Part 1Paper 4: English Literature and its Contexts 1830-Present.
(2.4.9) Countercultural Writing 1950-1999.
Dr. James Riley.
Lecture 2 Alexander Trocchi
Cain’s Book (1960 / 1963)
1. Trocchi’s life, career and literary influences.
2. Critical context 1: The Beat Generation.
3. Critical context 2: The Situationist International.
Alexander Trocchi: A Life in Pieces (Tim Neill and Allan Campbell).
My scow is tied up in the canal at Flushing, N.Y., alongside the landing stage of the Mac Asphalt and Construction Corporation. It is now just after five in the afternoon. Today at this time it is still afternoon, and the sun, striking the cinderblocks of the main building of the works, has turned pink. The motor cranes and the decks of the other scows tied up round about are deserted.
Half an hour ago I gave myself a fix.
---Trocchi, Cain’s Book, (Calder, 1992), p.9.
Favourable critics naturally invoke this commitment to mimetic correctness of representation, or to reproduction, as Kerouac’s virtue […] In their very defence, however, they implicitly admit his technical or formal inadequacy (‘false from the point of view or art’).
----Yuki Gennaka, ‘Writing, Typing, Telepathic Shock: The Value of Literature and Culture in Jack Kerouac’s ‘Spontaneous Prose’. Studies in English Literature 47 (2006), pp.203-222, (p.205).
Cain’s Book is an autobiographical novel in the form of a junkie’s journal.
[…] honesty towards oneself is the lynchpin of this clearly autobiographical novel.
It is different from other books, it is true, it has art, it is brave.
Trocchi’s magnum opus, Cain’s Book, was published in New York in 1961 and shocked conservative reviewers with its audaciously autobiographical descriptions of the drug underworld.
(See ‘Introduction’ and ‘Foreword’ texts in 1992 Calder Books edition of CB).
Siphoning up the liquid again, applying the needle with its collar (a strip from the end of a dollar bill) to the neck of the dropper, twisting it on, resting the shot momentarily at the edge of the table while he ties up with the leather belt on his right arm … but I am already beyond all that. I am not watching and he is not playing for a public … If he is I shan’t notice because I am not watching … we are both of us, I believe, relating each and separately to the heroin before us. He is stroking the arm he is about to puncture just above a blackish vein and I am already moving to cook up my own fix in the spoon. By the time I have it prepared he is already loosening the belt. And now he presses the bulb. It doesn’t take long. It might have taken much longer.
(CB, pp. 82-83).
Clip from Cain's Film (Jamie Wadhawan, 1969).
The classic must, within its formal limitations, express the maximum possible of the whole range of feeling which represents the character of the people who speak that language. It will represent this at its best and it will also have the widest appeal among the people to who it belongs, it will find its response among all classes and conditions of men.
---T.S. Eliot, What is a Classic? (Faber, 1944), p. 27.
The great novelists […] are all very much concerned with ‘form’; they are all very original technically, having turned their genius to the working out of their own appropriate methods and procedures.
---F.R. Leavis, The Great Tradition (Penguin, 1948), pp.16-17.
A cigarette. I operate the roller to see what better I have written:
-Alone again. I might say amen but don’t or can’t […] I am alone again and write it down to provide anchorage against my own mutinous winds.
From the bundle of papers which have withstood my prunings I select a couple of sheets and read:
-The fix: a purposive spoon in the broth of experience.
I didn’t delude myself from the moment I became aware of his shadow, although in self-defence I may have pretended to wonder, to seek safety in the problematic. I can see now I must have known even then that it was an act of curiosity. Even now I’m the victim of my own behaviour: each remembered fact of the congeries of facts out of which in my more or less continuous way I construct this document is an act of remembrance, a selected fiction, and I am the agent also of what is unremembered, rejected; thus I must pause, overlook, focus on my effective posture.
Campbell, James, This is the Beat Generation (Great Britain: Vintage, 2000).
Debord, Guy, ‘Preliminary Problems in Constructing a Situation’, in The Situationist International Anthology, trans. by Ken Knabb (Bureau of Public Secrets, 1981), pp.41-42.
Debord, Society of the Spectacle (1967) (Zone, 1994).
Debord and G.I. Wolman, ‘Methods of Detournement’ in Knabb, pp. 8-14.
Eliot, T.S., What is Classic? (Faber, 1944).
Gennaka, Yuki, ‘Writing, Typing, Telepathic Shock: The Value of Literature and Culture in Jack Kerouac’s ‘Spontaneous Prose’. Studies in English Literature 47 (2006), pp.203-222, (p.205).
Holmes, John, Clellon, ‘This is the Beat Generation’, in Beat Down to Your Soul: What was the Beat Generation?, ed. by Ann Charters, (USA: Penguin, 2001), pp.222-228.
Leavis, F.R., The Great Tradition (Penguin, 1948).
Trocchi, Alexander, Cain’s Book (USA: Grove, 1960).
Trocchi, Helen and Desire (Olympia, 1954).
Trocchi, The Invisible Insurrection of a Million Minds: An Alexander Trocchi Reader, ed. by Andrew Murray Scott (Polygon, 1993).
Trocchi, Young Adam (Olympia, 1954).
Van Der Wilt, Koos, ‘The Author’s Recreation of Himself as Narrator and Protagonist in Fragmented Prose: A New Look at Some Beat Novels’, The Dutch Quarterly Review of Anglo American Letters, 12. 2 (1982), 113-124.
Wiseman, Ann, ‘Addiction and the Avant-Garde: Heroin Addiction and Narrative in Alexander Trocchi’s Cain’s Book’, in Beyond the Pleasure Dome, ed. by Tim Armstrong (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1994), pp.256-265.