Jack Kerouac – The Dharma Bums

Jack Kerouac last weekend. Here’s a little bit more. Allen, reading from the opening of Jack’s classic 1958 novel, The Dharma Bums, the popular success that followed On The Road, the book that sparked the “rucksack revolution” (“I see a vision of a great rucksack revolution thousands or even millions of Americans wandering around with rucksacks, going up mountains to pray, making children laugh and old men glad, making young girls happy and old girls happier, all of ’em Zen lunatics who go about writing poems that happen to appear in their heads for no reason and also by being kind and also by strange unexpected acts keep giving visions of eternal freedom to everybody and all living creatures”)

Opening page of 1957 typescript manuscript of  The Dharma Bums via Rollins College Archive

Gary Snyder (Japhy Ryder, the pseudonymous hero of the book) originally responded positively  (“(The) Dharma Bums is a beautiful book, & I am amazed & touched that you should say so many nice things about me because that period was for me really a great process of learning from you”), tho’, even then, expressed misgivings (to Philip Whalen) –
“I  do wish Jack had taken more trouble to smooth out dialogues, etc. Transitions are rather abrupt sometimes..”  (Later, he saw it as something of a millstone, not only for Kerouac’s crude and overly-simplistic Buddhism, but also as a register of his own increasingly more complex identity)
Allen’s response to the book may be read here (from an article in the Village Voice, 1958 – more than a review, a full-out defense of Kerouac’s prose). “Dharma Bums“, Allen notes, “is a late and recent book, he’s weary of the world and prose.” It is “(an) Extraordinary mystic testament, however, and record of various inner signposts on the road to understanding of the Illusion of Being”.

Here’s the numinous Dharma Bums scroll:

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