A Dec. 1, 2011 review of this lost Kerouac novel (his first), taken from The Telegraph. Written by Nicholas Blincoe…
The publication of a lost first novel by Jack Kerouac prompts two questions: “How good is it?” and “How lost was it?” Last month, the Anthony Burgess Foundation announced the discovery of Burgess’s lost opera on the life and death of Leon Trotsky. And where was this treasure exactly? Apparently, lying among Burgess’s stuff – so not so very lost, after all.
The publication of The Sea Is My Brother, a novel Kerouac wrote when he was just 20, appears after a similar feat of literary detective work. Which is to say, someone opened a suitcase and found it lying there. One half suspects that the suitcase had been opened before, but on those occasions the person responsible read Kerouac’s title and quickly slammed the lid shut again.
Kerouac seemed to spring from nowhere with On the Road (1957), the definitive “beatnik” novel. He caught the imagination of a generation with an intensely Read the rest of this entry »
In the summer of 1968, poet Ted Berrgian interviewed Jack Kerouac at his house. This was published in The Paris Review...
The Kerouacs have no telephone. Ted Berrigan had contacted Kerouac some months earlier and had persuaded him to do the interview. When he felt the time had come for their meeting to take place, he simply showed up at the Kerouacs’s house. Two friends, poets Aram Saroyan and Duncan McNaughton, accompanied him. Kerouac answered his ring; Berrigan quickly told him his name and the visit’s purpose. Kerouac welcomed the poets, but before he could show them in, his wife, a very determined woman, seized him from behind and told the group to leave at once.
“Jack and I began talking simultaneously, saying ‘Paris Review!’ ‘Interview!’ etc.,” Berrigan recalls, “while Duncan and Aram began to slink back toward the car. All seemed lost, but I kept talking in what I hoped was a civilized, reasonable, calming, and friendly tone of voice, and soon Mrs. Kerouac agreed to let us in for twenty minutes, on the condition that there be no drinking.
“Once inside, as it became evident that we actually were in pursuit of a serious purpose, Mrs. Kerouac became more friendly, and we were able to commence the interview. It seems that people still show up constantly at the Kerouacs’s looking for the author of On the Road, and stay for days, drinking all the liquor and diverting Jack from his serious occupations. Read the rest of this entry »
This letter from Jack Kerouac to Marlon Brando, dated 1957, was discovered in 2005 and recently sold at auction by Christie’s. In the letter, Kerouac is urging Brando to play the role of Dean Moriarty (Neal Cassidy) in a film version of his then-recent bestseller On the Road, while Kerouac would play Sal Paradise (himself)…
A review of On the Road from Phoebe Lou Adams from the October 1957 issue of The Atlantic. It’s always fascinating to read what critics thought of On the Road at the time of its release…
Ladder to Nirvana
Jack Kerouac’s second novel, On the Road (Viking, $3.95), concerns the adventures of the narrator, Sal Paradise, a war veteran who is studying on the G.I. bill and writing a book between drinks, and his younger friend, Dean Moriarty late of reform school. Neither of these boys can sit still. They race back and forth from New York to San Francisco, they charge from one party to another, they tour jazz joints, and Dean complicates the pattern by continually getting married. At odd moments they devote a little thought to finding Dean’s father, a confirmed drunk who is presumably bumming around somewhere west of the Mississippi.
Dean is the more important character. Mr. Kerouac makes considerable play with his disorderly childhood, his hitch in the reform school, and his rootlessness, but his activities seem less a search for stability than a determined pursuit of euphoria. Dope, liquor, girls, jazz, and fast cars, in that order, are Dean’s ladder to nirvana, and so much time is spent on them that it is hard to keep track of any larger pattern behind all the scuttling about. Read the rest of this entry »
No telegram today
only more leaves
boy smashing dandelions
with a stick.
Drunk as a hoot owl,
Taken from Contemporary Buddhism Vol. 6, No. 2 by Sarah Haynes…
Jack Kerouac’s place in the literary world was secured in the 1950s with the publication of On the Road; however, his position as a Buddhist writer and practitioner was yet to be established. This paper examines his Buddhist life and texts, and explores two of his Buddhist books while focusing on his influences, their effects on his personal life and the impact these had on his writing and on Buddhism in America. Kerouac’s ‘Buddhist’ texts are not as well known as his others, although many of his more popular books include elements of Buddhism. The two Kerouac texts that are to be explored here are Some of the Dharma and The Scripture of the Golden Eternity. While the focus of this paper is on the exploration of these two texts, their content and structure, one cannot ignore the influencing factors that led Kerouac to write them and the aspects of his life that affected the way in which they were composed. Read the rest of this entry »
This review of Kerouac’s book of poems, was written by Beat mentor Kenneth Rexroth and was printed in the New York Times Book Review, Nov. 29, 1959…
In the last three years Jack Kerouac has favored us with his observations about hitchhiking, riding freights and driving other people’s fast cars across country. It would seem he did these things poorly and that doing them frightened him severely. Next, he gave us his ideas about jazz and Negroes, two subjects about which he knew less than nothing; in fact, he knew them in reverse. In this reader’s opinion, his opinions about Negroes are shared only by members of the Ku Klux Klan. Jazz, he seems to believe, is throbbing drums and screaming horns, pandemonium in the jungle night over a pot of missionary fricassee. Now, in this book of poems, he has turned to Buddhism and dope with similar results.
Somebody once said of Mr. Kerouac that he was a Columbia freshman who went to a party in the Village twenty years ago and got lost. How true. The naïve effrontery of this book is more pitiful than ridiculous. Mr. Kerouac’s Buddhism is a dime-store incense burner, glowing and glowering sinisterly in the dark corner of a Beatnik pad and just thrilling the wits out of bad little girls.
He sums it up a couple of times: “Neither life / nor death — neither existence / nor nonexistence — but the central / lapse and absence of them both / (in Love’s Holy Void Abode).” This is lucid, possibly quoted from somebody else. At its best it is considerably below the Occult Ancient East as presented on the New York Library steps, in Chicago’s Bughouse Square, or to the eager girls on that circuit immortalized by the late Helen Hokinson.
As for dope, there are a lot of words in capitals, like “A BANG OF M,” and observations like “The only cure for / morphine poisoning / is more morphine,” and a liberal use of words like “fix” and “joypop” and a brief biochemical dissertation on “goofballs.” But I think the best poem in the book is the one which ends, “And I am only an Apache / Smoking Hashi / In old Cabashy / By the Lamp.” This poem begins, “I keep falling in love / with my mother, / I don’t want to hurt her / — Of all people to hurt.”
It’s all there, the terrifyingly skillful use of verse, the broad knowledge of life, the profound judgments, the almost unbearable sense of reality. I’ve always wondered what ever happened to those waxwork figures in the old rubber-neck dives in Chinatown. Now we know; one of them at least writes books.
Kenneth Rexroth review of Kerouac’s The Subterraneans, taken from the San Francisco Chronicle, Feb. 16, 1958.
Rexroth was a mentor to alot of the Beat writers and was considered a father figure to the movement…
If Kerouac’s On the Road bugged the boys on the literary quarterlies, this book is going to give them running and barking fits. It has all the essential ingredients of a bad book. It is sentimental, naïve, pretentious and full of shocking lack of understanding of the world it describes. Since this is presumably the world of the author’s own life, this is a pretty serious indictment.
And yet it is not a bad book. Many people can accept Kerouac as a social problem who cannot see him as an artist. There is no question but when he does speak out of the Beat Generation, he is their authentic voice. Even as an accurate informant, he is not remotely as authentic as Clellon Holmes, whose novel Go is actually about Kerouac, Ginsberg, Solomon and their friends, and whose analysis of the social meaning of the Beat Generation in the recent Esquire is a sane, temperate and thorough treatment of the subject.
But Kerouac is the subject. The story is all about jazz and Negroes. Now there are two things Jack knows nothing about — jazz and Negroes. His idea of jazz is that it is savage drums and screaming horns around the jungle fire while the missionary soup comes to boil. The fact that the music of Charlie Parker is far more like Rameau than it is like the tootling of a snake charmer or a hootchy kootch pit band would strike him as the square delusion of a hopeless square — somebody like Rexroth or Gleason.
As a natural concomitant, Kerouac’s attitude toward Negroes is what, in jazz circles, we call Crow-Jimism, racism in reverse. This book is just one step removed from the “take me, you gorgeous black buck” trash of the lower paperbacks. On the Road was a roman à clef; most of the people can be found any day in The Place or The Bagel Shop. I sincerely hope that the Negro girl of this sad, lost, marijuana-clouded, “therapist”-bedeviled story never actually existed, or at least that Kerouac himself is not the hero, because seldom has a man understood a woman less.
That is, of course, the point. As an artist, Jack has wrought better than he knows. Just as the “hero” of On the Road is an automaton, a guided missile out of control, although obviously Jack thinks he is a “real sweet cat,” so Mardou and Leo never “make it.” It is a kind of sad, terrible little Greek idyll, Daphnis and Chloe in Dante’s smoke-bound limbo of the undamned. A world where the versicle of the offertory of love is, “Pad me, Dad.” Where “like” takes the place, like, of commas and periods because all life has become an amorphous simile of nothing else. Where if you can’t make it, you split, and where everybody splits, like, all the time.
It is a real art to convey this wistful terror of those for whom there is not, and never can be, any I and Thou at all, ever, and where God is the last, craziest Kick of all, and when you’ve dug, like, you cut, dig? For those people, whom Allen Ginsberg pathetically called “the best minds of my generation,” there has been a complete breakdown of the organs of reciprocity. There is nobody out there at all — nobody. The unpeopled night is not “cool.” It is empty and at the temperature of absolute zero.
This is the second Kerouac in a year, and New Directions has a third coming up. Each one is going to kick up a rumpus and a lot of foolish things are going to be said about them. Some of the worst are going to be true. Herbert Gold is right: Jack is a square, a Columbia boy who went slumming on Minetta Alley ten years ago and got hooked. But that isn’t the point. In spite of himself and his embarrassing faults, he does come across, he does portray, in a really heartbreaking fashion, the terror and exaltation of a world he never made. We’ve just got to realize that we have another Thomas Wolfe on ours hands, a great writer totally devoid of good sense. Malcolm Cowley, Don Allen and James Laughlin, who have seen Jack’s books through the press, have none of the talents of Wolfe’s great editor, Maxwell Perkins. Maybe that’s just as well. This time we are getting the innocent lost heart straight.
dreamt and written by Allen Ginsberg
Woke 8:45 embracing Kerouac in dream — We had travelled together thru various countries and war landscapes, Chechnya, Russia, Prague, London, Lower East Side with miraculous encounters with cops & presidents, musicians & aroused youth gangs, radio broadcasts, airplane rides together, & we’re now home in his house — I said “Jesus Christ how will I remember all that happened?” He sat in his kitchen chair stolid and healthy as I prepared to leave.
“Well take it easy” I bid farewell — “you’ve already done so much you don’t have to strain to live, you should stay around on earth till old age maybe 80 or 90 years you’ve got you can go to — You don’t have to work so hard, you’re already immortal in your work, but you’re valuable to the world, just the example of persistence & patience — you don’t have to write a book every six months, every year a production, you can take your time, rest, maybe one small volume every decade from now on, just a record of a few flowers of thought over the ten year cycles — that should be easy, it would write itself. That way you can survive without strain.”
Jack sat in kitchen, calm & patient in clean white & blue horizontally striped shirt, collar unbuttoned, resting — I held him round, said I was going –“When will we see each other again?” I worried, happy he was on earth another few decades.
1/14/95 7 A.M.
A visionary dream, barely remembered, returned in full landscape as I lay in bed with churchbells pounding out metallic clang of 7am balmy winter morn–
I’d been travelling with Kerouac for decades, now I was tired & wanted to go home, & Kerouac headed alone down the valley deeper into the farm belt to continue thru America till he got home along his road — which led down into the valley floor along the fields, while I trudged upland toward my house in the city too tired to continue the public hejira.
Kerouac meanwhile was still expostulating his American Vision and his apologia for the 1990’s transformation of U.S. into a narrow minded province of Multinational Powers–
“Look we still own this vast landscape, we still dwell in the Valley of the World, the Valley of the Lord, now it’s only a Shadow of the Lord still visible but it’s our Lord Forgotten, our physical fields & space, our stars our winter sun our moons our own bodies our imperishable heaven & earth I still traverse make ye no mistake deny me no Denys–
“Poetry America was born before us & will live after us — and would’ve been visible for every eye to see but for the scientists of poetry & sociologists of Academy measuring the vast mind with monkey calipers & teaspoons of ink –
“They took the Romance of the Road & built tunnels & superhighways & set robot cars in motion & airplanes so distant in the cloud you wouldn’t know if you were crashing in Bardo Ecstasy of just flying to Chicago on a boring business trip with a roomful of yuppies with laptops measuring the hunger of the crowds below in negro cities watching detectives crash cars on television to sell you a puptent full of glass armor eyeglasses, snooze suits, hermetic closets & after dinner mints.
“Meanwhile the vast fields beckon the open skies look down & yawn full of Angels & God sits watching us traverse the crossroads by Jimmie’s little vast farm wherein Grecia & Asia sit in the backyard while the kitten plays with the fishbowl on the kitchen window –
“So these Academy Daddies did their job on my literature & now if anyone can read it’s only box tops on the videoscreen or laptop cardgames to sell you insurance while you sit home with your head in the fireplace & your feet in the basement laundry machine, washmachine & dryer to you Mr. Fuddy, I’m home in our Deathless Valley I’ll tell you top that!”
So Kerouac raved & prophesied & continued down his path thru the farm fields cursing the Academics who distorted his vision of America in the world — I trudged uphill marveling at his energy & enthusiasm and devotional madness as I resolved to get back to my home for a little more sleep before saying another word.
This review of Kerouac’s famous novel, by poet & Beat mentor Kenneth Rexroth, comes from the Sept. 1, 1957 issue of the San Francisco Chronicle…
Whatever else it is, and whether good or bad, this is pretty sure to be the most “remarkable” novel of 1957. It is about something everybody talks about and nobody does anything about — the delinquent younger generation.
It is by a new author, the best prose representative of the San Francisco Renaissance which has created so much hullabaloo lately. Kerouac has written one other novel, The Town and the City, but, although it got considerable praise, it seems never to have reached many readers. I don’t think this will happen this time. On the Road has the kind of drive that blasts through to a large public. Finally, and this is what makes the novel really important, what gives it that drive is a genuine, new, engaging and exciting prose style. The subject may be catchy, the publication may be timely, but what keeps the book going is the power and beauty of the writing.
First off, it should be realized that Kerouac is not writing about the present-day adolescent. The date is about 1947. There is nothing “cool” about these young men and girls. This is the heyday of bop — the Frantic Generation of the hysterical backwash of the most horrifying ten years in human history. He is not writing about criminals, but “delinquents.” The highest compliment one crook can pay another is to say that he is “smart.” If you are smart you keep your nose clean and don’t volunteer. You believe that only customers gamble. These kids are “hep,” a vastly different thing. They steal cars. But they drive them 90 miles an hour and wreck them in front of policemen. Crooks ride airplanes; if necessary, they ride the blinds — at least when young and foolish.
These innocents dash madly back and forth across the country, but they aren’t even very good at hitchhiking. Any self-respecting pickpocket has been further around the pot looking for the handle than they have been from home. They are hep — jazz excites them — but the lucid, orderly lyricism of Lester Young sounds “wild, crazy, frantic, man!” and in a neighborhood Negro club, full of ship scalers and lady welders relaxing on Saturday night, they behave as if they were witnessing a jungle orgy. On the other hand, they are not in revolt against the society which has produced them. Their talk is not of either the yogi or the commissar, but of corny entertainers, ham TV programs and the advertised virtues of the latest cars. Their values are those of the most conformist members of the middle class they despise, but enormously hypertrophied. They are demoralized and unsuccessful little Babbitts. This novel should demonstrate once and for all that the hipster is the furious square.
Does Kerouac know this, or does he reveal it unwittingly? He knows it as an artist, however he may be deluded, as a man, by his material. Flaubert thought Emma Bovary was a conventional romantic heroine; his own irony escaped him completely, except in the art of creation. On the Road is the study of the rapid falling apart of a sort of Golem. The “hero,” Dean Moriarty, is an android, a human-seeming mechanism without interior, which has broken some essential spring and gone wild. At first he appears to be a kind of superman, beyond good and evil, and also born many years after the comparatively naïve Sanine first leered at his sister. But time tells, and not very much time. These characters have the time sense of mayflies and little children. They are always talking about “the old days,” by which they mean six months ago. A year is enough. Moriarty begins to come to pieces literally, he loses part of his thumb, his legs don’t work like they used to, his agility is gone, he can no longer dodge the consequences of his acts. But he still goes roaring on, like a bulldozer out of control and fueled with alcohol.
It’s pretty frightening. Is it true? Of course there have always been people like this, but nobody ever took them seriously. For Kerouac his Golem is a symbol, the vehicle of a general indictment — “Look, this is what you are doing to us, to me and my friends, to your children.” The sins of the fathers — this is the Oedipus Complex as Public Prosecutor.
This is a book you should read. You are humane. You read good novels. This is the price in dehumanization society pays for your humanity. Kenneth Patchen has told people this in many books for many years, Henry Miller, too, Céline and Allen Ginsberg, whom the San Francisco police don’t like. Hosea said it long ago, and all the other prophets in the Bible. Things weren’t so bad then. They’ve got a lot worse. A lot worse. Still nobody pays any attention.