An Attempt to Clarify What Exactly It Is That Richard Brautigan Says About Trout
A CONFEDERATE GENERAL FROM BIG SUR, and TROUT FISHING IN AMERICA, both by Richard Brautigan
Basically, the technology of today seeks to replace, by a system of Humanistic Values, the older, Insect Values of social systems, i.e., the values of the Ant and the Cicada. But surely I digress....
I. RICHARD BRAUTIGAN
My psychiatrist and I were posed in the Couch-Chair-Say-The-First-Thing Motif. He was bent over his pad like a dead Hebraic scholar, but his mind and pen were spring and steel, ready to snap.
"Cheese!" he snapped. Pen poised...
"Arm!" I shot back.
* * * *
The first thing that strikes me about Richard Brautigan is foot Last month I read a book by him that was entiled A Confedereate General from Big Sur. This book has lots of good metaphors and similes in it. It is also quite funny, too. In one chapter, he even writes about this alligator who eats porkchops. I thought that was really amusing. The next book is called Trout Fishing in America. Isn't that a funny title for a book, especially since he even doesn'T write about trout fishing per se. signed, Stevie W. Stahler
* * * *
Let another, far worthier than I, express what lies in this feeble soul. Let the Poet sing:
To read Richard Brautigan is audacity itself,
To interpret him, sheer heresy,
To define him, utter lunacy,
To spend a nanosecond without him, illegal;
Who, nav, What is this Master of Light we call Brautigan?
Shall I call him the electric-eclectic-unanimous-ubiquitous-anonymous-fecal-and-spiritual Essence that he is?
II. A CONFEDERATE GENERAL FROM BIG SUR
I went out shopping last week, and when I came back, I saw my husband reading my copy of A Confederate General from Big Sur. When I tried to explain to him the divine nature of the book, he just laughed at me. I left him in a huff for my mother's and have sued for divorce. Do you think my actions were justified? Signed, DISTRAUGHT
Your case is indeed a serious one. No, I am afraid I cannot justify your shopping without taking The Book with you. As I have tried to stress to all my reading Public, the owner of A Confederate General from Big Sur does not possess a material "book." He has, rather, a warm piece of earth, complete with weeds, dirt, three or four gross-thingies, and all the little strings than hang down from pieces of earth. A very drunk young Pakistani once told me --
"This book has no characters. They would ruin it. You can't have 'personalities' competing with a book like this."
Then he went on,
"Sure, the guy pretends to put characters in. You've got your usual two, maybe four-five, hippy-type guys climbing into your old car and going off to a beach. To groove, you know, To screw around, scream we're free! to rocks and sand. You've got your passing array of loonies, the guys who carry around pomegranates and sleep with logs. The guy who counts all the punctuation marks ("the rivets") in Ecclesiastes. So you say "they got no depth," right? You say there's no plot, right? You didn't get the Civil War bits mixed into the book. You liked the metaphors, but they were "out of place." Like the one--"My coffee was an albino polar bear--black and cold." Right?
You see, my dear Distraught, characters and plots are pieces, and Our Author cannot deal with pieces. He must present the Life-Stream, the Continuum. But all our feeble intellects can perceive are pieces, so what could He do? I'll tell you what He did--He built for us a blank-white-nothing plain, peopled by two, maybe four-five hollow Kewpie Dolls. Very warm dolls, but hollow. Scattered on the white plain are hundreds of little tags, some of them hard to make out, but all right there. One will say
"...her car window drifted effortlessly down like the neck of a transparent swan."
and another will say
"A fog was building up over the ocean. It was not building up like a shack but like a Grand Hotel. Soon ... everything would be lost in flocks of vaporous bellboys."
Hundreds of these tags. But under the plain, deep and ominous, sometimes even bumping up against the surface, rages The American Civil War, the real one. A lost Confederate general, so scared he hears himself calling out his own name, "running through the casual but chess-like deaths in the Wilderness." A headlike corpse. Upstairs and downstairs. Marijuana smoke and cannon smoke. As the Poet sings: "A punctured lung, and the band plays on." The perfect Setup.
Without warning and without fear, you and Richard Brautigan come sliding along in a cute old plane without wings or buttons or anything. You stare down and cannot speak. He smiles and you can't remember how you got here and don't care. You move along, laughing to yourself every so often, even WOWing at some Good Ones. It's all very simple. "The Fullness of Living." "Oatmeal sticks to your ribs." Then there's a scene with a guy who can't quite Make It with a girl and it looks like a nice place to end. ("Got to get back to my homework, anyway.") But WHAM! The time-tape stops! Rewind. A NEW end. Rewind. ANOTHER end. and another and another ... until there is No End, only a voice from the dolls droning "nothing ... we're nothing ... you're nothing ..." Then, suddenly, there's no sound at all and you drop back, exhausted and drenched. Sincerely, Helgruth
III. TROUT FISHING IN AMERICA
I is for the Indian feasts you put in my sleep at night,
N is for the noxious gas that swims in your earthly light --ancient Dutch hymn
* * * *
The word "in" is of the utmost significance, for this novel. Without it, or a word that looked like it, it's title would have been Trout Fishing America. Trout Fishing America would have worked awhile for Sports Illustrated, maybe made the cover-story once or twice, then left. As he would have put it, "There's no future in it." I can see him now, stumbling down some New York sidewalk in a second-hand overcoat. Then one windy November day, he would have been corrupted by a tiny, lithping Lithuanian and become "Trout Fishing American." He would have become a slick, glossy Layman-Informer. It's not a pretty story.
This has to be the only case on record of a title having a book. Under your very eyes, Brautigan meets his title, chats with it, performs an autopsy on it, gives it a splendid dinner with Maria Callas, and even composes a ballet for it. I, for one, cannot explain this strange state of affairs. Who can explain it? Can Bertrand Russell?
I think part of the problem is that few people realize the enormous importance of titles in the crazy, mixed-up, wonderful world of ours. Why, titles are the most neglected things next to Lima, Peru. Just try and imagine someone who wants to write a book called "Dog" or "Arm." He DOESN'T want it to be called "Dog or Arm." He simply wants his title to be "Dog" OR "Arm." What can he do? Perhaps you are beginning to see my point.
(I might mention in passing that Trout Fishing in America is basically a collection of snapshots of author, wife, and title traipsing around the country, and that it is the most sensitive portrayal of warm, wet garbage in the U.S. that has ever been written.)
I think that a New York Times Book Review advertisement for Trout Fishing in America should have this somewhere in it:
IF YOU ARE AFRAID of witnessing the death of an eleven-inch trout by port wine
IF YOU ARE AFRAID of a sweeping tour of our nation's lesser-known fishing holes
IF YOU ARE AFRAID of meeting a Kool-Aid Wino
IF YOU ARE AFRAID of a Non-Three-Legged-Crow Bookstore owner
THEN DO NOT READ THIS BOOK
* * * *
There is something that happened to me quite, recently that may help clarify a lot about Richard Brautigan and this book. I was walking along this muddy path in the woods, right near my house in Maryland, when I heard this faint screeching up ahead. As I got closer, I could distinguish a man's voice. He seemed to be screaming frantically against a background of loud, chaotic piano-banging. I kept on walking, and the voice was exactly like Hitler's, even down to the 1930's crackly sound. My God, I thought, it's Hitler screaming against a piano! But no, I was wrong. It was only one of those play-by-play basketball announcers on the radio. Boy, was I relieved.