On Mexico City Blues (Classroom Discussion)

We’ve been serializing Allen’s Naropa classroom discussion (from 1981) on Jack Kerouac’s Mexico City Blues. One student brings up the issue of comprehension

Student:  But how … how important is it to make it understandable to the reader?  Because I do it all the time.

AG:  You mean you think that way or you write that way?

Student:  I think that way and I write that way, but since I’ve been here people have been telling me to be more concrete and more … where they can understand it … where the reader can understand it.

AG:  Well, in the first.. in the first class I went over that somewhat.  I was pointing out that before he went on to do this he had firmly grounded himself and established himself in prose by writing a giant, huge family novel, and understood that details, realistic details, were the life of things.  Then he’d written eight other novels, with progressively advanced associative prose.  So that at that point, in a sense, you could trust his.. (he, or you, or the reader, could trust). If you read all through that stuff of his before, actually, you know all the references.  If you read the body of his work, (as I do, and many people do), you know all these references.

Teotihuacan, for instance, is a big Aztec campus outside of Mexico City where the great Aztec pyramids are  (I forgot to mention).  And the – “… the Zigzag/Original/ Mind/  of Babyhood/ when you’d let the faces/crack & mock”,  he’d already covered in fifty page of prose in Visions of Gerard, (about) his younger brother, who died at the age of five (when Kerouac was five or four). So he’d already painted a giant canvas, so to speak, of the impressions of baby-mind and child-mind and five-year-old-mind. So now these are like little lyric commentaries and cadenzas on things that he’s already established in a very rational… rationally…

Student: So are you saying that’s  for eternity almost?

AG: I ain’t sayin’ nuttin’ – just that he did that.

Student: Okay

AG: And it’s understandable because he did that, because he..  He could do it because he was such a great writer, in a way. One, the sounds were so good, two… (tape breaks and then continues here)…  (There are plenty of) commentaries on the body of his work, and on the body of his life, and on his body, and on his friends (whom he’s already portrayed at great length).  So he’s already established a world of reference that this refers to.  And so it isn’t utterly opaque.  There are lots of people who have read this book and really dig it.  Like (Bob) Dylan, when he first read this, thought it was absolutely terrific and it turned him on (he said this is the book that turned him on to poetry, this was the first book that sounded like American talk, sounded like someone really talking the way you’re talking when you’re talking to a friend and you’re a little drunk and a little high and you’ve known him many years and you actually communicate – you don’t have to say all the words and make all the references and explain all the references – you just go right to it).  A lot of the little tiny parts – the tiny footnotes I’ve been laying out – are things that I know from just experience with Kerouac.

But I think they have a general romantic reference, or sound, that’s workable without knowing the exact thing.

And sooner or later there’ll be a giant scholarly book with all the footnotes, (probably taken from this class, from these tapes!)

Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately forty-four-and-a-half minutes in and concluding at approximately forty-eight minutes in

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