The Michigan Daily discovered in November 2004 that several articles written by arts editor Alex Wolsky did not meet the newspaper’s standard of ethical journalism. Parts of these stories had been plagiarized from other news sources. The article below appears to contain plagiarism, and the Daily no longer stands by its content. For details, see the Daily’s editorial.

 

Growing up with ease and comfort, but fast, about as fast as you could imagine short of some primitive tribe’s brutal confirmation, using LSD as a rite of passage like you’re supposed to use the army, things sometimes get a bit complicated. His brain defogged in those halls of wisdom, “Sex and Death in Protozoa” hammered home on chains of bleary-eyed mornings by mechanical-minded professors with a mania for grammar and gentle Grade Eleven romanticists who believe in youth and poetry and tearing out some proof of basic competence from each and every pupil for one furious, feverish month before disembarking with them for isles of Hawthorne and Longfellow.

This, for me, was a snap but I was still eternally hung up. I desperately wanted my writing not to ring true, because if it did, it was adolescent and that was seven leagues below hack. Rare flashes of insight all but lost in python coils of muscular, crepuscular verbiage, but how these clumsy, often misguided, clusters of images would zing like crystal arrows straight and true from his heroic pinnacles to stand all smooth and apple-cheeked and rustless on the page.

So I sought help.

Beaten by my own pen, I asked an old professor of mine what he thought of the current literary movement. He had never heard of it: “Right now, I’m engaged in a reinvestigation of Greek drama. I never read anything less than 30 years old, because you can’t tell what’s of value that’s being written today and anyway, there are too many other things.”

“Where do you find time to pursue your own studies as heavily as you seem to and still grade papers, keep up with the news, read magazines and all that?” he asked.

“Oh, papers don’t bother me — haven’t you noticed how few written assignments I’ve given in the class? It’s not necessary if you read the words in the textbook and take notes on my lectures and our class discussions. I find plenty of time to study literature — in fact, it’s all I do. I keep up with the news in a marginal way — I just don’t care about it enough to do more than that. And magazines and all that sort of thing — do you read magazines?”

“Yes,” I said, “all the time.”

That seemed to put him out a little bit. He said that magazines were a waste of my time if I wanted to be a writer, that I should be studying literature. “Even if you just read through the Great Books of the Western World as you’d read any trivial book … because you know that no matter how many classes in literature you take, it won’t mean a damn thing. You’ve got to educate yourself or you’ll end up just like all of these know-nothings with degrees.”

I longed for my weekly comic book, my “Rolling Stone,” of my always irresistible “Life” and “People” which I hated and read with some mad compulsion almost weekly, of my “Magnet” and my monthly “Alternative Press,” both rock’n’roll rags and both absolutely essential. I recall the first issue of “Mad” I bought, stoned on Romilar and wine and Benzedrine, that ugly yellow cover exploding like a blinding flashbulb before my mind’s eye.

The professor was right, you can’t fuck around with a lot of madness and expect to get a first rate education. I asked him if his social contacts suffered from his marriage to literature. “Of course they do,” he responded, “in fact they’ve become practically non-existent. But, I don’t know, I don’t really miss them.”

I’d see him in his office occasionally, on days I happened by. He’d be bent over his desk, furiously twisting back and forth, pen in hand, paperback on his right, gilt-flecked tome his left, notebook in the center, the atmosphere vibrating like an orgone box. I never saw him in the halls except when he was rushing between his classroom and office, pulled forward by the gravitational propulsion of his current thought, and should we meet he never failed to cause a twinge of guilt.

It had not yet occurred to me on a conscious level that in reading slick journalism, hippie pulp and obscenely amusing articles like “Insane Virgin Murders to Have Sex with God” I was preparing for a literary life quite different from that of the days when a young writer first practiced writing short stories in the style of Hemingway, then Faulkner, then Fitzgerald and so on, all the while reading the classics for background.

I realized that I was coming up in a new era when literature would turn to toilet paper, daily news would become surrealistic and artists of all stripes would feel blissfully free to cut themselves loose from their heritage, or even not learn that heritage because there was more relevance to be found in the splashy trash of the popular press, in the open-throated yawps and mechanical twangs of rock’n’roll, in the chaotic inner jungles which all of us hurled ourselves with every type of drug imaginable — all the while, engaging in this apparently self-destructive abuse to the sensibilities for the purpose of finding each other outside of schools, methods, social mechanisms and popular self-help devices. In other words, we had to fuck up before we could stand up, and nothing was more relevant than the apparently irrelevant, and nothing less relevant than the “Eternal Verities” enclosing this 2,000 year old consciousness like a box.

I followed my as-yet-masked muse even so, by reading trashy tabloids instead of enduring literature and spending much of my time under a pair of headphones, filling my shimmying soul with rock music. By smoking grass and attending acid as a guidance counselor, by writing eight to 12 hours in a row on innumerable all-night binges like Lester Bangs, piling up reams of raving bullshit but honing his talents all the time, publishing his straight-forward improvisatory style month after month, until he began to speak in a voice almost his own, to gain effortlessly a progressive mastery of words, tossing off adolescent woodshed epiphanies in white-hot eruptions of inspiration, even though the influence of William Burroughs still showed. He never was a truly dedicated artist, whatever that was, he never cared. He never produced a masterpiece, but so what? He felt he had a sound which was his own and that sound if erratic, is still his greatest pride. Because, he would rather write like a dancer shaking his ass to In the Jungle inside his head, and perhaps reach only readers who like to use books or magazines to shake their asses, than to write for the man who man cloistered in a closet somewhere reading Aeschylus while this stupefying world careens past his window.

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