Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Writers Are Assholes

Me included.

There are few hells more tormenting than hanging with other writers. We are an insecure, egocentric, petty, envious breed who enjoy spreading pain, hoping to maximize it for ourselves. At least that's how I see it, based on my experience. There are exceptions, of course, and I've known and know them as well. But overall, the ability to arrange words and construct sentences in a coherent fashion is tough enough for most, and this maddens and fills them with raw grief. To do so at a poetic, even artistic level requires an intensity and devotion to destruction that few writers possess or want to own. Thus, many scribblers and tappers are content to bottom-feed. There's plenty to eat in the mud, and it generally matches their level of thinking.

First-rate talents bottom-feed as well, but this is usually by choice, a means to bulk up for rougher climes or competing mindsets. And if there's one constant among American writers, it's the endless need to compare and compete. Norman Mailer and Gore Vidal were masters of the comparative drive-by, Mailer taking rhetorical and physical point-blank aim, Vidal a penthouse sniper, dry smile accenting each squeezed off round. But Mailer and Vidal were the fading echoes of a now-dead age, when writers actually mattered in the culture and were given the room to create distinctive, public personas. That's all gone. Today, the stage is littered with caption writers for celebrity/fashion mags and websites. The idea of sustained narrative, much less wit, intelligence, and style, is toxic when not indecipherable to the owners and their various demographics. And bloggers? Pleh. Don't get me fucking started . . .

What drove me to this little tangent? My constant malaise is usually enough, a spark under the leaking fuel tank. But in this case it was two brief videos, each featuring James Ellroy and Bruce Wagner. Ellroy you know, the celebrated LA crime novelist propelled by his mother's murder into America's dark addiction to celebrity, hypocrisy, and death. Wagner is much less known, at least outside of LA. His Details comic "Wild Palms" was an ABC mini-series ages ago, and he's written several books about Hollywood's underside, "I'm Losing You" perhaps his most celebrated (later turned into an execrable film directed by Wagner himself). Of the two, Ellroy's the superior talent -- his nervous intelligence and appreciation for human corruption unmatched not only in his own genre, but in much of what passes for literature itself. His lean, staccato prose lends his work haiku precision, but these are not delicate sentences or thoughts. They jab and stab relentlessly, the icepick as painter's brush.

That said, Ellroy is scarcely humble about his gifts. He routinely proclaims his importance, brags about his celebrity, his wealth, has a sick appreciation for police state measures which naturally feeds his right wing political views. He's doubtlessly playing to the cameras somewhat, especially those from Europe; but I truly believe that Ellroy means what he says. You can't say that about a lot of writers.

Here, Ellroy gives a taste of his reactionary positions, joined by Wagner, who bails when Ellroy starts Clinton-bashing (more than fine with me), and for some reason Rose McGowan, whose attempt to discuss politics quickly crumbles into pro-McCain surrender.

Obama looks like a lemur? Clearly, Bruce is pulling out the A-material. Know any big ear jokes?

That got me warmed up. But when Ellroy and Wagner trashed Charles Bukowski, I lost it.

Ellroy has more authority to dismiss Bukowski than does Wagner, but calling Bukowski a "misogynistic, alcoholic, sack of shit"? I don't recall the old poet denying that and other unflattering labels. He openly wrote about his sorry condition. It was part of his public persona and personal torment. It nourished his work. Ellroy, a recovering boozer who is twice divorced, may despise the man, but he's wrong if he thinks Bukowski wasn't a serious, lasting talent.

Wagner's simply out of his depth on this. For him to say that Bukowski possessed "minor gifts" takes a set of tinsel balls, especially when you assess the output of each. No comparison. None. Wagner's spitting at the sky, seemingly to impress Ellroy, but a sorry display all the same. Wagner's style of writing was better realized by Bret Easton Ellis, who was more brutal and much funnier than Wagner would ever dare to be. That he tries to bury Bukowski is the ultimate bad joke. Indeed, it's probably the funniest thing Wagner's done in memory.

Still, this is asshole me speaking. Allow Bukowski to show how the meat gets cut.