Ginsberg on Kerouac (Columbia Days – 2)

Nicholas McKnight, Dean of Columbia College (Columbia University) from 1931 until his retirement in 1957

Ginsberg on Kerouac (and early days at Columbia) continues from here

AG:  So the Dean had called my father in and complained and various other parents had been called in but my father had gone to Columbia University and he was a high-school teacher and you know like a middle-class fellow and to be called into the Dean’s office to be told that your son, who is in Columbia on a scholarship, from the Paterson YMHA as well as a Columbia scholarship, as well as hard-earned money from my debt-ridden was, like, awful, like it didn’t happen in good families. it just didn’t happen in reality, this was some tragedy, maybe I was going to take after my mother who was in the bug house. So my father had left the Dean’s office weeping a number of times, (well, once at least, or twice), thinking that some awful thing would happen, or there was some threat that I’d be kicked out. Kerouac had been banned from the campus as “an unwholesome influence on the students”. I quote – “unwholesome influence on students” (This is in the language of Dean McKnight, who was called in because after Lucien went to jail, I had started in a creative writing class) run by Harrison R Steeves, the head of the Columbia College English department, the very head of the English Department, Harrison R Steeves, an old guy, old geezer, who was teaching Creative Writing, and I started writing a novel about us, about my gang, what was going on. But it was really jejune and stupid, because I didn’t know how to write prose. And it was very stiff, (like that little quality of stiffness and self-consciousness as in Kerouac’s journal writing, but much worse in fact), and all mixed up with ideas about Andre Gide and good prose and fine sentences (but in the closet, so afraid to say anything direct, and having no idea of concreteness). So it was also symbolic, with invented names and boring, silly. But I was trying to write a novel. And Steeves took that down to the Dean and showed it to him and they decided that I..  that they should tell me to stop writing the novel, because it was too close to characters around Columbia and might be recognizable and bring scandal to Columbia. So in my creative writing class at college I was told not to write a novel !  And my father was called in to warn me and make sure that was nailed down by the family that I wouldn’t write this novel (which I never would have finished anyway, I was too hopelessly entangled with the amateur-ness).

So Kerouac, when he was kicked out, as he describe here (in Vanity of Duluoz), had come into contact with the football coaches, Lou Little and Furman, a guy named Furman, who was the assistant coach, who was Kerouac’s.. the guy who Kerouac related to on the football team. Kerouac had just dropped the football team and gone off  and not showed up for practice one Sunday and quit Columbia. He’d had a lot of trouble with the knee. He’d broken his knee in Little League  and the coach had insisted on him running on the knee and didn’t believe it was broken. It was only a week later that Kerouac got it x-rayed and found that it was a broken tibia. So he was always somewhat bitter. Lou Little had also promised to get Kerouac’s father a job (according to Vanity of Duluoz) if Kerouac would come and play at the Columbia..,play at Columbia, instead of going off to Boston or Notre Dame, where some Catholic coaches had invited him. So there had been some kind of bad feeling between Kerouac and football jocks and Kerouac’s scholarship had been taken away and then the celebrity and notoriety and scandal of the situation with Lucien Carr had escalated the Dean’s notion of Kerouac as “an unwholesome influence on the students” (and), like, a bad investment as a football player, someone who had dropped the scene and then gotten into trouble, was in the hands of the police and was written up in the papers with some overtone of homosexuality somewhere in the New York Times but not quite certain, and here he was a football jock.  So it was mysterious and nobody wanted to talk about it anyway, ultimately! – don’t write that novel!

to be continued

Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately sixteen-and-a-quarter minutes in and concluding at approximately twenty-one minutes in

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