Archives For jack kerouac

The Joan Anderson Letter Goes to Auction

Almost two years ago the world of Beat studies was rocked by the discovery of a seemingly lost piece of history: the fabled Joan Anderson Letter. Written by Neal Cassady and sent to Jack Kerouac, the letter played a pivotal role in American literary history, only to supposedly be lost overboard into the cold Pacific Ocean. Continue Reading…

The Complicated Politics of the Beat Triumvirate

There is much about the Beat Generation that is shrouded in confusion. Oftentimes it stems from wishful thinking on the part of Beat scholars and readers, and sometimes it emerges from the haze between the myths the Beats themselves created and their own reality. Partly, though, the confusion arises from the simple fact that the politics of the three best-known Beat Generation authors was in fact rather complicated, and no amount of simplification can detract from that fact. Allen Ginsberg was the face of the left for much of the late twentieth century, but was he was also critical of much of the left. Jack Kerouac was the hero of the left in the sixties, yet his personal politics then veered hard right. And William S. Burroughs… Well, his ideas concerning politics involve space travel, engrams, and word viruses. Continue Reading…

Review: Ambiguous Borderlands

In his new book, Ambiguous Borderlands: Shadow Imagery in Cold War American Culture, Dr. Erik Mortenson looks at the “paradox” of mid-twentieth century life in the United States, where there were unprecedented levels of comfort for many citizens, and yet the impending threat of nuclear holocaust. While people became wealthier than ever before, there came also a crushing pressure to conform or fit in with mainstream society. Mortenson argues, Continue Reading…

Kerouac Coming to Kindle

On March 22nd, 2016, six of Jack Kerouac’s books will be available as ebooks for the first time. These include his debut novel, The Town and the City. The aptly named Open Road Media has acquired the rights to digitally publish this and other books by the author, whose books were not previously available for ebook users. The Town and the City was originally published in 1950 by Harcourt Brace. The author was listed as “John Kerouac” and the story followed the life of young Peter Martin, based on Kerouac himself. Seven years later, Kerouac became a household name after his second novel, On the Road, was published. Continue Reading…

East Coast Beats vs. West Coast Beats

The Beats as we know them are a New York City phenomena and walk hand in hand with Abstract Expressionism as one of the great defining moments of art in the second half of the 20th century. Just like Jackson Pollock and William DeKooning were all about reinterpreting what painting meant, so the Beats were trying to redefine linguistics in a way that made poetry and prose contemporary, or at least brought it up to date from the days of the Lost Generation, who expatriated to Paris after World War I.  The Beats were the fallout of the existential crisis brought on by the nuclear bomb, and a seminal Beat poem by Gregory Corso called “Bomb” appeared on the page in the form of a mushroom cloud. The Beats were interested in writing from their wits and believed the concept of “first thought was the best thought,” even though they may not have lived by this credo it was a defining trait of their aesthetic stance. It was similar to an Abstract Expressionist looking for a perfect stroke on the canvas that somehow said everything about an internally troubled excited knowable state, even if he/she worked on the painting for weeks, months, or years. The goal of both movements, along with Be-Bop, was to express a moment of feeling without being restricted in time, even if this took years of practice. It might seem a quaint idea from a 2015 perspective but art was very tied to rules when the Beats wrote to the rhythm of their breath, or to the sounds of Charlie Parker’s alto sax, and it was a revolutionary act that scared a lot of critics and aesthetes into thinking the Beats were turning back the clock on poetry and were like modern day Neanderthals rather than the greatest minds of their generation. Yet that’s an image they would’ve been proud of in their inner circle, just like the Abstract Expressionists wanted to get back to primal thinking. The Beats were audacious but demanded to be taken seriously, which is probably why they earned the moniker of angry young men.

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“Telling All The Road”: Re-Reading On the Road as New Journalism

From On the Road’s initial publication in 1957 to the release of its original scroll manuscript in 2007, the most persistent issue critics have faced when discussing Kerouac’s most well-known novel has been first establishing it as something that’s worthy of criticism at all. In a 1974 essay, George Dardess cites Norman Mailer’s dismissal of Kerouac as a writer who lacks “discipline, intelligence, honesty, and a sense of the novel”. “Why do students still want to read Kerouac,” Joshua Kupetz quotes a colleague in another essay on the novel in 2007. The rebukes of On the Road – that it has no structure, no definitive ending, is incoherent, and only works as a pop-culture relic – have endured along with the work’s popularity. But perhaps most problems reading On the Road exist because this real-life tale, the story of Kerouac and his friend Neal Cassady, is not best served by seeing the work through a literary lens, but instead by embracing the idea that On the Road occupies a unique space between memoir and fiction. More accurately, On the Road is a story that fits into a literary genre that would eventually become New Journalism, a style of non-fiction writing that’s characterized by literary gymnastics and intense, immersive reporting delivered to the reader through the subjective prism of the author’s own point of view. Continue Reading…

Beaten White

The Beat Generation found itself mystified by the black culture of the time. This mystification granted them agency in manifesting their deepest desires of free-flowing sexuality in what they observed from the black people with which they surrounded themselves. Associating themselves with black people allowed them to further their performance as “The Hipster” or the “White Negro.” The very idea of being “beat” implies a white desire to be black and participate in black cultural norms, such as a wider acceptance of sexuality and jazz, instead of those set by white society, which was more mainstream. Jack Kerouac’s 1957 On the Road romanticizes black culture in this regard. However, Hettie Jones’ 1990 memoir How I Became Hettie Jones emphasizes different aspects of black life through her interracial relationship, which shows a new vision on the Beats’ desire to be black. How I Became Hettie Jones reinterprets Kerouac’s On the Road by demystifying the romanticization of his white desire to be “Negro.” Continue Reading…

One Man Practicing Kindness Alone in the Wilderness

An interview with Bevin Richardson about his alternative The Dharma Bums book made from a seven 1.5 meter scroll painted in wine. Continue Reading…

Reconsidering Jack Kerouac a Half-Century Later

Not many prose writers alive (Céline, Genet, a few others) would dare the freedom and intelligence to trust their own minds, remember they made that jump, not censor it but  write it down and discover its beauty. That’s what I look for in K’s prose. He’s gone very far out in discovering (or remembering, or transcribing) the perfect patterns that his own mind makes, and trusting them, and seeing their importance – to rhythm, to imagery, to the very structure of the “novel.”

– Allen Ginsberg, Village Voice (1958) Continue Reading…

Sixty Years After the Six Gallery Reading

October 7th, 1955, was arguably one of the most important dates in American literature. On that date, in a “run down second rate experimental art gallery” (a former auto repair shop) in San Francisco, in a room crowded with a hundred young men and women, Allen Ginsberg read for the first time an early draft of his poem, “Howl.” Among the bohemian audience was the poem’s future publisher, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who immediately recognized its potential, and requested the manuscript. “Howl” would go on to become the most important poem of the late-twentieth century and, alongside T.S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland,” perhaps the most important of the entire century. It would challenge America’s censorship laws, inspire unprecedented cultural and social change, and give the country its most recognizable and influential poet since Walt Whitman. Continue Reading…