"Too Many Olives in My Martini": W.C. Fields and Charles Bukowski as Postmodern Carnival Kings

by Pratt, David Camak

Abstract (Summary)
In the early history of America, constant, steady drinking brought the carnivalesque into official life such that the carnival and the official, as Bakhtin describes these terms, were intertwined. As hard alcohol, binges and drunkenness flourished in America, official life separated from carnival life. Temperance and prohibition movements that rose to significance in the early nineteenth century successfully marginalized the use of alcohol and also the alcoholic carnival. As the American alcoholic carnival diminished as a part of lived experience, it continued on in the mediated form that is its primary embodiment today. W.C. Fields and Charles Bukowski are two particularly successful purveyors of the mediated alcoholic carnival, Fields as an actor and screenwriter and Bukowski as a writer of poetry, stories, novels, and one screenplay. Bukowski's mostly autobiographical texts often detail the steps his character, Henry Chinaski, takes to ensure he is able to drink and write, to the exclusion of most other considerations. A Fields character tries harder than Chinaski to succeed according to American middle-class standards, but first has to deal with the distaste he inspires as an alcoholic eccentric. Bukowski/Chinaski, by defining his own terms for success, stands largely outside of American hegemonic culture, criticizing the American Dream and American notions of alcoholism. Fields, as an eccentric trying to succeed according to middle class standards, reveals the shortcomings and contradictions of the American Dream by juxtaposing his mainstream misfit with the equally absurd American middle class. Fields and Bukowski both use alcohol as a carnival tool of rebellion. They are carnival kings because they foreground and lead the misrule in their carnival texts. They are postmodern carnival kings because, as celebrity figures who are at once real, imaginary, and somewhere in between, they inspire misrule not only in their own texts, but in other texts and lived experiences. To give examples of the effect of these postmodern kings on other texts and lived experiences, I detail the carnival creations of two creative fan forums to conclude this thesis.
Bibliographical Information:


School:Bowling Green State University

School Location:USA - Ohio

Source Type:Master's Thesis

Keywords:charles bukowski w c fields alcohol alcoholism poetry film novel carnival carnivalesque bakhtin postmodern drinking writing


Date of Publication:01/01/2008

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