The final pages of "Beautiful Losers"

Debate on Leonard Cohen's poetry (and novels), both published and unpublished. Song lyrics may also be discussed here.
David
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The final pages of "Beautiful Losers"

Post by David » Thu Mar 27, 2003 12:49 am

Okay, I gotta do it...

I know this is going to seem like a sacrilege [sp?], but I cannot escape my conviction that the ending of "Beautiful Losers" got away from Leonard entirely. I've read some pretty creative interpretations of what the surrealism means, but even so... that novel, to me, is a howl of pure spiritual/existential torment --"torn from [his] throat with a thousand fish-hooks," to use Leonard's own harrowing phrase, yet laced with double-over-in-helpless-laughter humor [both "black" and otherwise] along with moments of pure, transcendent spiritual grace (e.g., "God Is Alive, Magic Is Afoot.")

To see all that dwindle down into "that" ending is.... sheesh, I dunno, kinda like following a fillet mignon dinner with a pint of Richard's Wild Irish Rose muscatel, y'know?

Okay, so I'll don my asbestos suit and let the flames fly!
"Nothing is said that is not sung."
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Post by linmag » Thu Mar 27, 2003 1:01 am

I'm with you all the way, David. I'm so glad I wasn't the only one feeling baffled and rather let down. I ended up deciding maybe I was at fault for expecting the book to be going somewhere, but it didn't seem to end so much as run out of steam.
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margaret
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beautiful losers

Post by margaret » Thu Mar 27, 2003 2:10 am

I was likewise a bit baffled by the ending. I have since read that at the time he wrote this book he was going through a difficult time and towards the end was writing about 20 hours a day, and perhaps was determined to get something out of his system. Maybe he really did "loose the plot", as he has said that when he completed the book he didn't eat for days, hallucinated and was hospitalised on Hydra.
I thought that certain characters were actually the same person, but someone else I know thinks all four were the same person.
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Losing the plot

Post by David » Thu Mar 27, 2003 2:42 am

I'd be inclined to agree with that "lost the plot" assessment, although it's rather strange that such a fastitious reviser as Leonard would not have gone back in and cleaned things up.

Did you see what he said in his introduction to that Chinese translation of "Beautiful Losers"? He called it "more a sunstroke than a book"!

...and yes, I've also encountered the "all of 'em are the same guy" theory. I might go so far as to conflate the Old Scholar and F., but I don't see edith or St. Kateri as being either of the other two. Now, whether or not they're both the same woman... THAT might be an interesting avenue of discussion.

On the other hand, maybe Leonard's alter-ego in the book is actually the Danish Vibrator...
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Post by linmag » Thu Mar 27, 2003 4:09 am

I have often wondered who the old man is who appears on the beach as the vibrator wades off into the sunset. Re-reading the book a couple of years ago I found myself enviseaging him as Leonard himself, as he is now. This adds various interesting possibilities that cannot possibly have been intended at the time.

I wonder if we are being a little too logical in expecting such a book to have an ending, or even a resolution. There was a great deal of existentialism around at the time, where one thing did not necessarily lead to another. Or was that 'pataphysics? I get confused :?
Linda

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David
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Logical conclusions?

Post by David » Thu Mar 27, 2003 4:28 am

Oh, I don't mind not having a logical conclusion; I don't mind departure from linearity, and I certainly don't mind surrealistic flights of fancy. It's just that the ending of "Beautiful Losers" does none of these things well, in my opinion -- it simply does not satisfy on a narrative, aesthetic, or existential level.
"Nothing is said that is not sung."
Anne
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book

Post by Anne » Sun Apr 06, 2003 4:02 am

I read the book recently. I had never managed to get through the wholbefore. Still not too sure how I feel about it. Amazingly racist and sexist, isn't it? Or is it? I am not sure at all. I wonder about the 'passion to shock' element, too. Was, LC trying to show the world what a naughty daring boy he could be? I can't decide if it is fascinating and innovative, or if it is pompous pretentious drivel.

Any thoughts?
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B.L.

Post by David » Sun Apr 06, 2003 4:33 am

Well... "innovative," definitely, and fascinating for it (in my opinion).

"Pretentious" is a tough one. Judging from what he himself wrote about it, Leonard had a pretty grandiose vison of what the book was going to be. Personally, I think there's enough self-deprecating humor in it (as in most of his work) to rescue it from pomp and pretension. I also think that the sense of raw-nerved intensity to the emotional undercurrent lends an unmistakable air of authenticity to it.

That being said, there are passages in various places --especially in the "Long Letter from F."-- that, in my opinion, are definitely more cosmically intoxicated than is absolutely necessary (15-hour days in the Hydra sun augmented by chemical consciousness-expanders can do that to ya!)

(If my memory serves me correctly, the NY Times reviewer said something like, "If only Cohen and his messy gang [I loved that line!] would simply stop ruminating on Cosmic Issues long enough for us to sit back and enjoy the rest.")

As for the "racist" and "sexist" -- that's a deep one. By today's standards, a lot of what Leonard has written about women leaves itself open to the latter accusation. I think one might at least argue that the male characters of Beautiful Losers are so debased in their debauchery that they, not the objects/subjects of their desires [both male and female], are the truly degraded ones (which, I think, is one of Leonard's points -- like Burroughs, he definitely seems to see some kind of annihilation of one's selfhood or one's spiritual dignity when one is consumed in the throes of obsessive erotic desire --"slave to pleasure" and all that). I realize that argument doesn't deflect the accusation of sexim, but I think it's a strong element of the theme, nonetheless. Especially in the case of F., whose "prick" is rotted away from too much sex, it's pretty clear who the disgraced one is.

For some reason, I've never encountered the accusation of racism, although I can certainly see how it might be seen that way. Leoanard definitely sympathizes with the Indians against the Jesuits, I think it's safe to say. Nonetheless, there is a kind of "holy primitive" reification that goes on which could definitely be interpreted as you suggest.

(This being said, maybe we should remember that in the era this book was written, very few critics were approaching literature from these particular critical perspectives) --

...and I don't doubt, by the way, that there was a certain amount of "showing the world how naughty" he could be. Young artists [both yin & yang] do tend to do that (it's what the "punk aesthetic" is about, at least in part). But a work will endure only if there's still substance to be mined after the shock has worn off. In my opinion, there is much substance yet in BEAUTIFUL LOSERS.

Does any of that make any sense!?
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C.
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Post by C. » Thu Feb 05, 2004 8:46 am

You all make me feel soo much better..
ok first i got into the poerty .. then the music..
Then when i took a english class we had to read a canadian author book
Being the smart witted person i am.. I chose Beautiful Losers.. Now let me tell you.. they made me dig deep.. now finding reoccuring symbols.. wasn't too hard. I was lucky enough to take short notes all the way through..
but in the end I thought forsur F. and narrator were the same person .. even Edith all as one.. like he has a mutiple personality disorder.. I thought it was me being confused.. maybe missing something.. but apparently..not..
I should have come in here way earlier.. haha

the book totally took a different direction at the end.. it had me all going waiting for it to piece together and was a little disappointed when i finished..

Anyone recommend a better LC read?
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Post by username » Sat Feb 07, 2004 1:57 am

I love how the book ends. It works for me.
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Post by kieron » Sat Feb 07, 2004 5:03 am

fascinating reading this thread is.
Perhaps this is more to do with LC's own alter egos, Edith his prize, all he ever dreamed of, F, his other concious, alter-ego if you like, with whom he can sub(c) and conciously play with. For me the book winds itself up into a mass of madness and loneliness. Perhaps T and the Jesuits are the constant which work out in LC's mind amidst the growing anarchy and abandoment. Experince and the edge of envelopes come through to me.
I too was left hanging at the end but probaly as he wished us to be.
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Post by Tchocolatl » Wed Feb 11, 2004 3:34 am

Besides alter egos, I heard that F. may be inspired by Irving Layton, in some ways. When I read a (succinct) bio about IL I found it has a lot a sense.
***
"He can love the shape of human beings, the fine and twisted shapes of the heart. It is good to have among us such men, such balancing monsters of love."

Leonard Cohen
Beautiful Losers
Arno
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Post by Arno » Sat Feb 14, 2004 11:34 am

hey guys

for me the ending worked well.
First of all, I dont have ANY education in literature (which you will find out reading this topic :wink: ) and what I state here is just my gut feeling.

I don't regard Beautiful Losers as a typical book with a beginning a climax and an end... it somehow is totally different.
I often write for myself in the evening and put down just what comes to mind whithout any thought about it. Now this isn't supposed to mean that I think that LC didnt think about what he wrote. I just get a similar feeling from this book.
I didnt really expect a conclusion when the pages ran out on me. It seemed more like an outtake from someone's life and thoughts, just an episode with something coming before and after it.

To the all the same person question: I began to think that F. and the narrator are the same, and that Catherine and Edith were in a way reincarnations of the same spirit. I dont think that all four are the same.

Ok, by now my ramblings are more incoherent than LCs ending and I better stop.

Cheers Arno
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Post by Tchocolatl » Mon Feb 16, 2004 12:14 am

Arno, Literature is too serious a thing to be left into the hands of experts in literature. :D

Beautiful Losers is as strange piece of work. For me, I saw it more like a History book (picturing, through the characters, a politic and social portrait more than a very personal destiny that they could have), a History book that can talk clearly about the Past and the Present Time (of the narrator), but not about the Future (the end of the story) because of course, nobody can know for sure what is the Future. Also it is divided in days (councious speech and action) and nights (a plundge into the uncounscious and his style of language) more than into chapters, that makes the story look like a kind of time travel. And I see it as a chamanic initiation as well as a joint between Katherine's epoch and the narrator's epoch because both cultures contained a similar characteristic of using substance in a will of exploring other states of mind, that enlarged their limited peception of the world and its reality.

And I would have more to add about some details. You were talking about ramblings? This is how mine ends for now. :)
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"He can love the shape of human beings, the fine and twisted shapes of the heart. It is good to have among us such men, such balancing monsters of love."

Leonard Cohen
Beautiful Losers
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Nathan
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Post by Nathan » Sun Mar 21, 2004 8:22 am

At a certain point, when the Jews were first commanded to raise an altar, the commandment was on unhewn stone. Apparently the god that wanted that particular altar didn't want slick, didn't want smooth. He wanted an unhewn stone placed on another unhewn stone. Maybe then you go looking for stones that fit. Maybe that was the process that God wanted the makers of this altar to undergo.
Beautiful Losers may take this writing philosophy to an extreme, but if we are willing to we can derive insight from all its sections. If Cohen had presented these ideas in a polished format, could they have lost some of the sincerity of this presentation?

I don't think we will appreciate Cohen if we read him in an academic, critical spirit.
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