Kerouac’s Method

Allen Ginsberg on Jack Kerouac continues from here

AG: So that method of association, of including all associations, and the idea of satori flash, illumination, epiphany, (in Kerouac)  comes in a little bit from Proust, too.  And also, very important, Kerouac wrote this big Bildungsroman, or regular novel, On The Road, and he realized it was easy to do.  Not easy to do – it took a lot of sitting patience and a lot of thinking, but on the other hand it was something he knew how to do – you could do it.  You just do it and inch by inch, year-by-year, day-by-day, story-by-story, chronology by chronology, you make a plot and you do it, whereas … so he sort of came to the end of his rope, or the end of his literary road, in having accomplished that.  And there’s no point doing that over and over again because Proust did that.  I mean, (Emile) Zola did that and (Honore de) Balzac did that and (Theodore) Dreiser did that and Thomas Mann did that and that was the 19th century novel.  Any number of people had done that.  Studs Lonigan by James T. Farrell is an example of that, in three volumes.  A monumental series.

Of course, Kerouac was smoking a lot of grass and so it isn’t necessarily conducive to building a large slow continuous structure, because you tend to forget what you’re doing and other things interfere- that is, other flashes, other thoughts interfere – so he was looking for a form, or you could say he was in despair about prose – what to do with prose next – and so he did the only thing he could, which was On The Road, which was (a) fast run-down on the whole thing, with spontaneous … in one sentence.  And then after that, feeling that was still too tied down to pedestrian chronology and he wanted something more visionary, more like Rimbaud, more poetic, more intense, he stumbled on, or came to, the idea of “Visions of” – so there are several books called “Visions of” – there’s Visions of Gerard, Visions of Cody  And I remember in using “visions” at that time, meaning, “Yesterday I had a vision of my life with my mother” -not meaning a celestial vision but just a take – what now we would call a “take” (or) a “vision.”  Take.  Everybody knows that word?  Take or a flash, sort of.  A flash or a take.  He used a more solemn word, “vision.”  And it took me years to figure out what he meant by “vision” because I thought he meant a vision.  Because I had a vision, which was a universal cosmic vision and I didn’t see how he was talking about visions all the time, just some little epiphanous memory of his father –  that wasn’t a vision, I thought.

So the idea was “Visions of.”  So Visions of Cody  was written.  And Visions of Cody   also includes in its center a number of pages of absolute prose babble, prose-poetry babble.  Continuous ravings, improvisations, which were really very funny when you read them.  I read some aloud this summer.  They’re hilarious.  They’re like somebody in the bathroom talking to himself endlessly, putting himself on and putting any listener on.

Then I think he had already written Dr. Sax  and I think he’d already written Maggie Cassidy and The Subterraneans, all making use of that method of flashes and of extensive prose, expansion on the flashes.  So by the time he was sitting up in his little room in Mexico City on the roof in a little cubicle on the edge of his bed with a brakeman’s lantern, he was already like a great Arthur Rubinstein or Jascha Heifetz of flashes.  He really had exercised his skill and exercised himself and had written thousands and thousands… he’d written a million words, or just endless writing.  Finished many novels.

(Mexico City Blues was the result of being) sort of sick of being a novelist, say, and wanting to be a poet like the other poets, and all these other poets are boasting about their little four-line or twelve-line squiggly little Greek flashes – (so) he says, “I can do that with my left hand, I’ll do one every day for two months and write a giant book of poems like (William) Shakespeare’s sonnets that will astound everybody” –  which is what he did.  So that’s the method.  So now into the text.

to be continued..

Audio for the above can be heard herebeginning at approximately nine-and-a-half minutes in and concluding at approximately fourteen-and-a-half minutes in

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