Categories: Essays

Bloomsday Thoughts: Kerouac & Joyce

“In those days I was writing a Joyce-like novel in which I was the Dedalus; and called myself Duluoz. Let’s do that now. Duluoz the Ladysman!”

– Jack Kerouac

The fiction of Jack Kerouac is heavily inspired by the work of James Joyce. He liked to compare himself and his work to Joyce, and his hero, Neal Cassady, was sometimes compared to Joyce in Kerouac’s letters. Indeed, Kerouac even took inspiration for his own literary persona from the name of Joyce’s alter ego, Stephen Dedalus, as indicated in the above quote.

Kerouac aspired to write a Joyce-like novel, to learn Italian like Joyce, and to do for Lowell what Joyce did for Dublin. He claimed that his stream-of-consciousness style, for which he ultimately became famous, was taken from Joyce, and that his early writing was simply “imitating Ulysses.” When he joined the Merchant Marine and travelled to the UK, he saw Ireland and was primarily amazed that he was laying his eyes upon Joyce’s homeland – something, he claims, that brought tears to his eyes.

Today is Bloomsday, 16th June, the day on which the novel Ulysses is set. Kerouac greatly admired this novel, and claims that it not only inspired his own classic, On the Road, but that his book was so similar it deserved the same sort of respect: “On the Road is inspired in its entirely…. I can tell now as I look back on the flood of language. It is like Ulysses and should be treated with the same gravity.”

Evidently, Joyce was of influence to the creation of the Beat ethos, which was initially established in 1944 with the “libertine circle” philosophy of the New Vision. Kerouac equated it to the work of James Joyce: “I prefer the new vision in terms of art–I believe, I smugly cling to the belief, that art is the potential ultimate. Out of the humankind materials of art, I tell myself, the new vision springs. Look at Finnegan’s Wake and Ulysses and The Magic Mountain.”

In 1952, Ginsberg explained his own thoughts on Joyce:

Joyce is great – working with basic material of thoughts, not saying anything else, but presenting typical sequence in totality

David S. Wills

David S. Wills is the founder and editor of Beatdom literary journal and the author of Scientologist! William S. Burroughs the Weird Cult and World Citizen: Allen Ginsberg as Traveller. His next book, High White Notes: The Rise and Fall of Gonzo Journalism comes out in November, 2021.

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