Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me

by Richard Fariña
   The jacket of the 1983 reprint of richard fariña’s Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me suggests that Fariña “evokes the Sixties as precisely, wittily, and poignantly as F. Scott Fitzgerald captured the Jazz Age.” Although Fariña’s novel presages the 1960s in many regards, it is very much a novel embedded in the prescribed year in which Fariña set its narrative, 1958. One of Fariña’s chief accomplishments in Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me is the degree to which he captures a cultural moment in transition, juxtaposing a depiction of the late Victorian mores of the Eisenhower administration against a burgeoning, if underground, campus culture of sex, drugs, Eastern mysticism, and what his character Juan Carlos Rosenbloom terms “revolution.”
   Set in Athene, a thinly veiled facsimile of Ithaca, New York, and the environs of Cornell University, Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me’s picaresque narrative centers on the semester-long misadventures of Fariña’s alter ego, Gnossos Pappadopoulis, recently rematriculated after a year of on tHe road adventuring in Taos, Las Vegas, and the Adirondacks. The novel chronicles Pappadopoulis’s attempts to maintain his “Immunity” and “Exemption Status” in the face of an increasingly politicized campus environment and his own capitulation to romantic love. The novel is threaded with intimations of a malevolent global conspiracy (against immunity and exemption), and near conclusion it wanders into the violent domain of prerevolutionary Cuba. Throughout, Pappadopoulis’s young verve and Fariña’s occasionally over-the-top plot and characters carry the narrative forward. As Fariña’s Cornell undergraduate friend and colleague Thomas Pynchon states in the introduction to the novel’s 1983 reprint, “1958, to be sure, was another planet.” Composed as it was in the early and mid-1960s, Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me is clearly a work that was conceived in the shadow of jack kerouac, if not allen ginsberg and gregory corso, characterized as it is by Fariña’s manic, neal cassady-like narrator and Ginsberg and Corso’s antic energy and framing of an increasingly sexualized society (and literature). Fariña’s narrator at times enacts a vision of maleness that is distinctly Hemingwayesque if not outright brutish. But as Pynchon notes, Fariña’s novel taps into a time, a sensibility, and a persona that, despite the novel’s flaws, offers a vivid depiction of a new decade’s generation, a generation that came of age in the fallout of nuclear testing in the Nevada desert and in the lap of a relatively prosperous if staid culture (versus Kerouac’s roots in Depression-era Lowell).
   Fariña’s novel (like Kerouac’s On the Road) met largely negative criticism in the aftermath of its initial publication, and for some of the same reasons—it was read as undisciplined, raw work, though Thomas Lask in the New York Times granted it “a wild, careering sense of the absurd, a flair for invention, and a wide range of mood.” Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me exhibits many of the shortcomings characteristic of first novels, and a convincing argument can be made that Fariña’s chief strength as a writer was his lyricism, evidenced in the songwriting and music in which he engaged as central pursuit throughout his mid-twenties and up until the time of his premature death, as well as in his posthumously published miscellany Long Time Coming and a Long Time Gone (1969). Fariña’s enduring position as a cultural figure embodying the energy, virility, and wit of the 1960s, most recently evidenced in David Hadju’s Positively 4th Street: The Lives and Times of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Mimi Baez Fariña, and Richard Fariña, rests secure. But as Philip Beidler has noted, “Fariña’s text, on the other hand, has proved a good deal less securely enshrineable.”
■ Beidler, Philip. Scriptures for a Generation: What We Were Reading in the 60s. Athens, Ga.: University of Georgia, 1994.
■ Fariña, Richard. Long Time Coming and a Long Time Gone. New York: Random House, 1969.
■ The Richard and Mimi Fariña FanSite. Available online. URL: Accessed May 31, 2006.
■ Pynchon, Thomas. Introduction. Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me. By Richard Fariña. New York: Penguin, 1996, v–xiv.
   Tracy Santa

Encyclopedia of Beat Literature. . 2014.

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