Kerouac’s Idea of Visions

Visions of Gerard (1963) – Jack Kerouac

AG: [referring to an earlier Student poem]   …the silence of dusk.. and.. the lights going on in the courtyard. See, it was the signal of the lights going on in the courtyard that made.. that locked it in that it was dusk.  That’s why it’s pink light, that’s why these people were doing what they were doing (and then it was because the sun was going down,. the wind rising, and the steel cord was flapping against the flagpole).  This is, you see,  the uncanny suggestion, of, like, the whole atmosphere of when you get.. ..when the sun goes down and it’s dusk, you get a little wind rise?  So it suggests that particular chill? – And the steel flagpole suggests some of that chill too – So appropriate. So, [to Student]  I guess that’s what’s unconsciously suggested by the poem of yours (sic) – the sun going down and a slight chill rising, and all these solitary things happening, so when the light from lamps, street-lamps, light up, at the very end of the poem, then you get the idea of what was happening.

Student: So, when you.. when you’re in the process of putting kind of disparate facts together, does that relate to what you’ve always called “visionary”, or “visions”?..  You seem to create…

AG: That’s (Jack) Kerouac’s

Student: Okay

AG: That’s Kerouac’s idea of “visions”

Student; Yeah, okay, does …

AG : Visions of Cody, Visions of Gerard, Visions of “The Shrouded Stranger of the Night”, Visions of the Merrimack

Student: It’s..a..  vision occurs by the poem’s existence, of. putting together  the facts?

AG: Well, no now,  what he ..what he meant   I remember he really astounded me when he came up with that because I’d been reading (Arthur) Rimbaud and Rimbaud was talking about visions, and then I had been reading St John of the Cross, or something like that, and  they were always talking about, “visiomary experience”,  or, you know..Varieties of Religious Experience by William James.  And Kerouac from Ozone Park and Richmond Hill was writing me letters saying, “I had a vision of Neal the other night”, or “I had vision of what my mother would become”, or “I had..”  “Bill Burroughs had the most awful, horrible vision of what was going to happen to me when I grew older ” –  And he was using it as just an ordinary..  a sort of ordinary but penetrating insight, or a single image or insight, or even mood – “I had a vision of such bleak horror, I could hardly stay home, I had to go out and…” – or – so he meant a mood, an insight, maybe a particular, like,..

Student: A Dean Moriarty, maybe, after he’d smoked some great grass, two days of visionary experience… where he saw his relationship to other people. flash…

AG: That was, I think, a later and more baroque application of the phrase.  I think his first use, I remember, which surprised me was as a general projection of the mood in his mind. So I wrote a poem then, “(Visions of) The Shrouded Stranger (of the Night)”, which was just little fragmentary ideas, pictures of an idea of a sort of Doctor Sax figure… but that wasn’t what you meant?

Student: Well, I’m wondering just in terms.. because when you create this poem that is a..that becomes the vision, a single time, place-time vision of something that actually  didn’t happen anywhere but in your mind..

AG: Oh but did it? – You know, those things. See, the whole point is.. Of  course it does happen in your mind..

Student: ..But not in one instant until you actually put it together in the occasion of the poem

AG: Well I don”t know.  I go walking in the mall sometimes on Sunday dusk and nobody is there, and, you know, there’s a solitude around, and then I look in the… and I sense the solitude and the quiet and the modernity, and the adroinal modernity of the solitude and then I look in the window and I see the mannequin naked staring at her fingernails. And I think, “wow! what a vision of solitude modernity naked android that is!”. So that was the way Jack) Kerouac would do it. So, it’s actually.. you do get an impression. In other words, you do get it, you do get it, like, you’re still getting impressions ( you get impressions). The sketching quality is, when you get an impression, you suddenly recollect, realize that you’re having the impression, you know, a vision  – a vision? – sunset?, you know, (like) any..(impression) – traffic? in other words, it takes a moment of solitude when you’re unreflective, and all of a sudden you look outside yourself and see where you are and realize you’re there, and you see the sky and the planet, and you know you’re not going to be here for more than another sixty, seventy, eighty, ninety years, and the war’s coming (and fuck that!), and then the pavement is there and you’re there, and what are you doing there? – oh you forgot what you’re doing, and what’s going on around, and there’s traffic going by, and there’s a milk truck, and everybody looks interesting, and everybody’s full of their own purpose walking along, and some people are reading papers, walking along,       and you’re the only one walking around seeing it all at once. So then you begin.. But then you get a funny feeling of being the only one in the universe seeing it all at once awake. So then you begin taking down details of what this is that you see. See, everybody else is sleeping so they’re not observing the scene.. But you’ve risen into wakefulness and you’re observing the scene and so you’re making out a little picture of what it looks like to be awake in eternity (and eternity is composed of milk trucks and people moving on the street).

So that would be emotion recollected on the instant. Then the Wordsworthian thing is “emotion recollected in tranquility”, where, ten years later, you remember standing on the street corner in Paris, when everything was completely silent around you and there were no cars and complete silence had fallen on the Arc.. on the Arch of Triumph, nobody was moving and you were the only one awake in the universe looking around and there was all this frozen stone. So you might then say, “well, let’s see now – frozen stone, no traffic, cobblestones – oh, that’s right, it was dawn, it was just at dawn, and there was one person, there was an old man walking down the street, I remember. And so, you know, finally, the picture fills in and becomes… So it’s reconstituting the elements that caused the sensation (and that’s (T.S.) Eliot’s theory of “objective correlatives  (objective co-relaters), the things you saw around you that gave you the sensation, the objects around you that you perceived, that gave you the sensation, when you reassemble them, or reconstitute them, or correlate them again, in the right order (maybe in the order in which you noticed them) will then recreate the sensation (or something strong enough to be interesting – and maybe not the same sensation but something else, and maybe years later you might throw in something deeper). So Wordsworth’s prescription was “emotion recollected in tranquility”  – You know that?  – And the means proscribed by (T.S.) Eliot was “objective correlatives” (that’s a famous phrase,that was the dominant poetic idea of the early part of the century, Eliot’s notion of the “objective correlative”) .

Same thing like the objective correlatives. .whatever feeling of silence she had [ Student had in her poem]  was..    Okay, the objective correlative of the fact that wind rises at dusk and there’s a chill in the air and solitude. Solitary chill at the rising of wind at dusk was objective. The objects that correlated to that were the sound of the rope slapping (because of higher wind), the pink on their faces, the lights going on, and people doing things that they might do at dusk, I guess (taking off ski-boots, or whatever it was – I forgot, they weren’t quite as vivid).    Does that make sense?

[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately forty seven minutes  in and concluding at approximately fifty-five-and three-quarter minutes in]

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