«Στο δρόμο» του ΤΖΑΚ ΚΕΡΟΥΑΚ
Paradise at 50
The New York Times, Published: October 2, 2007
In the Times review that launched the book, Gilbert Millstein raved that “On the Road” was a frenzied search for affirmation, a book that rejected the ennui, pessimism and cynicism of the Lost Generation. The heroes of the book savored everything, enjoyed everything, took pleasure in everything. But, of course, all this was before the great geriatric pall settled over the world, before it became illegal to be cheerful.
“On the Road” turned 50 last month, and over the past few weeks a line of critics have taken another look at the book, and this time their descriptions of it, whether they like it or not, are very different.
“Above all else, the story is about loss,” George Mouratidis, one of the editors of a new edition, told The Age in
“It’s a book about death and the search for something meaningful to hold on to — the famous search for ‘IT,’ a truth larger than the self, which, of course, is never found,” wrote Meghan O’Rourke in Slate.
“Kerouac was this deep, lonely, melancholy man,” Hilary Holladay of the
“In truth, ‘On the Road’ is a book of broken dreams and failed plans,” wrote Ted Gioia in The Weekly Standard.
In Book Forum, David Ulin noted that “even the most frantic of Kerouac’s writings were really the sagas of a solitary seeker: poor, sad Jack, adrift in a world without mercy when he’d rather be ‘safe in Heaven dead.’ ”According to these and other essays, “On the Road” is the book you want to read if you find Sylvia Plath too upbeat. And of course they’re not wrong. There was a traditionalist, darker side to Kerouac, as John Leland emphasizes in his book “Why Kerouac Matters: The Lessons of On the Road (They’re Not What You Think).”
But reading through the anniversary commemorations, you feel the gravitational pull of the great Boomer Narcissus. All cultural artifacts have to be interpreted through whatever experiences the Baby Boomer generation is going through at that moment. So a book formerly known for its youthful exuberance now becomes a book of gloomy middle-aged disillusion. (In 20 years, “The Cat in the Hat” will be read as a commentary on unreliable home health care workers.)
And there’s something else going on, something to do with the great taming professionalism of American culture. “On the Road” has been semi-incorporated into modern culture, but only parts have survived. Students are taught “On the Road” in class, then must write tightly organized, double-spaced term papers on it, and if they don’t get an A, it hurts their admissions prospects. The book is still talked about, but often by professional intellectuals in panel discussions and career-building journal articles.
The effect is that some of the book comes through fine — the longing, the nostalgia for home, the darker pessimism. But the real secret of the book was its discharge of youthful energy, the stupid, reckless energy that saves “On the Road” from being a dreadful novel. The delightful, moronic, unreflective fizz appears whenever the characters are happiest, when they are chasing girls or urinating from a swerving flatbed truck while going
Those parts haven’t survived. They run afoul of the new gentility, the rules laid down by the health experts, childcare experts, guidance counselors, safety advisers, admissions officers, virtuecrats and employers to regulate the lives of the young. They seem dangerous, childish and embarrassing in the world of professionalized adolescence and professionalized intellect.
If Sal Paradise were alive today, he’d be a product of the new rules. He’d be a grad student with an interest in power yoga, on the road to the M.L.A. convention with a documentary about a politically engaged Manitoban dance troupe that he hopes will win a MacArthur grant. He’d be driving a Prius, going a conscientious 55, wearing a seat belt and calling Mom from the Comfort Inns.
The only thing we know for sure is that this ethos won’t last. Someday some hypermanic kid will produce a moronically maxed-out adventure odyssey that will spark the overdue rebellion among all the over-pressured SAT grinds, and us grumpy midlife critics will get to witness a new Kerouac, and the greatest pent-up young-life crisis in the history of the world.
Celebrating Kerouac: an enduring legacy
The Age (
), September 29, 2007 Melbourne
ANNIVERSARY Jack Kerouac's classic, On The Road, was published 50 years ago but interest in it and its author remains strong, writes Ian Munro.
It is an unremarkable snapshot, and the posing seems contrived and awkward, yet it is a famous image because 50 years ago one of them chronicled their adventures in a book that became the instant classic On the Road. Now readers seeking out that novel face the dilemma not of where to find it, but of which edition to buy. There is the Penguin paperback, with its slate grey cover fetchingly presented retro style with a pen and ink sketch of a Tom Joad-like figure. There is the hardback 50th anniversary edition that includes a reproduction of the laudatory September 5, 1957, New York Times review. To further complicate choice, there is the Scroll Edition.
When Jack Kerouac wrote On the Road, he famously did so in three weeks on a 40-metre scroll of thin paper that he taped together to feed continuously into his typewriter, the better to aid his stream of consciousness recall. Allegedly fuelled by Benzedrine, or maybe only caffeine, he wrote furiously, replicating the mad frenzy of the lives of what he termed the Beat Generation.
That original draft, without paragraphs or chapters, forms the Scroll Edition. It also uses the characters' actual names: so for example, Sal Paradise, the narrator, is Kerouac: Dean Moriarty, the crazed priapic figure anchoring the narrative, is Neal Cassady, and Carlo Marx of the original novel becomes the famed American poet Allen Ginsberg. Interest in Kerouac, who died from complications of alcoholism aged
With the anniversary of the book's publication this month, The New York Times sponsored a celebration of Kerouac that sold out within days. Next month the
Thus a book rejected by numerous publishers, and only guardedly taken on by Viking after excision of sections viewed as pornographic and potentially libellous, has achieved an indefinite longevity, way beyond the lives of its principals and after the Beats have become just one more cultural oddity.
"On the Road is a young person's book, so generation after generation, people discover it like it's brand new," says Hilary Holladay, professor of English at the
"People think of it as a '50s book, and sometimes a '60s book. Really … the adventures he describes take place in the late 1940s, but there is something essential about
"For the full-blown experience, read the novel when your are 17 or 18. People who read it once they're over 30 are tapping in to their inner teenager."
John Leland, the New York Times writer who moderated the 50th anniversary forum, likens reading On the Road to hearing The Rolling Stones for the first time. It is almost a rite of passage from adolescence to adulthood, he says, but there is more to it.
A youthful reading picks up on the exhilaration of the road and infinite adventure, the hunger to confront life and taste everything it offers, but may miss the sadness and loss that runs like a central thread to the fracturing of relationships and the failure of the trips to fulfil their endless promise.
"Coming back to it as an adult, you see there is that world of rock and roll. There is also the book of Sal Paradise, the narrator who is drawn to Dean Moriarty (and who) over the course of the book outgrows him. The second book tends to get lost when we are 18 or 19," Leland says.
"Kerouac wrote this book at 29, and he published it at 35, yet we have consigned it to 17 and 18-year-olds. I would ask people to look to see what it means to 29 or 35 or any age that has a look beyond that first book that we read." Adding to the Kerouac revival, Leland's book, Why Kerouac Matters: The Lessons of On The Road (They're Not What You Think) is being reissued by Viking, along with the new editions of the source work.
For this reader, On the Road lost some veracity with the realisation that the aunt on whom Sal Paradise relies between trips across
He says that while many readers are ready "to leap out of the house" after first encountering On the Road, "the book is as much about coming home. It's a joyous story, but it's a far sadder story also. At the end of the book Moriarty is a sad and desolate figure".
Of the scroll, Theado says it seems fresher than the 1957 novel. "It's more conversational, less literary. The novel has references to writers and he has built in metaphors. When you read the scroll you really get the sense he is working directly from memory."
Melbourne University PhD student George Mouratidis, one of the four co-editors who prepared the Scroll Edition for publication, says Kerouac added flourishes to the 1957 novel to comply with literary standards of the day. He says the scroll is "less manic" than the novel, the sexuality, including Ginsberg's overt homosexuality, is much stronger, and the Dean Moriarty figure less mythologised.
It was not intended as a travel primer, although for generations of readers it became at least an inspiration. "It was merely his story of the road," Mouratidis says. "Above all else, the story is about loss." Loss of youth, of friendships and of romantic ideals.
Kerouac, who had suffered the death of his elder brother, his father, and his closest friend during World War II, knew much of this. Mouratidis says that in writing the book, by getting it down as it happened and mythologising his group, he was trying to immortalise them. At that he has clearly succeeded.
On the Road: The Original Scroll is published next week by Penguin Classics.