Cinephilia and the Outsider
: Filmic Influence in the Literature of Charles Bukowski and the Beats

  • J. C. Farhoumand

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    This thesis explores two main questions: First, why is allusion to the filmic trope of the
    Outsider so prevalent throughout the literature of Charles Bukowski and the Beat
    Generation writers? Second, how does this filmic allusion affect the writing? My
    hypothesis is that the masculine figure of the Outsider in Beat literature is heavily
    informed by that of the Outsider appearing in twentieth-century American cinema,
    portrayed by actors like Charles Chaplin, Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney, George Raft
    and Burt Lancaster. I argue that these hyper-masculine cinematic portrayals significantly
    impacted Bukowski and the Beats, affecting the written expression of their
    autobiographical identities plus their fictional characters. I examine how film created a
    generation-wide and oft-overlooked cinephilia — a collective love of film that inspired
    these writers in their literary experimentations, manifesting itself in their works in the
    figure of a transposed filmic Outsider-poet hybrid.

    My critical approach is principally socio-historical; I juxtapose selected
    literature with contemporarily evolving film genres (e.g. gangster movies and film noir),
    employing the lenses of cultural discourses and theories emergent around the Beat
    coming-of-age (e.g. existentialism and the Self). Primary sources by Bukowski include
    what I argue are film-inspired poems like “upon this most delicate profession” and “the
    bluebird”. Other foci include: Jack Kerouac’s “The Origins of the Beat Generation”; Frank
    O’Hara’s “To the Film Industry in Crisis”; Gregory Corso’s “The Last Gangster”. Critiques
    employed to contextualize Bukowski with the Beats include those by Paul Clements,
    Russell Harrison, Julian Smith and Jean-François Duval. Studies selected to explore the
    cinema-literature relationship include those by Laurence Goldstein, David Trotter and
    David Sterritt. Treatise cited to analyze the Outsider, the Other and the Liminal include
    those by Jean-Paul Sartre, Colin Wilson, Albert Camus, Victor Turner and R. D. Laing.

    My contribution reveals two new literary techniques, namely: (1) Perflection
    — the act of ‘performance-based reflection’ employed by an author or character in
    imitation of what the author has seen in cinema. I show that Bukowski’s on-page
    machismo (his construction of Self as Other) is a perflection of the onscreen disaffected
    manner that he observed in Outsider performances by macho character actors like Bogart
    and Cagney; correspondingly, I suggest that Kerouac’s method for writing On the Road on
    an elongated paper scroll is a perflection of filmmaking technique which similarly employs a film reel. (2) Perjection — the act of ‘performance-based projection’ used by an
    author or character to project (mentally) an image through a real or imagined glass lens
    (e.g. window or car windscreen) onto a character beyond in voyeuristic imitation of that
    seen in cinema. Perjection is a mode of seeing from the Outsider position, involving a
    psycho-mechanical self-metamorphosis that transforms the author’s or character’s eye
    into (essentially) a projector. My cultural–theoretical contextualizing throughout the
    thesis helps to highlight the location and role of the filmic Outsider in Beat thought, while
    perflection and perjection elucidate how Bukowski et al employ the filmic Outsider to
    dynamize their writing.
    Date of Award2021
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • University of Brighton
    SupervisorGina Wisker (Supervisor) & John Wrighton (Supervisor)

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