More Kerouac

Three paperback covers for Jack Kerouac’s 1958 novel The Dharma Bums

Last weekend we featured the Naropa panel at the 1982 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 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 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: (Why don’t you) get closer to the microphone. Sit here for a sec…
[Anne gets closer to the microphone]
AW: You were talking about Japhy Ryder, ( Gary) (Snyder), and.. [Anne begins reading at length from Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums]

“Alvah couldn’t sleep and came out and lay flat on his back in the grass looking up into the sky, and said, “Big steamy clouds going by in the dark up there, it makes me realize we live on an actual planet” -“Oh, I don’t know what you mean by all that!”, he said, pettishly. He was always being bugged by my little lectures on Samadhi ecstasy , which is the state you reach when you stop everything and you stop your mind and you actually with your eyes closed see a kind of eternal multiswarm of electrical Power of some kind ululating in place of just pitiful images and forms of objects which are, after all, imaginary. And if you don’t believe me come back in a billion years and deny it. For what is Time? – “Don’t you think it’s much more interesting just to be like Japhy and have girls and studies and good times and really be doing something, than all this silly sitting under trees?” – “Nope, I said, and I meant it, and I knew Japhy would agree with me. “All Japhy’s doing is amusing himself in the void.” – “I don’t think so” – “I bet he is. I’m going mountain climbing with him next week and find out and tell you” – “Well (sigh), as for me I’m just going to go on being Alvah Goldbook [Allen Ginsberg] and to hell with all this Buddhist bullshit” – “You’ll be sorry some day. Why don’t you ever understand what I’m trying to tell you: it’s not with your six senses that you’re fooled into believing not only that you have six senses, but that you contact an actual outside world with them. If it wasn’t for your eyes, you wouldn’t see me. If it wasn’t for your ears, you wouldn’t hear that airplane. If it wasn’t for your nose, you wouldn’t smell the midnight mint. If it wasn’t for your tongue taster, you wouldn’t taste the difference between A and B. If it wasn’t for your body, you wouldn’t feel Princess. There is no me, no airplane, no mind, no Princess, no nothing, you for krissakes do you want to go on being fooled every damn minute of your life?” – “Yes, that’s all I want, I thank God that something has come out of nothing” – “Well, I got news for you it’s the other way round, nothing has come out of something, and that something is Dharmakaya, the body of the True Meaning, and that nothing is this, and all this twaddle and talk. I’m going to bed” – “Well sometimes I see a flash of illumination in what you’re trying to say but believe me I get more of a satori out of Princess than out of words” – “It’s a satori of your foolish flesh, you lecher.” – “I know my redeemer liveth” – “What redeemer and what liveth?” – “Oh lets cut this out and just live!” – “Balls, when I thought like you, Alvah, I was just as miserable and graspy as you are now. All you want to do is run out there and get laid and get beat up and get screwed up and gt old and sick and banged around by samsara, you fucking eternal meat of comeback you you’ll deserve it too I’ll say” – “That’s not nice. Everybody’s tearful and trying to live with what they’ve got. Your Buddhism has made you mean, Ray and makes you even afraid to take your clothes off or a simple healthy orgy.” – “Well, I did finally, didn’t I?” – “But you were coming on so hincty about – Oh let’s forget it” – Alvah went to bed and I sat and closed my eyes and thought, “This thinking has stopped” but because I had to think it no thinking had stopped, but there did come over me a wave of gladness to know that all this perturbation was just a dream already ended and I didn’t have to worry because I wasn’t “I” and I prayed that God, or Tathagata, would give me enough sense and strength to be able to tell people what I knew (as I can’t even do properly now) so they’d know what I know and not despair so much. The old tree brooded over me silently, a living thing. I heard a mouse snoring in the garden weeds. The rooftops of Berkeley looked like living meat sheltering grieving phantoms from the eternality of the heavens which they feared to face. By the time I went to bed I wasn’t taken in by no Princess or no desire for no Princess and nobody’s disapproval and I felt glad and slept well”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]

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