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Charles Bukowski:

“I’ve never been lonely. I’ve been in a room — I’ve felt suicidal. I’ve been depressed. I’ve felt awful — awful beyond all — but I never felt that one other person could enter that room and cure what was bothering me…or that any number of people could enter that room. In other words, loneliness is something I’ve never been bothered with because I’ve always had this terrible itch for solitude. It’s being at a party, or at a stadium full of people cheering for something, that I might feel loneliness. I’ll quote Ibsen, “The strongest men are the most alone.” I’ve never thought, “Well, some beautiful blonde will come in here and give me a fuck-job, rub my balls, and I’ll feel good.” No, that won’t help. You know the typical crowd, “Wow, it’s Friday night, what are you going to do? Just sit there?” Well, yeah. Because there’s nothing out there. It’s stupidity. Stupid people mingling with stupid people. Let them stupidify themselves. I’ve never been bothered with the need to rush out into the night. I hid in bars, because I didn’t want to hide in factories. That’s all. Sorry for all the millions, but I’ve never been lonely. I like myself. I’m the best form of entertainment I have. Let’s drink more wine!”

I like Bukowski’s writing, but I feel somewhat juvenile for saying so. He is an author that elicits strong feelings from people, one way or the other. I think that in order to understand his merit, you have to have been able to relate with him. I think loneliness is the dominant theme of Bukowski’s work, and despite what he says, he was truly a lonely man. He learned at a young age that life was mean and cruel, he avoided the company of others because he mischaracterized “all people” as being mean, ignorant, violent. So he crawled into a bottle and lived his life as best he could, unable to truly come to terms with the world’s stupidity.

I would like to think that this loneliness, this universalized otherness, is something that everyone can relate to, in one way or another, as part of the human condition. I am not sure. I know that I personally can relate with Bukowski’s words, and I find some solace in the idea that I am not alone, but it is a somber type of comfort; (in the spirit of Bukowski) it is the comfort of one’s own bed after a night in the drunk tank.

If we are all so alone, yet all so together in our loneliness, what does that say about the nature of society, the character of our social interactions?

I guess I feel juvenile for liking Bukowski because the world he suggests and the philosophy he employs are so paradoxical, so easy to break out of: you are not alone, there are millions of others in this world who feel precisely the same way you do. Many of your malefactors, your tormentors, are indeed some of the most tormented. “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” Reasoned kindness is the type of outlook that requires the accumulation of sense data and emotional analysis. It is not the kindness of a child, who hasn’t lived long enough to fight any hard battle, but it is the kindness of an adult who can truly relate to the pain and misery of being alive. It requires more thought and understanding than the “Don’t try” emblazoned on Bukowski’s tombstone. Bukowski never got there. I don’t fault him for disacknowledging the world outside his head, because it is probably the most natural reaction to have towards an unjust world, and I can certainly relate to that urge to hide oneself, to runaway… but you can never run fast enough. The world is still there. If it is solitude that you seek, rather than rectification, then I guess you don’t need to try, but you are assigning yourself to carry a stone in your heart. The older I get, the heavier that stone seems to feel, and I think I made a decision a long time ago to not carry it anymore… I am just trying to learn how, myself and everyone else.

Categories: Art, Literature
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