Thursday, 17 March 2016

Beautiful Losers by Leonard Cohen


This is a strange book. Some of the prose is beautiful, the ideas are far out, and yet...I am not sure I like it very much. There's one scene that is so ugly both in what happens and then what the narrator thinks about it that it is what swims into view every time I think about this book, and I can't get away from it. So despite the part where I kind of enjoy the far-out prose and the sentient vibrator orgy, I am sour on the book as a whole.

I was making snarky comments on twitter about that era in the sixties when poets and authors discovered they could write about their dicks (or vaginas) and did so with great gusto. I mean, about sex too, but there feels like this fundamental fascination with the author's own genitalia. I've read enough sixties poetry about upthrust trees, etc., that I wonder if some of these poets ever met a phallic metaphor they didn't like. (And to be fair, you see this in some writing by women at the time as well, although to a lesser degree.)

I'm sure it was transgressive. It's just that that phallic metaphor seems to be where the work stops. Here is my dick, behold it, and.... There's no third act, no therefore, no point beyond the point.

Beautiful Losers at least feels like it's trying to be something beyond that, bringing the sacred into the sexual. I'm not entirely sure it works, this blending of the story of how everyone wanted Kateri Tekakwitha to have sex (and her sainthood, but the priorities are clear) with a Quebec separatist trying to mold a new race of supersexual people. To do what, exactly? Well, he had syphilis, so the section where he explains is a little nuts.

That is, however, where the sentient vibrator comes in.

I'm making this sound like fun, and in parts it is. But when it's ugly, it's very ugly. And the scene where the narrator talks about the gang rape of his Native American wife when she was 13, and then goes into thoughts about the sexiness of 13-year-olds...it's hard to come back from that. It's hard not to read that and want to put the book far, far away.

My husband tells me about reading My Favorite Game and thinking Cohen's prose was gorgeous, but boy, did he want to punch Cohen in the face for the way he writes about women. I'm...kind of there too. It's interesting and evocative, but there are actual things that my skin gets caught on, that I can't get past, and don't really feel like I should have to.

So...it's about more than just his dick, but there are also some distinctly creepy things here, as well as a lot of far-out surrealist sexual stuff that might be interesting in a different context, with a different author.

But here, there's enough that I find too upsetting to forget to enjoy the other parts, the parts where there's something interesting here in the explorations of the sacred, and the writing style of the man with syphilis, and a bunch of other experimental prose that again, under other circumstances, I would enjoy.

Just...not here.

No comments:

Post a Comment