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JACK KEROUAC

(1922 - 1969)

(Born Jean-Louis Lebris de Kerouac) American novelist, poet, essayist, and nonfiction writer.

K

erouac is regarded as the one of the key figures of the Beat movement. He brought the term "Beat," meaning both "beaten down," or outcast, and "beatific," or full of spiritual joy, into common use to describe the condition of his generation. His 1957 novel On the Road gained widespread recognition, both positive and negative, for the unconventional lifestyle and literary techniques practiced by the Beats. Some passages of the book are considered early examples of the "spontaneous prose" method that Kerouac developed in an effort to escape the strictures of grammar and syntax. Consequently, On the Road moves with the same frenetic energy as the reallife road trips and drunken episodes that are chronicled in a narrative that eschews extensive characterizations or plot development. Kerouac used several of his friends, including poet Allen Ginsberg and novelist William S. Burroughs, as models for the prominent characters in the autobiographical narrative, as well as in many of his other works.

BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION

Born in a French-Canadian community in Lowell, Massachusetts, Kerouac was reared in a

devout Roman Catholic family and educated in parochial schools. An outstanding athlete, he received a football scholarship to Columbia University, but withdrew from the university during the fall of his sophomore year. He joined the U.S. Navy in 1943 and was honorably discharged after six months as an "indifferent character." Kerouac worked for the remainder of World War II as a merchant seaman and later began associating with the bohemian crowd around Columbia, which included Ginsberg and Burroughs, both of whom were influential in Kerouac's intellectual and artistic coming of age as well as becoming major figures associated with the Beat movement. Like Ginsberg and Burroughs, many of Kerouac's friends among the Beats served as the basis for the characters in his novels. Poet Gary Snyder, for instance, inspired Japhy Ryder, the main character in The Dharma Bums (1958). The single most influential personality in Kerouac's circle of friends, and the protagonist in both On the Road and Visions of Cody (1972), was Neal Cassady. Kerouac saw the energetic, charismatic Cassady as the quintessential Beat figure--an independent spirit who lived unhindered by societal conventions. Kerouac also cited Cassady's stream-ofconsciousness writing style, exemplified in his voluminous correspondence, as having inspired his own "spontaneous prose" technique. This freeflowing, fast-paced, and self-consciously poetic style of narrative, which is not observable in Kerouac's first novel, The Town and the City (1950),

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became widely imitated by later writers. With the initial publication of On the Road, Kerouac achieved sudden fame as the most conspicuous representative of the "beatnik" way of life. Subsequently, several of his novels were issued in quick succession as publishers rushed to capitalize on his popularity. Kerouac's shy nature and emotional instability, however, kept him from enjoying his fame: he was known to arrive at public appearances in a state of intoxication and failed in his sporadic attempts to withdraw from a life of celebrity in order to concentrate on writing. A sincere patriot and Catholic, Kerouac became increasingly bewildered by and alienated from his bohemian fans in the 1960s. He died from complications due to alcoholism in 1969.

MAJOR WORKS

Kerouac viewed his novels as comprising a series of interconnected autobiographical narratives in the manner of Marcel Proust's A la recherche du temps perdu (Remembrance of Things Past). The novels that compose "The Legend of Duluoz," as Kerouac called the totality of his works include Visions of Gerard (1963), which depicts the author's childhood as overshadowed by the death of his beloved brother Gerard at age nine; Doctor Sax: Faust Part Three (1959), a surrealistic portrait of Kerouac's boyhood memories and dreams; Maggie Cassidy (1959), a fictional account of Kerouac's first love; and Vanity of Duluoz: An Adventurous Education, 1935-1946 (1968), which chronicles Kerouac's years of playing football at prep school and Columbia University. In On the Road, Kerouac wrote about his life in the late 1940s, focusing on the cross-country traveling he did during this time as well as his relationships with Ginsberg, Burroughs, and Cassady. Visions of Cody, viewed by many critics as a late revision of On the Road, retells the story in spontaneous prose. Kerouac wrote about his love affair in 1953 with an African-American woman in The Subterraneans (1958), and his adventures on the West Coast learning about Buddhism from Gary Snyder are delineated in The Dharma Bums. Desolation Angels (1965) covers the years just prior to the publication of On the Road, while Big Sur (1962) displays the bitterness and despair Kerouac experienced in the early 1960s and his descent into alcoholism.

dise, enthusiastically describes the adventures that make up the book's narrative, including stealing, heavy drinking, drug use, and sexual promiscuity. To many critics of the time, Kerouac's novel signaled the moral demise of a generation. However, several reviewers disagreed with this assessment, noting the spiritual quest theme that permeates the novel and arguing that such themes made On the Road a descendent of American "road literature" as represented by such works as Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Although On the Road was once commonly considered to have inspired the peripatetic hippie generation of the 1960s, later evaluations have paid greater attention to the narrator's disillusionment with the life of the road at the conclusion of the novel. Some commentators now view On the Road as depicting the conflicting appeal of a contemplative, inner-directed life on the one hand, and an unexamined, outgoing existence on the other. More recent critical studies also evidence considerable interest in Kerouac's "spontaneous prose" method, viewing it as an extension of the "streamof-consciousness" technique used by James Joyce. While On the Road and subsequent works by Kerouac once stunned the public and the literary establishment, the enduring attraction these works hold for both readers and critics argues for their importance in the canon of modern American literature.

KEROUAC

PRINCIPAL WORKS

The Town and the City (novel) 1950 On the Road (novel) 1957 The Dharma Bums (novel) 1958 The Subterraneans (novel) 1958 Doctor Sax: Faust Part Three (novel) 1959 Excerpts from Visions of Cody (novel) 1959; enlarged edition, 1972 Maggie Cassidy (novel) 1959 Mexico City Blues (poetry) 1959 The Scripture of the Golden Eternity (poetry) 1960 Tristessa (novel) 1960 The Book of Dreams (diaries) 1961 Big Sur (novel) 1962

CRITICAL RECEPTION

When first published, On the Road was rejected by many as a morally objectionable work. Kerouac, through his first-person narrator, Sal Para-

Visions of Gerard (novel) 1963 Desolation Angels (novel) 1965 Satori in Paris (novel) 1966

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Vanity of Duluoz: An Adventurous Education, 19351946 (novel) 1968 Pic (novel) 1971 Visions of Cody (novel) 1972 Book of Blues (poetry) 1995 Jack Kerouac: Selected Letters, 1940-1956 (letters) 1995 Some of the Dharma (nonfiction) 1997 Jack Kerouac: Selected Letters, 1957-1969 (letters) 1999 Door Wide Open: A Beat Love Affair in Letters, 1957-1958 (letters) 2000 Book of Haikus (poetry) 2003

of English with no discipline other than rhythms of rhetorical exhalation and expostulated statement, like a fist coming down on a table with each complete utterance, bang! (the space dash)--Blow as deep as you want--write as deeply, fish as far down as you want, satisfy yourself first, then reader cannot fail to receive telepathic shock and meaning-excitement by same laws operating in his own human mind.

KEROUAC

Lag in Procedure

No pause to think of proper word but the infantile pileup of scatalogical buildup words till satisfaction is gained, which will turn out to be a great appending rhythm to a thought and be in accordance with Great Law of timing.

PRIMARY SOURCES

JACK KEROUAC (ESSAY DATE AUTUMN 1957)

SOURCE: Kerouac, Jack. "Essentials of Spontaneous Prose." Black Mountain Review 7 (autumn 1957): 226-8. Kerouac believed that writing spontaneously produced the most honest, direct material. In this brief article, he outlines the basic process for the practice of spontaneous prose.

Timing

Nothing is muddy that runs in time and to laws of time--Shakespearian stress of dramatic need to speak now in own unalterable way or forever hold tongue--no revisions (except obvious rational mistakes, such as names or calculated insertions in act of not writing but inserting).

Set-Up

The object is set before the mind, either in reality, as in sketching (before a landscape or teacup or old face) or is set in the memory wherein it becomes the sketching from memory of a definite image-object.

Center of Interest

Begin not from preconceived idea of what to say about image but from jewel center of interest in subject of image at moment of writing, and write outwards swimming in sea of language to peripheral release and exhaustion--Do not afterthink except for poetic or P. S. reasons. Never afterthink to "improve" or defray impressions, as, the best writing is always the most painful personal wrungout tossed from cradle warm protective mind--tap from yourself the song of yourself, blow!--now!--your way is your only way-- "good"--or "bad"--always honest, ("ludicrous"), spontaneous, "confessional" interesting, because not "crafted." Craft is craft.

Procedure

Time being of the essence in the purity of speech, sketching language is undisturbed flow from the mind of personal secret idea-words, blowing (as per jazz musician) on subject of image.

Method

No periods separating sentence-structures already arbitrarily riddled by false colons and timid usually needless commas--but the vigorous space dash separating rhetorical breathing (as jazz musician drawing breath between outblown phrases)--"measured pauses which are the essentials of our speech"--"divisions of the sounds we hear"--"time and how to note it down." (William Carlos Williams)

Structure of Work

Modern bizarre structures (science fiction, etc.) arise from language being dead, "different" themes give illusion of "new" life. Follow roughly outlines in outfanning movement over subject, as river rock, so mindflow over jewel-center need (run your mind over it, once) arriving at pivot, where what was dim-formed "beginning" becomes sharpnecessitating "ending" and language shortens in race to wire of time-race of work, following laws of Deep Form, to conclusion, last words, last trickle--Night is The End.

Scoping

Not "selectivity" of expression but following free deviation (association) of mind into limitless blow-on-subject seas of thought, swimming in sea

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KEROUAC

JACK KEROUAC (NOVEL DATE 1957)

ON THE SUBJECT OF

JOAN HAVERTY KEROUAC

SOURCE: Kerouac, Jack. "Chapter 2." In On the Road, pp. 3-13. New York: Viking, 1957. Often cited along with Ginsberg's Howl as a definitive work of the Beat Generation, On the Road has endured as a highly influential work in twentieth-century literature. In the following excerpt, the character Sal Paradise writes of approaching New York City at the outset of his journey West.

Joan Haverty became Kerouac's second wife in 1950, and supported them both while Kerouac wrote On the Road. Shortly thereafter the marriage ended, and Joan moved to Albany, New York, where she was living with her parents when her daughter, Jan Kerouac, was born on February 16, 1952. Joan and Kerouac battled publicly and privately over Jan's paternity and financial support for many years. Between 1982 (the year she was diagnosed with breast cancer) and 1990 (the year she finally succumbed to the disease), Joan captured her experiences with Kerouac in writing. A manuscript was pieced together by Jan and several of Joan's friends after her death, and was published in 2000 as Nobody's Wife. A brief excerpt from this memoir appears below.

WHEN JOAN MET NEAL: 1951 As [Neal] talked, the sound of Jack's proposal to me echoed in my memory. I had been unable until now to reconcile the audacity and presumptuousness he'd shown that night with the timid, suspicious personality I had now come to know so well. Now I saw that, in order to get the job done, and reinforced by the smoking of a lot of grass, Jack had become the embodiment of Neal. He had done it in the same way he automatically became W. C. Fields when he drank. The garb or disguise of one hero or another allayed his fears and suspicions and enabled him to surge forth and meet the challenge, whatever it was. Kerouac, Joan Haverty. An excerpt from "Chapter 17: Meeting Neal Cassady." Nobody's Wife: The Smart Aleck and The King of the Beats. Berkeley, Calif: Creative Arts Book Co., 2000.

Mental State

If possible write "without consciousness" in semitrance (as Yeats' later "trance writing") allowing subconscious to admit in own uninhibited interesting necessary and so "modern" language what conscious art would censor, and write excitedly, swiftly, with writing-or-typing-cramps, in accordance (as from center to periphery) with laws of orgasm, Reich's "beclouding of consciousness." Come from within, out--to relaxed and said.

I'd been poring over maps of the United States in Paterson for months, even reading books about the pioneers and savoring names like Platte and Cimarron and so on, and on the road-map was one long red line called Route 6 that led from the tip of Cape Cod clear to Ely, Nevada, and there dipped down to Los Angeles. I'll just stay on all the way to Ely, I said to myself and confidently started. To get to 6 I had to go up to Bear Mountain. Filled with dreams of what I'd do in Chicago, in Denver, and then finally in San Fran, I took the Seventh Avenue Subway to the end of the line at 242nd Street, and there took a trolley into Yonkers; in downtown Yonkers I transferred to an outgoing trolley and went to the city limits on the east bank of the Hudson River. If you drop a rose in the Hudson River at its mysterious source in the Adirondacks, think of all the places it journeys as it goes to sea forever--think of that wonderful Hudson Valley. I started hitching up the thing. Five scattered rides took me to the desired Bear Mountain Bridge, where Route 6 arched in from New England. It began to rain in torrents when I was let off there. It was mountainous. Route 6 came over the river, wound around a traffic circle, and disappeared into the wilderness. Not only was there no traffic but the rain come down in buckets and I had no shelter. I had to run under some pines to take cover; this did no good; I began crying and swearing and socking myself on the head for being such a damn fool. I was forty miles north of New York; all the way up I'd been worried about the fact that on this, my big opening day, I was only moving north instead of the so-longed for west. Now I was stuck on my northermost hangup. I ran a quarter-mile to an abandoned cute Englishstyle filling station and stood under the dripping eaves. High up over my head the great hairy Bear Mountain sent down thunderclaps that put the fear of God in me. All I could see were smoky trees and dismal wilderness rising to the skies. "What the hell am I doing up here?" I cursed, I cried for Chicago. "Even now they're all having a big time, they're doing this, I'm not there, when will I get there!"--and so on. Finally a car stopped at the empty filling station; the man and the two women

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in it wanted to study a map. I stepped right up and gestured in the rain; they consulted; I looked like a maniac, of course, with my hair all wet, my shoes sopping. My shoes, damm fool that I am, were Mexican huaraches, plantlike sieves not fit for the rainly night of America and the raw road night. But the people let me in and rode me back to Newburgh, which I accepted as a better alternative than being trapped in the Bear Mountain wilderness all night. "Besides," said the man, "there's no traffic passes through 6. If you want to go to Chicago you'd be better going across the Holland Tunnel in New York and head for Pittsburth," and I knew he was right. It was my dream that screwed up, the stupid hearthside idea that it would be wonderful to follow one great red line across America instead of trying various roads and routes. In Newburgh it had stopped raining. I walked down to the river and I had to ride back to New York in a bus with a delegation of schoolteachers coming back from a weekend in the mountains-- chatter chatter blah-blah, and me swearing for all the time and money I'd wasted, and telling myself, I wanted to go west and here I'd been all day and into the night going up and down, north and south, like something that can't get started.

12. In tranced fixation dreaming upon object before you 13. Remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition 14. Like Proust be an old teahead of time 15. Telling the true story of the world in interior monolog 16. The jewel center of interest is the eye within the eye 17. Write in recollection and amazement for yourself 18. Work from pithy middle eye out, swimming in language sea 19. Accept loss forever 20. Believe in the holy contour of life 21. Struggle to sketch the flow that already exists intact in mind 22. Dont think of words when you stop but to see picture better 23. Keep track of every day the date emblazoned in yr morning 24. No fear or shame in the dignity of yr experience, language & knowledge 25. Write for the world to read and see yr exact pictures of it 26. Bookmovie is the movie in words, the visual American form 27. In praise of Character in the Bleak inhuman Loneliness 28. Composing wild, undisciplined, pure, coming in from under, crazier the better 29. You're a Genius all the time 30. Writer-Director of Earthly movies Sponsored & Angeled in Heaven

KEROUAC

JACK KEROUAC (ESSAY DATE SPRING 1959)

SOURCE: Kerouac, Jack. "Belief and Technique for Modern Prose." Evergreen Review 2 (spring 1959): 57. Kerouac composed this brief list of suggestions for writers wishing to achieve a "modern" sensibility in their work.

List of Essentials

1. Scribbled secret notebooks, and wild typewritten pages, for yr own joy 2. Submissive to everything, open, listening 3. Try never get drunk outside yr own house 4. Be in love with yr life 5. Something that you feel will find its own form 6. Be crazy dumbsaint of the mind 7. Blow as deep as you want to blow 8. Write what you want bottomless from bottom of the mind 9. The unspeakable visions of the individual 10. No time for poetry but exactly what is 11. Visionary tics shivering in the chest

JACK KEROUAC (POEM DATE 1960)

SOURCE: Kerouac, Jack. "Scripture of the Golden Eternity." In Scripture of the Golden Eternity, pp. 23-61. San Francisco: City Lights, 1970. Kerouac wrote the following poem in response to a suggestion from fellow Beat Gary Snyder that he write his first Sutra. In 1960, when he presented it for publication, he said, "While I was writing this, I thought I knew what it meant, but now I don't know anymore." 1 Did I create that sky? Yes, for, if it was anything other than a conception in my mind I wouldnt have said "Sky"--That is why I am the

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