Question about Parasites of Heaven - Context / Re-Appraisal

Debate on Leonard Cohen's poetry (and novels), both published and unpublished. Song lyrics may also be discussed here.
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mcraenich
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Question about Parasites of Heaven - Context / Re-Appraisal

Post by mcraenich » Tue Oct 13, 2020 3:21 pm

I'm hoping to learn a bit more about Parasites of Heaven in this thread. I find this an interesting book as the poetry is distinct from most of his other work. A quick look at reviews and comments online and it seems like most people don't like it / it wasn't well received / and it was considered a slim book put out to capitalize on his growing name.

However I'm not as quick to write it off and would like to learn more about what Cohen was thinking at the time of it's release. I have to assume there was some artistic vision to the book, and also - Parasites of Heaven - what does that mean? Where did it come from?

So - what was the artistic vision behind the book? Why was it titled the way it was? And is it true that Cohen was doing plenty of drugs in Hydra during the time of it being written?
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LisaLCFan
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Re: Question about Parasites of Heaven - Context / Re-Appraisal

Post by LisaLCFan » Wed Oct 14, 2020 4:37 am

Hello! Below is a link (copy and paste the address into your web browser address line, that should work) to a rather interesting Master's thesis written in 1970, called, "The Worlds of Leonard Cohen: A Study of his Poetry", by Roy Allan, in which he provides an analysis and explication of Cohen's work, including a chapter on Parasites of Heaven, its context, potential meaning, etc.. (I do not know the author.)

Whether Mr. Allan's analyses are correct -- that is, whether they accurately reflect what Cohen was actually thinking and feeling -- is anyone's guess, but it may provide you with some food for thought.

file:///C:/Users/Owner/AppData/Local/Temp/b11759677-3.pdf

As for drugs, it is no secret that Leonard used them while living on Hydra in the 1960s, and beyond.

Cheers!
mcraenich
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Re: Question about Parasites of Heaven - Context / Re-Appraisal

Post by mcraenich » Wed Oct 14, 2020 5:27 am

Thanks for the paper, I found it with some quick Googling and have gone through the chapter on Parasites of Heaven. Interesting read, I'll have to go through the rest of it at a later time.
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Re: Question about Parasites of Heaven - Context / Re-Appraisal

Post by LisaLCFan » Wed Oct 14, 2020 7:33 pm

Glad to be of some help!

Generally, if I am interested in commentary and analysis of Leonard Cohen's -- or anyone else's -- poetry, I try to find scholarly works on the subject (there are a lot of them out there -- theses and published articles, many of which are available online). As a rule, I avoid giving any credence to anonymous reviewers (e.g., on Amazon), and I especially avoid anything written by hack journalists. I may not always agree with the scholars' interpretations (in fact, I often don't), but at least most of them may actually know a thing or two about poetry and Leonard Cohen (unlike many of the aforementioned sources), probably having spent considerable time studying and thinking about it.

Also, as a rule (my rule, of course!), poetry means what you want it to -- it's like music or any other art -- how it affects any given person, whether or not and how it resonates with them, is a very personal thing. And so, ultimately it does not matter what anyone else says about it (even the poet him/herself, if they even know!), because its nature is fluid and multifaceted, and it can mean different things to different people at different times. Although I am inclined to read scholarly works on poetry, I disagree with anyone who says that there is a definitive right or wrong answer as to what any of it means, including what may have inspired it, because such things are often not easily ascertained -- if at all -- and thus any answers are likely to be quite inadequate and incomplete.

Cheers!
mcraenich
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Re: Question about Parasites of Heaven - Context / Re-Appraisal

Post by mcraenich » Tue Nov 24, 2020 9:55 pm

Thanks for the reply. I agree, I'm usually not too quick to base my opinion of poetry on the reviews of others. Although I did find the paper you posted interesting and it definitely had me look at Cohen's work in a new light.

Actually, this year with the pandemic I finally got around to reading the entirety of Cohen's poetry, reviewing all of his albums, and going through 'I'm Your Man'. All of that definitely led to a much more nuanced view of his life and work. I started to see the real person and not just the artist, which I think the paper you mentioned touches on.
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Re: Question about Parasites of Heaven - Context / Re-Appraisal

Post by LisaLCFan » Wed Nov 25, 2020 1:06 am

That's excellent that you derived something positive from that thesis -- it seemed thoughtful and well-written. And, definitely, going through an artist's entire body of work provides a more thorough basis on which to appreciate them, as one can follow their evolution as an artist -- and to some degree, as a person (at least as much as one can glean from their work and from other aspects of their public persona).

I do, however, tend to disagree with something you wrote in another thread:
mcraenich wrote:
Tue Nov 24, 2020 10:53 pm
...Cohen's music is the result of a poet who needed to make a living - his albums aren't musical statements, but iterations of his poetry at various stages of his life...

That is not my perception of Leonard's music -- I think he very much thought of himself as a "songwriter" (certainly as time went on), and thus I believe that the musical elements of his songs were also very important to him, as he seems to have spent a lot of time trying to perfect that aspect of his songs, from what I've read/heard. His lyrics are, for the most part, poems in and of themselves, of course, but they seem to have a rather integral relationship with the music he wrote (or which others wrote in collaboration with him).

Cohen may have entered the music world of necessity -- supposedly to make a better living than he could as a poet (which he himself said almost as a joke!) -- but once he became a part of that world, it seems to me that he embraced it. And, even while he was "just" a poet, before the albums came out, he was playing his guitar and singing (from the time he was a boy), and thus "music" and songs as a whole seem to have been a part of his driving force, just as much as pure poetry.

But, I could be wrong! I actually very much enjoy his music and songs, much more than his poems and novels -- at least, his music has had a much stronger impact on me, and has been a greater part of my life -- and so I am probably biased towards the musical side of his career.
mcraenich
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Re: Question about Parasites of Heaven - Context / Re-Appraisal

Post by mcraenich » Wed Nov 25, 2020 4:48 pm

LisaLCFan wrote:
Wed Nov 25, 2020 1:06 am
That's excellent that you derived something positive from that thesis -- it seemed thoughtful and well-written. And, definitely, going through an artist's entire body of work provides a more thorough basis on which to appreciate them, as one can follow their evolution as an artist -- and to some degree, as a person (at least as much as one can glean from their work and from other aspects of their public persona).

I do, however, tend to disagree with something you wrote in another thread:
mcraenich wrote:
Tue Nov 24, 2020 10:53 pm
...Cohen's music is the result of a poet who needed to make a living - his albums aren't musical statements, but iterations of his poetry at various stages of his life...

That is not my perception of Leonard's music -- I think he very much thought of himself as a "songwriter" (certainly as time went on), and thus I believe that the musical elements of his songs were also very important to him, as he seems to have spent a lot of time trying to perfect that aspect of his songs, from what I've read/heard. His lyrics are, for the most part, poems in and of themselves, of course, but they seem to have a rather integral relationship with the music he wrote (or which others wrote in collaboration with him).

Cohen may have entered the music world of necessity -- supposedly to make a better living than he could as a poet (which he himself said almost as a joke!) -- but once he became a part of that world, it seems to me that he embraced it. And, even while he was "just" a poet, before the albums came out, he was playing his guitar and singing (from the time he was a boy), and thus "music" and songs as a whole seem to have been a part of his driving force, just as much as pure poetry.

But, I could be wrong! I actually very much enjoy his music and songs, much more than his poems and novels -- at least, his music has had a much stronger impact on me, and has been a greater part of my life -- and so I am probably biased towards the musical side of his career.
That sounds reasonable to me. Maybe I could have worded my prior post a little better, mainly what I was getting at is that, in my interpretation, the central aspect of Cohen's albums are the words and lyrics.

So if you're comparing stuff he did in the 60s and 70s to stuff he did in the 90s you're missing the soul of the music. When I listen to Ten New Songs, for example, the instrumentation is one thing, but another part of it is who he was and the things he said after his lengthy stint with Zen and Vedanta Hinduism. While if I want to hear from Cohen when he was in angst about family life, it's New Skin and Death of a Ladies' Man.

That's not to say that this is the right way to listen to his albums, and is unlikely how many people do listen to them. But I feel if someone isn't looking at the man behind each album, and instead ranking them like trading cards, they're missing something really beautiful about the music and unique character of each album.

But then, a large part of why his music resonates with me in this way is that I see a lot of parallels between his life and my own. Lately, I can't put down The Energy of Slaves and Death of a Lady's Man because I'm in the same era of my own life, and I see myself in it.
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Re: Question about Parasites of Heaven - Context / Re-Appraisal

Post by LisaLCFan » Wed Nov 25, 2020 6:49 pm

mcraenich wrote:
Wed Nov 25, 2020 4:48 pm
...if someone isn't looking at the man behind each album, and instead ranking them like trading cards, they're missing something really beautiful about the music and unique character of each album...

Oh, I totally agree about the ludicrousness of the ranking thing -- that article to which you allude (and the thread from which I stole your comment about the music) was ridiculously narrow-minded. But, as I mentioned above, I have no respect for hack journalists who write about Leonard Cohen and his work, because most of them don't seem to have a clue what they're talking about, and it is rather offensive to me that they smudge the air with their ignorant words.
mcraenich wrote:
Wed Nov 25, 2020 4:48 pm
...a large part of why his music resonates with me in this way is that I see a lot of parallels between his life and my own...

I think that most of us around here can say the same thing! Leonard seemed, at various times and in various ways, to capture every element of life, every experience, every emotion, etc., such that one can almost always find within his body of work parallels to one's own life, and ideas that resonate deeply at any given time. To me, that is the mark of an artist of great genius!

Cheers!
mcraenich
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Re: Question about Parasites of Heaven - Context / Re-Appraisal

Post by mcraenich » Thu Nov 26, 2020 9:54 pm

LisaLCFan wrote:
Wed Nov 25, 2020 6:49 pm

I think that most of us around here can say the same thing! Leonard seemed, at various times and in various ways, to capture every element of life, every experience, every emotion, etc., such that one can almost always find within his body of work parallels to one's own life, and ideas that resonate deeply at any given time. To me, that is the mark of an artist of great genius!

Cheers!
I agree. I think that in part is what attracts me to his poetry. I'm a writer myself, and big consumer of poetry, but it's been hard to find other writers who experienced the world in such a transcendent way.

Among the genre I often find poets (with a few exceptions) that are great at crafting words, but whose ideas are often very close to the surface of every-day life. I can appreciate stuff like this, but don't find it as interesting.

Two others that have definitely spoken to me are the Nobel Prize winners Wisława Szymborska and George Seferis. Each radically different from Cohen's style, but they strike me as people who achieved a singular voice.
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Re: Question about Parasites of Heaven - Context / Re-Appraisal

Post by mcraenich » Fri Apr 22, 2022 4:22 am

I've been going through this title again and here's my take after sitting with it for a while..

Around this time in Cohen's life he was going through a major transition in his writing style. In 'Let Us Compare Mythologies' and 'The Spice-Box of Earth' there is major influence from Irving Layton, and more traditional Canadian poetry, where in 'Flowers for Hitler' Cohen departs from this earlier voice.

In this title (Parasites of Heaven) Cohen shows the date many of the pieces were written, and seems to be conveying a transition from pieces that were a bit disingenuous (Parasites) in the late 50s, to pieces that were more assertive, confident, and sincere toward the mid 60s (just before he became a song-writer).

After Parasites of Heaven his voice as a poet changed dramatically for the better, imo. This book (and to a lesser extent Flowers of Hitler) is the seed of his new voice that lasted up until Death of a Lady's Man (the book).
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