruin, but he made something of it, used it as material.

I love them both, and you too for linking them into this post.

Arash Farzaneh said...

Thank you for your flow of wonderful and thoughtful comments, Vincent! I was previously aware of your interest in Nietzsche, but did not know you like Bukowski as well.

My main reference point here is the movie "Barfly." In it, the poet had a choice of changing his lifestyle, but he decided not to. He was born for the rugged streets not to live behind a desk in a modern, yet clinical and "phony" environment of a mansion, a rich person's world. Besides, most of his inspiration came from living in the midst of wild life and passion.

I agree that he has suffered in his life and yes, he has transcended suffering in the form of art, but that is another focus and another post indeed.

I do not claim that one should emulate the life of a "bum" or to become an alcoholic or take drugs etc but I am trying to put ideas on their head, to twist arms and to think outside of the box, something that these two men have done remarkably well.

Most of us, me included of course, live in a world of make believe. We may not suffer like them because we do not feel pain like them and we are not that passionate about life. And although suffering is not desirable, it is closely linked to passion since it also signifies suffering indeed! One goes hand-in-hand with the other, the same way life must be paired up with death.

I am not so much interested in the details of their lives per se, but their attitude towards it. And yes, the way they lived out their philosophy so it is not just some noble far-fetched ideas in a book.

And finally, I would like to ask you back, was Bukowski's life really a ruin? If he had the chance to live again, would he not choose the same path?

Vincent said...

I've been trying to watch Barfly but can only see it online. My connection is too slow so the movie jumps all the time.

But I've seen enough to know that the hero is a fictional representation of Bukowski himself, a "romanticization" if you will.

Of course, we know that the real Bukowski made the most of his life. How else to cope? We are dealt a certain hand of cards. A master of living makes something of that hand, whatever it is. So I might agree with you that Bukowski, in writing autobiographical poems and stories - and a screenplay - successfully used his own life to make art. A successful product came from the source - his life - but we cannot say whether he regarded that source as in itself a success. He might well have said that he would have chosen the same path, given the chance to live it again, because he may have had no regrets about the choices he made.

One can build something wonderful from a ruin. In the case of Nietzsche, his life did end in ruin, so far as we know, because his mind seemed to suffer irreparable damage when he broke down in a piazza in Turin, and had to spend the rest of his life (a further 10 years?) in the care of his sister. I'm not taking care to check on the details because they are in the public domain at a mouseclick.

When you say "I am not so much interested in the details of their lives per se, but their attitude towards it" I would be in total agreement, indeed I have commented not to disagree but for the pleasure of discussing.

Arash Farzaneh said...

Me too take delight in discussion for the sake of discussion. Thank you again for bringing up all those points!

And I completely agree with you, especially with the following phrases of pure wisdom:

"We are dealt a certain hand of cards. A master of living makes something of that hand, whatever it is."

Very true that!

Frank Zweegers said...

Interesting read!

Arash Farzaneh said...

Thank you very much, Frank!

Tomas said...

Thank you for the article. It was worthy pondering and thus disciplined me- supported to continue my being here and now. I too think that it is not the wisdom of the creative projects but Life that becomes a work and expression of art. Thus the way I live is one and only thing that matters indeed, everything else belong to the fate questions.
I am convinced that while talking about the art we should recognize two different approaches: that's of the artists who may differ greatly between yet all use the same brush and the spectators who deal with innumerable images and enjoy the same spiritual light under the picture that may look as brightly as dark but it always either touches(moves) or not. That's the fate decision