Last weekend we featured the Naropa panel at the 1983 Kerouac Conference on Jack Kerouac’s Buddhism and Catholicism. We continue today. Participation from Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, John Clellon Holmes, Gerald Nicosia, Osel Tendzin (tomorrow) & Anne Waldman.
AG: Don’t go away, Gregory
GC: It’s not over?
AG: Shall we have some conversation between ourselves?.. and then with the audience?
– Is there anybody who, staying on stage, wants to respond to anything or has any other statements?
Gregory Corso : Ah, the cross thing. Later on in life, of course, I looked on the cross as a heavy-weight. Somebody died on it so I really didn’t like it. I didn’t like the cross. If he’d have gone on the electric chair then we’d be wearing electric chair necklaces on their neck, something like that. (I) would’ve passed it on there. So I was a little embarrassed to think that I did hand him something that I disagree with, that I actually find deplorable, you know, stretched out on a cross (-my feelings about that, anyway)
John Clellon Holmes: If I can add something to that. Just in answer to you, Gregory. I don’t think Jack was offended by any religious symbols. He saw them for what they.. I call them symbols, or rituals.. I think he saw them for what they are, they are a kind of discipline, they are a way of fastening our attention on something, they are a way of entering into the tenets of a given faith. Jack never stopped at objects. I don’t think you do either..
GC: No, I stopped. I stopped that, the cross.
JCH: That’s why I think that to try to decide which faith of.. not only of these two (Catholicism and Buddhism) but of the many faiths in the world he ultimately subscribed to is a hopeless pursuit and really not very important. Jack was extremely curious, indeed, insatiable, in his interest in the spiritual life of the human race and what things it had created to embody that urge. I think he took from anywhere things that he felt were of use. I think he saw the similarities in religions which all too often are lost in times of warring doctrines (in which..in one of which we live). The essential thing is – any man that searches and cares is going to find (as he did, in various stages of his life in various embodiments). So, I would hope that, eventually, the view of Kerouac that will prevail will be that the search, and the struggle if you will, and the willingness to be open to belief when it comes to us, when we are gifted with it, is the important thing. And to keep our hearts pure and to avoid violence towards other beings , and live in hope and faith that we will come out. Good-heartedness and Right-mindedness, if you will, are what he embodied. If he lapsed from that at times, it is because he was human and because he could not subscribe forever, or all the time, to anybody’s doctrine. In a sense, his.. his works embody the involvement of his own doctrine which is indebted to the faith of his youth, the discoveries of his manhood, and is not invalidated by the despair and loneliness which ultimately claimed him.
GC: (but..) I’m wearing a cross now, but it’s a little more interesting, a girlfriend of mine gave to me, that has the dust of St Francis in it. Now, it’s a relic, it’s from his own body. (You might say) “Well, that’s a kick to wear “,you know, it’s got the dust in it.
JCH: (I don’t know)
GC: You can’t see from here but..here it is.. It’s a little like (an) Irish cross and it’s got some white dust from his body, from his grave, from the terre e tombe in Assisi. So…I’m not downing you (about it)
AG: St Francis that is?
Gerald Nicosia: John, I’d like to add something to what you said, because I recently heard a tape of the Buckley tv show that Jack was on and Buckley had asked Jack (this is 1968), “Was the Beat movement pure?”, and Jack said, “Yes, it was pure – my heart”
AG: Shall we open it up to you out there and does anybody have any questions?
GC: It’s not.. Maybe Italians do that, man, they just pour powder and say it’s St Francis’ dust, but….it…
AG: Anne Waldman..
JCH: Gregory, If you treat it like St Francis, it is St Francis.
AG: Are there any..? Are there microphones up front? Are there not microphones up front? Okay – Anne (Waldman)? Yes? – Loud
Anne Waldman: There’s a very funny passage and charming passage in Dharma Bums…
GC (Did you want to stay (come) up here (on the panel) ?
AW: No – I (just) thought you could maybe comment on that, if you could…
AG: I don’t remember the conversation anymore! – except I do remember resenting that he was telling me that I couldn’t have a good time anymore and that existence was suffering – or marked by it
To be continued tomorrow..
[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately fifty-seven minutes in and concluding approximately sixty-four-and-a-half minutes in]