Montreal Then & Now: Heroes

After decades of teaching, Zsolt Alapi is a born-again writer, editor, publisher, who has made his home in Montreal for over four decades.

Written by Zsolt Alapi

In his Poetics Aristotle defines the tragic hero as high-mimetic, noble born, superior to most common mortals. His fall, often brought about by a grand dose of hubris, brings him down to human dimensions and serves as a lesson to lesser humans that if he can fall so can we. So an Oedipus, carrying out patricide and engaging in an incestuous relationship with his mother and then arrogantly seeking out the perpetrator at all costs becomes the ironic victim of his own quest for verity. In a sense, he epitomized the first “celebrity,” lionized and then reviled for his misfortunes as the audience looked on in fascinated horror.

Mind you, this was a crowd that probably thought nothing of shtupping their mothers in the middle of the night or driving a sword into dad’s stomach at the slightest provocation.   Aristotle’s moral lesson played well to Greeks who had to park their swords at the door to the Theater of Dionysus, so the dramatic act became one of catharsis and release, lessons fraught with such horror that the upraised sword hand or up thrust penis was stilled for at least a little while.

But what has happened to this sense of clarity where morality was simply arrived at? Beginning with Modernism, we have the birth of the anti-hero, a Prufrock who is paralyzed by thoughts of his own mortality, dick limp to even the Sirens’ song, a mutton-chopped Matthew Arnold watching the cliffs of Dover and stressing about the state of the world while his mistress rolls wantonly on the bed wondering about the feel of his whiskers between her thighs. And what about the Postmodernists, believers in nothing save their own hollow theorizing, using words to avoid facing the dread of the abyss? Foucault, Barthes, and Derrida engaged in one prolonged circle-jerk of self-indulgent, unreadable pedantry.

So, are there heroes left, worth emulating? People to fuel our dreams and quicken our pulse? Here then is a list (admittedly subjective) of the ten “Greats,” in no particular order, who can unabashedly claim the heroic mantle:

  1. Charles Bukowski: drunk, womanizer, misanthrope and genius of the short story, whose greatest statement is: “Some people never go crazy; what horrible lives they must lead.”
  2. Diane DiPrima: poet/genius /occultist/bisexual revolutionary, 1960s and 1970s icon; one of the first courageous women before Women’s Liberation, who lived her life completely on her own terms:

“It is still news to her that passion
could steer her wrong
though she went down, a thousand times
strung out
across railroad tracks, off bridges
under cars, or stiff
glass bottle still in hand, hair soft
on greasy pillows,( still it is
news she cannot follow now) & still
come out all right.”

3. Hart Crane: gay poet/visionary/suicide: “So I entered the broken world/To trace the visionary company of love.”

4. Joni Mitchell: singer/songwriter/painter/lover extraordinaire: “I could drink a case of you” (possible the greatest words penned in song about a blow job).

4. Allen Ginsberg: 20th century poetic genius/gay bard-prophet of two generations: “ The weight of the world is love. Under the burden of solitude, under the burden of dissatisfaction.”

5. Jack Kerouac: half-enlightened, drunken genius of spontaneous prose who wrote mad hymns to the heavens: “There was nowhere to go but everywhere, so just keep on rolling under the stars.”

6. Krishnamurti: philosopher, mystic, reluctant guru, educator: “I believe in nothing.”

7. Woody Allen: comic, genius filmmaker, world class neurotic and nebish: “Making love to you is a Kafkaesque experience” and “God is an underachiever” rate as the two lines that can make you weep with laughter and stop you dead in your tracks at the same time.

8. Leonard Cohen: Montreal’s own poet/songwriter/official genius: “There’s a crack in everything: that’s how the light gets in.”

9. J, former lover of this writer, who came up with the greatest sexual putdown when reminiscing about our first sexual encounter, decades ago in a cheap hotel in Wien: “Were you there?” 

10. Emil Cioran, writer, thinker, and philosopher:  “A book is a suicide postponed.”

And the not so greats: Selena Gomez, Kim Kardashian, and Canada’s own, Justin Bieber, just to name a few of the very many:

So, a final little quiz: What did Justin Bieber say when he first had sex?

  1. “I’ve never had sex.”
  2. “In Canada, we call my ‘thingie’ a ‘no-see-em’.”
  3. “Hey, I’m Just-in-Beaver!”
  4. All of the above.

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