Jack Kerouac at 100 – continues

Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, from Madamoiselle magazine, February 1957

We continue our celebration of Jack Kerouac’s Centennial today.

See yesterday’s birthday posting

and Friday’s extensive list of Kerouac links (which we thought to supplement with more that weren’t available then, starting off with video (see above) of City Lights’ event, “Still Outside – Kerouac at 100″ – “An appreciation of Jack Kerouac’s unique contribution to American literature” with talks by Ann Charters, Jean-Christophe Cloutier, Ann Douglas, Tim Hunt, Joyce Johnson, Hassan Melehy and Regina Weinreich, readings by Tony Torn, and a birthday greeting by David Amram, hosted by Peter Maravelis.

Also in San Francisco (and happening right now (today), round the corner from City Lights, there’s this:

San Francisco Celebrates Kerouac!


Archivists, historians among you, we did want to spotlight one of Literary Hub‘s contributions to the  Centennial, “On the Centenary of Jack’s Birth, Rarely Seen Archival Material From His Publisher” –  & notably this (from Malcolm Cowley, editorial advisor, responding to Allen):

Allen’s deep, and abiding, understanding of Jack. In this context, it’s worth here reading    John Krull’s confessional account:

“..A couple of years after I first read Kerouac, I taught a class on the Beat Generation. I was in graduate school then, wandering around on the motorcycle Kerouac had inspired me to buy. One night, Kerouac’s good friend, the Beat poet Allen Ginsberg, came to town to give a reading. My students and I went to hear him. Afterward, we talked with the poet. Ginsberg was a superb raconteur. Eyes twinkling, an elastic smile stretching his features as he talked, he told us stories about the Beats. Some were funny. Some were contemplative. All were oft told and oft rehearsed.But then we started to ask him about Kerouac, particularly about the public perception that he was an exuberant vagabond. “Jack wasn’t like that,” Ginsberg said For a moment, the mask of the performer slipped, lines stopped sounding rehearsed, and Ginsberg became just a guy talking about a friend of his, one whose decline and death still pained and puzzled him more than a dozen years after his demise. He talked about the sadness that consumed Kerouac. He described his friend’s feelings of loss and loneliness. Ginsberg lowered his head as he spoke, as if in prayer.After that conversation with Ginsberg, I reread much of Kerouac’s work, including On the Road. This time around, I picked up on more of the melancholy and the desperate longing for respite and understanding in a world that both confused and troubled the author.Even On the Road was, for all its frantic journeying, less a joyful barbaric yawp about wide-open country than a reflection on a vanishing America, more a meditation on loss and regret than a paean to limitless possibilities. I came away from that rereading with a realization that Kerouac was a more complicated writer—and human being—than I’d thought. And that life itself often reveals itself to be much more complicated the closer we look at it.”

Another personal confession/satori  – (on Kerouac’s Catholicism) – comes from Chicago’s Ursula Bielski – “Jack Kerouac at 100 – The Long Road to God” – hear her personal testimony – here

More from those who knew him – WBUR, Boston interviewed Joyce Johnson – “Celebrating Jack Kerouac’s 100th birthday – how the Beat author resonates today“.
Her piece in the current New York Review of Books“Jack Kerouac’s Journey” is worth searching out (as, indeed, is everything she writes)
Meanwhile check out her contribution (above) to the City Lights symposium.

More first-hand memories here – Kerouac in Hyannis – “On The Cape with Kerouac” in The Providence Journal

More local memories –  Robert Sullivan’s “Jack Kerouac’s Road From Bum To Home-town Hero” in The Boston Globe 

Lest we be seen as merely hagiographers, there is indeed the complex legacy:

Camilo Garzón on KQED  (San Francisco, again)  surveyed five local writers – Roberto Lovato, Josiah Luis Alderete, Christian Medina Belz, Félix de Rosen, and Kim Shuck “On Jack Kerouac’s Centennial – Writers of Color Examine His Complicated Legacy”

Elle Hunt in The Guardian takes a long hard look at Kerouac’s misogny and sexism:

– “sixty-five years since publication, the misogyny of On the Road looks overt, even gleeful – Moriarty’s “awfully dumb” sixteen-year-old wife Marylou is instructed “to make breakfast and sweep the floor” within the first three pages.”

– and not just the sexism

“.. insofar as Kerouac is invoked as a symbol, his meaning is not uniformly understood. To some, he is an aspirational iconoclast, to others he is the face of white male privilege. His alter ego Sal Paradise may have been inspired by his time working on a farm in California, ..but he always had the option of returning home, or of being sent money by his aunt. Kerouac himself was a white, university-educated man who returned from his travels to have his meals cooked and his washing done by his mother..”

“Nature-loving mystic or proto-dudebro? Untameable free spirit or reclusive mama’s boy? On the centenary of his birth”,  she declares, “it is time to look past the icon at the ‘bleeding ball of contradictions’ behind it.”

Hunt’s willingness contrasts with a smugness elsewhere in the British press, adequately revealed by these two headlines (naturally, held behind a firewall) by the right-wing Daily Telegraph  – “How Jack Kerouac’s dreams of being the American Proust were ruined by liquor” – and ““He was light, funny – and hated women” – Gary Snyder on his friend Jack Kerouac”

Kerouac’s fellow-writers are used again as a cudgel in Douglas Kennedy’s misguided piece in The New Statesman, citing Hunter S Thompson’s “scathing late-career appraisal of him” (he called Big Sur “a shitty, stupid book”, and called Kerouac himself, “an ass, a mystic boob with intellectual myopia”) – Thompson’s dismissal of Kerouac was not, however, as his biographer has pointed out, a “late-career appraisal.” “He wrote that in 1958 ! – Later in Thompson’s career, he acknowledged a huge respect for Kerouac”.

The simplistic (and frankly, ignorant) dismissal is very much the easy single story-line. (Park MacDougald presents a version of it here) – Kerouac is seen as “tragic”, “a failure'”, dispensible. Michael Washburn, writing in The National Review  (William F Buckley‘s National Review (sic)), wonders “Should conservatives (sic) take time to reflect on the life and work of Jack Kerouac”? –  but comes to the conclusion (like Buckley) that, yes, “Kerouac matters'”

In 2007 John Leland published a book with the title Why Kerouac Matters

Yes, Kerouac matters,  and will always matter.  Complex and contradictory, like us all, he is absolutely vital and essential. We enthusiastically celebrate him at the beginning of this (his) Centennial year.

One comment

  1. John Krull reminds me that Kerouac’s “On the Road” portrayed a USA that was pre-Eisenhower Interstate HWY system, “a vanishing America,” as Krull puts it. I’ve always wondered if someone has mapped out in detail the roads taken by Jack and Neal on their cross-country adventures.

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