American Proscenium

American Proscenium (Part 3)

Richard Brautigan was a familiar American type that has been with us since the days of the Yankee peddler: the self-appointed Job who wants to take on the powers that be from his chair behind the cracker barrel, the freshman who writes a history of the world without a bibliography, the gut­tersnipe journalist who runs the risk of becoming rich and famous by attack­ing Presidents–all examples of the insufferable arrogance of the common man in the presence of something beyond his grasp. Ambrose Bierce at his worst, Richard Brautigan at his best. In one of his earliest books, A Confederate General From Big Sur, Brautigan took his best cheap shots at men who lived and died defending things which a perennial dropout could never understand. The book dropped out of sight as soon as it was published in 1965, but by 1968 when it was reprinted, Brautigan was being hailed as the prophet of the counter­culture.

If Brautigan started out ahead of his time, fame and his contemporaries caught up with him. Trout Fishing in America made him one of many over­night gurus to a disaffected generation. He spoke to many of the same longings as Paul Goodman and Philip Slater, but he was a lot easier to read than a literate Bohemian or a sociologist­ turned-philosopher. On occasion, Brautigan could bring off a vignette which seemed to make as much para­doxical sense as a line of Bob Dylan. (In the 60's we didn't...

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