Happy Birthday Richard Brautigan

30 Jan

I thought I should do a post on Richard Brautigan as 30th January is indeed his birthday. However, I couldn’t think of a goddamn thing to say. Having spent so long writing stuff about him, I’m all out of ideas. So I’m going to cheat. This is instead an extract from my thesis – a section I haven’t put up on the blog which deals with his engagement with autobiography:

…in his writing, intellectual digression and sensual interpretation are geared towards the representation of a consciousness in transit. The scenerios and narratives of his novels, the imagery and physical stimuli of his poems, are secondary to the manner in which the narrator or the authorial voice perceives and rationalises. The device is bared at all times: “expressing a human need, I always wanted to write a book that ended with the word Mayonnaise” (Trout 10). Brautigan inhabits a synchronously self-aware and disposable world, a riotous landscape of evocative symbols that trigger the processes in his mind which become his primary source of interest. How these symbols manifest themselves is purely arbitrary: they can be anything from an umbrella or a seagull to an airport terminal. Terence Malley categorises this technique as a “fascination with everything and anything”, “a lack of proportion” (87), but it is a much more significant feature of Brautigan’s writing than this suggests. As Bokinsky asserts, it is more an illustration of the cognitive method itself – Brautigan “looks at life in terms of analogies”, “one form of experience, or one particular observation, is like something else” (97). Cross-reference is how he, and how we all, “impose […] order on the world’s chaos […] giving meaning to the meaningless” (97). The author’s sensory inhibition represents, in fact, an attempt to redefine the concepts of the autobiographical or impersonal text, to challenge the very purpose of the written form itself.

Brautigan’s work, when taken as a whole, is entirely autobiographical, but in the truest sense of the term. The texts do not recount the events of his life in a linear or synchronous manner, but engage the reader instead with the very fabric of the author’s awareness: how it engages with the physical world, how it assimilates the information being fed to it via its senses, and how it constructs meaning from this raw data through an application of previous experience and knowledge. Elements of the author’s own past emerge as he brings these preconceptions into play and strives to impose order to this haphazard stream of consciousness. Because these elements are never explicitly rationalised, however, they retain a distinctly disembodied character which is entirely in keeping with the objectivity inherent in Brautigan’s model of perception. In essence, his novels are all autobiographies of the present tense in which the personal history of their author is but an indistinguishable element in the much more elaborate fabric of concurrent awareness. It is therefore difficult to find the validity in Terence Malley’s assertion that Brautigan is “curiously elusive” (18), when in fact he seems anything but. “I was about seventeen” claims the narrator of ‘1/3, 1/3, 1/3′, “I was about seventeen and made lonely and strange by that Pacific Northwest of so many years ago” (Revenge 10). He does not elaborate on what exactly it was about the Pacific Northwest that made him this way, but the reasons do not matter in the context of what the author is trying to convey here. Consciousness exists only in the present: it may recall previous instances of its existence, previous present moments that it has moved through and beyond, but these are no more than mere components in the myriad of influences that inform its current state of being. It is this astounding convergence of impulses and interpretations that constitute the current moment that interests Brautigan. For him, this is the essence of the human condition that must be set down and expressed, and quickly before it passes, “so the wind won’t blow it all away” like so much “dust” (So 49).


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