Ginsberg on Kerouac (Columbia Days – 6)

Jack Kerouac as football prodigy – Jack Kerouac at Horace Mann School, New York c.1940

Allen Ginsberg on Jack Kerouac (and Columbia days) continues from here

Student: Allen, did Jack get much out of his courses at Columbia University  Did he study much literature and writing there?

AG: Well, yes he did. The Humanities course, the first-year course, you got to read Homer , you got to read The Iliad, The Odyssey, Aeschuylus, SophoclesPlato, Aristotle, Euripedes, Dante.. Lucretius.    The only problem is he was playing football. And he says in this book, he was playing football, he was working on doing practice scrimmage every afternoon. He was also working in the food service, dishing out food, for his meals. And then, trying to read and trying to write. So that he didn’t get a chance to read all the stuff that was whizzing by him, except that he wanted to read so he’d goof off and take time off and start reading and not go to.. not go to football practice or get all involved with Mark Van Doren‘s Shakespeare course and not do the footballing, so that was setting up a split, Because he got less and less interested in the sort of mad anger of football and bone-break and emptiness (of run-hundred-yard-dashin-old-ensalada) and also he was disaffected with Lou Little and the team because he vainly thought, (and his father thought), that they weren’t using him properly and letting him play as well as he could, sending him out to play.  And his father was pissed off because Lou Little didn’t get his father the job that he was supposed to do as the pay-off for bringing Kerouac to Columbia. So there was all this father.. family.. some kind of..  I was just noticing it, I didn’t know that about his father till I re-read Vanity of Duluoz. So there’s all this hang-up about the team and he was getting more literary but didn’t have enough time to read, read on his own a lot, naturally.  But he didn’t get much out of the courses.  The only one he ever mentioned was Mark Van Doren, though at that time in fact, almost immediately after Lucien Carr went to jail and maybe before I was kicked out, there was one professor who we liked, who I mentioned, Raymond Weaver. So he took his novel, The Sea is My Brother to Raymond Weaver and Weaver read it very sympathetically (I think I may have mentioned that Weaver had been in Japan and had used some sort of Zen-style question.. questioning in his classes, as part of his teaching technique. So he came away from Weaver with a list of books to read (including the Egyptian Gnostics, I think Melville’s  Pierre, Plotinus). So that was the introduction of mystical gnostic zap-mind Zen-style gap emptiness literature that we encountered, or the first suggestion (that was actually my first.. the first time that I ever heard of the word “gnostic” and it sounded really interesting, whatever it meant (I had no idea what it meant) . That’s like, as you may know, that’s the tradition, the unofficial tradition of …. I suppose the equivalent.. out of which matters like tarot or some astrology come from. Western.. I would say Western gnostic is similar to Eastern Buddhist. There are Gnostic systems with many worlds (as many worlds as there are brains). So that was the first.. from Weaver.  So that was something that he got out of Columbia – but that was after he quit – and he just went as a private goof citizen, you know as a young poet really, a private young goofy poet to see Weaver, and Weaver was really open. Weaver and Van Doren shared offices, as I said.

to be continued

Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately thirty-three minutes in and concluding at approximately thirty-seven-and-a-quarter minutes in

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