[ilds] 1957 novels

Marc Piel marcpiel at interdesign.fr
Tue Aug 7 05:38:45 PDT 2007


I can't help making a parallel between a phrase in 
the article:

"It's all about money and surface now, the clothes 
you wear, the things you buy, and no one is the 
slightest bit ashamed of being superficial".

and one in the post:

" it was as important to be seen reading them as 
actually to have read them".

Surely little has changed???
Marc

slighcl wrote:

>> Another "1957 Book" gets its reconsideration here.
>>
>> The arc of commentary  about On the Road (from remembered readings to 
>> present encounters) sounds remarkably like the American Scholar piece 
>> on Justine.
> 
> 
> A select catalog of 1957 novels follows here.  How well do any of 
> Justine's contemporaries hold up at 50?
> 
>         Atlas Shrugged
>         The Baron in the Trees
>         Dandelion Wine
>         Doctor Zhivago
>          From Russia with Love
>         The Guns of Navarone
>         Justine
>         On the Road
>         Pnin
>         The Town
>         Voss
> 
> I will note that, in their very different ways, three of these 
> novels--Justine, Atlas Shrugged, and On the Road--achieved and still 
> perhaps hold an iconic status.  That is, it was as important to be seen 
> reading them as actually to have read them.  The very totems of their time.
> 
>> Charles
>> -------
>>
>> To see this story with its related links on the The Observer site, go 
>> to http://www.observer.co.uk
>>
>> America's first king  of the road
>> Fifty years ago Jack Kerouac's dazzling novel On the Road became the 
>> blueprint for the Beat generation and shaped America's youth culture 
>> for decades. It influenced scores of artists, musicians and 
>> film-makers, but how does it resonate with young people today?
>> Sean O'Hagan
>> Sunday August 05 2007
>> The Observer
>>
>>
>> On Wednesday 5 September 1957, the New York Times published a lengthy 
>> review of On the Road, the second novel by the 35-year-old Jack 
>> Kerouac. The reviewer, Gilbert Millstein, called it 'the most 
>> beautifully executed, the clearest and the most important utterance 
>> yet made by the generation Kerouac himself named years ago as "beat", 
>> and whose principal avatar he is'.
>>
>> In Minor Characters, her illuminating memoir of life among the Beat 
>> writers, Joyce Johnson, who was with Kerouac on that day in New York, 
>> captures the seismic resonance of that single review. She had gone 
>> with Kerouac to buy an early edition of the newspaper from an 
>> all-night newsstand in midtown Manhattan. In a nearby bar, she had 
>> watched him read Millstein's article, shaking his head 'as if he 
>> couldn't figure out why he wasn't happier than he was'.
>>
>> Afterwards, they had walked back to Johnson's apartment on the Upper 
>> West Side where, as she memorably put it: 'Jack lay down obscure for 
>> the last time in his life. The ringing phone woke him next morning and 
>> he was famous.' Overnight, the Beat generation had gone overground, 
>> and the man who did most to define it suddenly found that his book was 
>> now defining him. It would continue to do so for the rest of his short 
>> life, and for many decades afterwards.
>>
>> 'Challenging the complacency and prosperity of postwar America hadn't 
>> been Kerouac's intent when he wrote his novel,' his first biographer, 
>> Ann Charters, later wrote, 'but he had created a book that heralded a 
>> change of consciousness in the country.' In the few years following 
>> its publication, On the Road became a major bestseller. It also, as 
>> Kerouac's friend and fellow Beat writer, William Burroughs, 
>> witheringly wrote, 'sold a trillion Levi's, a million espresso coffee 
>> machines, and also sent countless kids on the road'. Unwittingly, and 
>> to his increasing horror, Kerouac had written a zeitgeist book, one 
>> that would help determine the course of what would come to be known as 
>> youth culture over the following two decades.
>>
>> 'It changed my life like it changed everyone else's,' Bob Dylan would 
>> say many years later. Tom Waits, too, acknowledged its influence, 
>> hymning Jack and Neal in a song, and calling the Beats 'father 
>> figures'. At least two great American photographers were influenced by 
>> Kerouac: Robert Frank, who became his close friend - Kerouac wrote the 
>> introduction to The Americans - and Stephen Shore, who set out on an 
>> American road trip in the Seventies with Kerouac's book as a guide. It 
>> would be hard to imagine Hunter S Thompson's deranged Seventies road 
>> novel, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, had On the Road not laid down 
>> the template - likewise films such as Easy Rider, Paris, Texas, even 
>> Thelma and Louise.
>>
>> Remarkably, On the Road was actually written in 1951 when, so the 
>> story goes, Kerouac typed the words over three uninterrupted weeks on 
>> to a 120ft scroll of teletype paper, fuelled by Benzedrine and strong 
>> coffee. The novel recounts, in a breathless and impressionistic style, 
>> his travels to and fro across America, often in the company of his 
>> friend and prime influence, Neal Cassady, renamed Dean Moriarty in the 
>> book.
>>
>> In the six years it took for On the Road to be published, American 
>> culture changed dramatically: Elvis Presley altered the course of 
>> popular music; James Dean and Marlon Brando emerged as a new breed of 
>> brooding teenage icon; the painter Jackson Pollock came and went, his 
>> action paintings and the intense way he lived some kind of precursor 
>> to the 'nowness' that the Beats strived for in both art and life.
>>
>> 'The Beat literary movement came at exactly the right time,' William 
>> Burroughs wrote later, 'and said something that millions of people all 
>> over the world were waiting to hear... The alienation, the 
>> restlessness, the dissatisfaction were already there waiting when 
>> Kerouac pointed out the road.'
>>
>> Though undoubtedly ambitious, Kerouac was utterly unprepared for the 
>> fame, notoriety and controversy that followed On the Road. He was hurt 
>> by the many negative reviews of the book, and by the parodies of the 
>> Beat generation that suddenly started appearing on mainstream 
>> televison chat shows. In interviews from the time, he is palpably ill 
>> at ease, sometimes inebriated. In the most recent biography of the 
>> writer, Kerouac: His Life and Work, Paul Mather writes: 'The obscurity 
>> that Kerouac by turn loved and loathed had vanished. He began drinking.'
>>
>> Twelve years later, Kerouac was dead. The physical cause was cirrhosis 
>> of the liver, brought on by years of alcohol abuse. Many of those who 
>> knew him intimately, though, suspected that he also died of 
>> disillusionment.
>>
>> 'He was just so sensitive,' says Neal Cassady's widow Carolyn, who had 
>> a long affair with Kerouac. 'Everything hurt him deeply. He had the 
>> thin skin of the artist as well as the guilt that his Catholic 
>> upbringing had instilled in him. In the end, he was just so depressed 
>> about how he was being misrepresented, how his great and beautiful 
>> book was being blamed for all the excesses of the Sixties. He just 
>> couldn't take it.'
>>
>> Had Kerouac lived on into old age, he would have been even more 
>> appalled at the ways in which his legacy is currently being 
>> misrepresented. Two years ago, a range of Jack Kerouac clothing was 
>> launched in America. Later this year, the BBC will mark the 50th 
>> anniversary of the publication of On the Road by sending the comedian, 
>> presenter and self-styled dandy, Russell Brand, and his Radio 2 
>> co-presenter, Matt Morgan, on a road trip.
>>
>> Thankfully, the anniversary will also be marked in a more reverent 
>> manner by the book's publishers, Penguin, who on 5 September will 
>> publish On the Road: The Original Scroll, the full, uncensored text 
>> that Kerouac famously wrote in those three frantic weeks. The cast of 
>> characters - Allen Ginsberg, Burroughs, the Cassadys - are no longer 
>> hidden behind Kerouac's often wonderful pseudonyms, and that famous 
>> opening line, 'I first met Dean not long after my wife and I had split 
>> up,' now reads, 'I first met Neal not long after my father died.'
>>
>> Many of the sex scenes, straight and gay, removed at his publishers' 
>> insistence, have been reinstated too, though they are tame by today's 
>> standards. The attraction that Ginsberg felt for Neal Cassady, briefly 
>> reciprocated, is now acknowledged in the first few pages, though in an 
>> almost offhand manner: 'I was in the same room. I heard them across 
>> the darkness and mused and said to myself, "Hmm, now there's something 
>> started but don't want anything to do with it."'
>>
>> Fifty years on, the book is being turned into a Hollywood film, 
>> scripted by Roman Coppola, son of Francis Ford, and directed by Walter 
>> Salles who made The Motorcyle Diaries, the story of Che Guevara's road 
>> trip across South America. Kirsten Dunst will star as Carolyn Cassady.
>>
>> Nearly 40 years after his premature death, then, Kerouac lives on - 
>> though in some odd and often contradictory ways. As is the case with 
>> Guevara, his legacy is contested, his cultural meaning blurred. At the 
>> Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado, for instance, where the Jack 
>> Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics is housed, they will be 
>> celebrating the 50th anniversary of On the Road with a three-day 
>> Kerouac festival. The last remnants of the Beat generation, or at 
>> least those fit enough to travel, will be in attendance.
>>
>> One of the organisers, Junior Burke, chair of writing at Naropa, 
>> recently described On the Road as 'one of the truly defining works of 
>> American fiction', comparing it to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, 
>> but adding: 'Instead of two guys on a raft on the Mississippi, it's 
>> two guys in a Hudson Hornet on the highways of America. I think it's 
>> something that young people still relate to.'
>>
>> For many young people in America, though, the name Jack Kerouac means 
>> nothing at all. In an age where youth culture is increasingly defined 
>> by consumerism, where the road trip has been replaced by the gap year, 
>> and where it is considered radical to be cool but not cool to be 
>> radical, whither Jack Kerouac and his beatific vision?
>>
>> 'It struck me when I was in Thailand last year that no one is even 
>> pretending to be beat any more,' says the young British novelist Hari 
>> Kunzru. 'You'd quite often see white guys with dreadlocks pulling 
>> wheelie cases down Khao San Road. The great adventure that was 
>> travelling overland in the Sixties and Seventies has become a 
>> middle-class ritual. The notion that you would throw yourself at the 
>> mercy of the road, and by doing so, gain some self-knowledge or even 
>> maturity, is long gone.'
>>
>> Carolyn Cassady, the last surviving member of Kerouac's closeknit 
>> coterie of friends and fellow Beats, now 84 and exiled in deepest 
>> Berkshire, is even more scathing about Noughties youth. 'It's all 
>> about money and surface now, the clothes you wear, the things you buy, 
>> and no one is the slightest bit ashamed of being superficial. I often 
>> thank God that Jack and Neal did not live long enough to see what has 
>> become of their vision'.
>>
>> When I was a teenager, though, On the Road was the bible for any 
>> aspiring bohemian, a book that was passed on from one generation to 
>> the next almost as a talismanic text. I was given a battered copy by 
>> an older friend and, even before I read it, knew that it carried 
>> within its pages some deep, abiding truth about youth, freedom and 
>> self-determination. On the Road instilled in me a belief that, in 
>> order to find oneself, one had to throw caution to the wind and travel 
>> long distances with no real goal and very little money.
>>
>> A few years later, I passed the same copy on to my younger brother, 
>> and was incensed when he passed it on to a friend who left it on a 
>> bus. I can see the irony now but back then I felt that something 
>> bigger than just a battered paperback had been lost. It was in this 
>> word-of-mouth way that On the Road, even long after its initial 
>> publication, became one of those rare novels that was often read by 
>> people who do not read novels as a rule. It may be that this is still 
>> the case, but I doubt it. Harry Potter is today's zeitgeist book. The 
>> Beats and their wild adventures seem light years away.
>>
>> And yet, for all that, On the Road continues to be read. What was once 
>> a zeitgeist book, though, and one that defined a transformative moment 
>> in postwar culture, has become a historical artefact. It may even be 
>> the case that today's teenagers read On the Road in much the same way 
>> that my generation read Laurie Lee's picaresque rites-of-passage novel 
>> As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning - as a glimpse into an already 
>> distant past when things seemed simpler.
>>
>> When I asked my 20-year-old niece, Lucy, if she had read it, she 
>> nodded. 'I liked parts of it,' she said, 'but it seemed so 
>> old-fashioned.' Did she connect with it in any way? 'I suppose it does 
>> make you feel like you had missed out on something.' This, she added, 
>> was a familiar feeling among her generation. What was that something, 
>> though? 'Oh, some kind of meaning. It's set in a time when travelling 
>> across America and smoking weed or whatever meant something. It was a 
>> statement.'
>>
>> Hari Kunzru, who 'came to the book late and found it almost cringey in 
>> its emotional gushiness,' agrees. 'I was aware of its cultural weight 
>> in the canon of alternative literature before I read it, and even 
>> though I never had an intense love affair with it, there was no 
>> denying that the lives these guys lived was properly edgy in a way 
>> that my generation's wasn't. They were transgressing in a very real 
>> way and doing dangerous things at a time when the risks were high. To 
>> me, the lives were often more interesting than the writing.'
>>
>> While living in New York, Kerouac met the varied bunch of characters 
>> and fledgling writers who would later become the Beat generation, the 
>> likes of Ginsberg, Burroughs, John Clellon Holmes, who is said to have 
>> coined the term, and, most significantly, Neal Cassady. Kerouac had 
>> grown up in a relatively stable family. Cassady, on the other hand, 
>> had been brought up by an alcoholic father, and sent to reform school 
>> several times in his teens for stealing cars.
>>
>> To Ginsberg and Kerouac, Cassady was the real thing, an authentic free 
>> spirit at a time when authenticity - of experience, expression, vision 
>> - was all. 'Neal was an energetic and instinctively brilliant, 
>> self-educated guy with a photographic memory,' elaborates Carolyn 
>> Cassady. 'But, because of his background, a lot of the more academic 
>> Beats didn't like him, didn't trust him. Both Jack and Allen were 
>> blown away by him, though, his restless energy, his love of life, the 
>> way he talked, the way he lived purely for the moment.'
>>
>> Cassady epitomised the consciousness that Kerouac had christened 
>> 'beat' as early as 1948. The word had two connotations for Kerouac: 
>> 'beat' as in worn out by the conventions and constrictions of straight 
>> American society; and beat as in 'beatific' - blessed, holy, 
>> transcendent. The Beat writers had a shared vision that rejected many 
>> of the formal values of the accepted canon, and elevated energy, flow 
>> and engagement over reflection, refinement and detachment. In doing 
>> so, they also reflected the dissatisfactions of America's postwar young.
>>
>> Willam Burroughs, who was older and colder than the other Beats, saw 
>> the Beat generation as a media construct as much as an organic 
>> flowering of a shared transgressive vision: 'Those arch-opportunists, 
>> they know a story when they see one, and the Beat movement was a 
>> story, and a big one.' Following the crossover sucess of On The Road, 
>> Kerouac became the centre of that story, constantly referred to in the 
>> press as 'king of the Beats' and 'spokesman for a generation'. And, 
>> though he was eager for literary recognition, he was also the most 
>> ill-suited candidate for this kind of canonisation, at least until the 
>> similarly elusive Bob Dylan came along a decade later. Dylan, though, 
>> managed to reinvent himself continually. Kerouac tried many times and 
>> failed.
>>
>> In the end, Jack Kerouac outlived Neal Cassady by just over a year. 
>> Cassady, the man who had truly defined the essence of Beat, whose 
>> restlessness, amorality and manic energy had so inspired Kerouac to 
>> create his freeform, rhapsodic prose, was found dead by a railway 
>> track in Mexico in 1968. He had kept on moving, though, had even 
>> stamped his personality on another movement, Ken Kesey's LSD-fuelled 
>> Merry Pranksters, whose Day-Glo bus he piloted across America and had 
>> ended up in another zeitgeist book, Tom Wolfe's The Electric Kool-Aid 
>> Acid Test.
>>
>> Kerouac died in 1969 in St Petersburg, Florida. He had lived long 
>> enough to be blamed for the excesses of the Sixties generation, for 
>> whom he felt no empathy. According to Carolyn Cassady: 'Jack was 
>> essentially conservative, patriotic even, but not in any heavy-handed 
>> way. He was old-fashioned. I never once heard him swear. People who 
>> write about him can never seem to get a hold of the consciousness of 
>> that time, which was restless and questing, but also oddly reserved 
>> and responsible. His intention was not freedom without responsibility, 
>> but freedom of expression in art.'
>>
>> Which begs the inevitable question, does On the Road stand the test of 
>> time? Is it a great work of literature? Ann Charters thinks so, 
>> comparing it to both Huckleberry Finn and The Great Gatsby, as a novel 
>> that 'explores the themes of personal freedom and challenges the 
>> promise of the American dream'. Likewise the American novelist, AM 
>> Homes, who wrote recently that 'Kerouac was the man who allowed 
>> writers to enter the world of flow... his philosophy was about being 
>> in the current, open to possibility, allowing creativity to move 
>> through you, and you to be one with the process'.
>>
>> Hari Kunzru disagrees. 'On the Road is such a patchy book, like much 
>> Beat writing, in fact. The whole heart-on-the-sleeve romanticism is 
>> off-putting, even embarassing. Apart from some really brilliant 
>> descriptive passages, it just does not stand up. It's become a 
>> different book now, a historical artefact rather than a living, 
>> breathing work of literature.'
>>
>> When I re-read On the Road recently, it did indeed seem to me to be a 
>> different book from the one that I had so connected with as a 
>> teenager. The gush of emotionalism was apparent, and the narrative no 
>> longer held my attention in the same way. And yet there were moments 
>> of great descriptive prose about America, about jazz music, about the 
>> sheer joy of being young and alive, and about the fleeting freedom of 
>> the open road. More surprisingly, there was an undercurrent of great 
>> sadness and disillusionment that I had not picked up on, or chosen to 
>> overlook, first time around. It seemed, in its final part, to be an 
>> elegy for Kerouac and Cassady's youth, for their friendship, which 
>> ends in a kind of betrayal, and for the fabled road of the title that 
>> had promised so much but, in the end, delivered so little.
>>
>> Kerouac: On the record
>>
>> 1922 Born Jean-Louis Lebris de Kerouac in Lowell, Massachusetts to 
>> French-Canadian parents.
>>
>> 1939 Entered Columbia University on a football scholarship but dropped 
>> out in 1941.
>>
>> 1944 Arrested for helping Lucien Carr dispose of the body of David 
>> Kammerer, whom Carr had stabbed to death. Released on bail, put up by 
>> girlfriend Edie Parker after he agreed to marry her.
>>
>> 1950 Published first novel The Town and the City to respectable 
>> reviews but poor sales.
>>
>> 1951 Wrote On the Road
>>
>> 1957 Hailed as the voice of the Beat generation, after On the Road was 
>> finally published to ecstatic reviews.
>>
>> 1960s Moved to Florida to escape media attention and care for his 
>> mother. Wrote a series of lesser-known autobiographical novels.
>>
>> 1969 Died aged 47 from internal bleeding caused by cirrhosis of the 
>> liver.
>>
>> They said 'Someone handed me Mexico City Blues in 1959 and it blew my 
>> mind. It was the first poetry that spoke my language.' (Bob Dylan)
>>
>> 'That's not writing, that's typing.' (Truman Capote)
>>
>> He said 'The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad 
>> to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the 
>> same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but 
>> burn, burn, burn, like fabulous Roman candles exploding like spiders 
>> across the stars.' (From On the Road) Hugh Montgomery
>>
>> Copyright Guardian News and Media Limited 
> 
> 
> -- 
> **********************
> Charles L. Sligh
> Department of English
> Wake Forest University
> slighcl at wfu.edu
> **********************
> 
> 
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