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Home > Research > Academic Studies


Shit Into Gold: Jim Carroll's The Basketball Diaries and Forced Entries

By the time Jim Carroll was 16 years old, he was a heroin addict, a male prostitute, and a star basketball player, and had published his first book of poems, Organic Trains. By the time he was 30 years old, he had conquered his "epic" heroin addiction, had published four books, and was a rock 'n' roll star. However, while his biography is a fascinating story in itself, Carroll is more than a decadent culture hero. As a writer, Carroll is an alchemist capable of transforming the "shit" of his life into gold.

While this transformation is evident in all of his work, and while Carroll's perpetual redefinition of himself and his past continues to this day, this thesis covers only his two diaries in order to emphasize the artistic sensibility Carroll has developed over the last 27 years.

In The Basketball Diaries, in his attempts to authenticate himself, Carroll is initiated into a corrupt world of pedophiliac coaches and priests, the cold war, drug raids, racial prejudice, and social snobbery. Finding himself a victim of this world, he uses writing as a weapon to overcome his victimization. Through his diaries, he becomes the mirror image of the savage world in which he lives, revealing its corruption while defining himself and exhorting his "punk" code of integrity and honor through his poetic prose.

However, because the decadence of his Basketball Diaries persona, rather than the writer who transformed his experience, became the definition of Carroll both in the 1970s and the 1980s, he was "forced" to begin again the task of redefining himself and his past with Forced Entries. In this second diary, written during the 1980s after he had become a rock 'n' roll star, Carroll documents his adventures during the 1970s as a young art scene initiate attempting to overcome his "street punk" identity. In "The Downtown Diaries" of Forced Entries, he enters the art scene to authenticate himself as an artist, but finds the scene elitist, hypocritical, and corrupt. Even worse, because of his heroin addiction and his desperate desire to be part of the glitzy art scene, Carroll falls victim to the hypocrisy and corruption he thought he was above.

Hence, in order to recapture his artistic sensibility and sense of self, Carroll embarks upon two interconnected quests, one of which is part of the literal "plot" of the diary, and one of which lies in his continuing struggle as a writer to redefine his past. First, in "The Move to California," he flees to California to conquer his heroin addiction and regain his poetic vision. Second, because he wrote Forced Entries as rock star/poet who had been misunderstood and nearly condemned because of his adolescent past, Forced Entries takes on the tone of a confessional, through which he goes through the process of penance, purging and redeeming himself of his sins by writing about them. Hence, by restructuring his past in all of his work, and by confessing his sins in Forced Entries, he emerges redeemed, effectively recontextualizing The Basketball Diaries, Catholic Boy, and his entire past, and his entry into rock 'n' roll becomes his salvation.

Copyright 1990 Cassie Carter. This material may not be reprinted except by permission from the author.


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