Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Brautigan High

Billy Collins re Richard Brautigan/NPR

""Mr. BILLY COLLINS (Author, Poet Laureate): Thank you. It's good to be with you.

CORNISH: So in your introduction you talk about traveling in the same circles as Richard Brautigan back in San Francisco. Tell us about him. What was he like?

Mr. COLLINS: Well, I never met him personally. There were various spottings of him. He was very easy to spot, and I describe him in the introduction as being a very tall fellow who combined hippie dress, colorful shirts and beads with 19 century pioneer clothes, including a waistcoat and boots, all topped by an enormous beat-up Western hat. He looked like a man who had just stepped out of the same pre-industrial America, whose passing he lamented in his fiction -post beatnik and pre-hippie.

He was thought of as a rather mysterious figure; a man that didnt say much but was doing something very peculiar in his writing.

CORNISH: He's been described as a little bit Beat generation, a little bit hippie generation, or a sort of bridge writer. And I'm wondering if you can give us a sense of what that meant?

Mr. COLLINS: I think he just fell between the generations. And I know from reading a book by his daughter, Ianthe, that he really didnt want to be identified with either. But he did give off a sense of being a guy from another time and I think in "Trout Fishing in America," one of the under songs in the book is a kind of lament for the passing of a 19 century, or even earlier pastoral America and its replacement by an industrial America.

CORNISH: Can you read that passage from the book?

Mr. COLLINS: Yeah. One of the features of the book is very peculiar metaphors. And in this little chapter in the beginning is basically a long comparison of trout to the American steel industry. I'll just read a paragraph here.

As a child, when did I first hear about trout fishing in America? From whom? I guess it was a stepfather of mine. Summer of 1942. The old drunk told me about trout fishing. When he could talk, he had a way of describing trout as if they were a precious and intelligent metal. Silver is not a good adjective to describe what I felt when he told me about trout fishing. I'd like to get it right. Maybe trout steel. Steel made from trout. The clear snow-filled river acting as foundry and heat. Imagine Pittsburgh. A steel that comes from trout, used to make buildings, trains and tunnels. The Andrew Carnegie of Trout! Explanation point."""""

Now, kah-lass, be sure to turn in your book report on the Andrew Carnegie of Trout on Stunday.... Of course Brautigan's mad, bad literary trip would be far too much for most 'Merican edu-crats. The US education biz has little to do with fostering real creativity, whether in terms of writing, research, or even the sciences. Edu-crats essentially want their students (and teachers) to obey. Schools prepare the modern student for the corporate world, or for bureaucracy of various types (including the public education bureaucracy). "Creatives" of any type are suspect (as are foreign languages, excepting spanglish, perhaps); Jr. works on his algebra or maybe he works on his free throws. Or his parents or schoolmasters order him to read his Good Book (the anglo-calvinist version, anyway)

Most educational administrators crave reductionism, and don't care for conceptual thinking. Jr. solves problems, and learns to follows routines, but he's not asked to ...reflect on issues or problems or important events. The edu-ocracy does not want too much Reflection--whether on the events of World War Two, or a novel. Modern students need math/science skills, of course--and, let's agree they probably don't need On the Road in high school-- but they also probably don't need the usual public school's bootcamp pedagogy, or the endless jock aggression (besides, great generals learn more from trig, history, or even chess playing, than from Babe Ruth). Students often have decent math skills, can point and click their way across the Net, or hit home runs, but they know little or nothing about History. They don't know Sein from Zeit, or Ishmael from Ahab


CharleyCarp said...

I never met him either, but went to his place in Montana for work once. He'd just recently passed away, and none of the people I worked with had even heard of him.

J said...

Brautigan was a bit of a recluse, I've heard. He had issues-- not really "a role model" of mine, but his writing amuses me, or at least TFIA does, and it's not as hippy-dippy as some think.

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