Tuesday, August 7, 2007

"On the Road" turns fifty

I was fifteen when I read “On the Road”, and sure enough, eager to appear hip and ahead of my times, I embraced Kerouac’s slack sentences and cartoonish evocations of hip style. Somewhere in that fifteen year old brain,though, I suspected that the adventures of Dean Moriarty et al were stupid, very stupid, and all the talk of things God, zen and pulse-racing were the products of someone who was trying to write their away of some deeply rooted dissatisfactions with their life. The fifteen year old was right, and the lesson to be learned from the herded worship of Kerouac’s deceased essence was to not to say I liked something merely because it was a fashion. Kerouac’s books sell, of course, but it’s marketing, not quality that keeps bringing in new readers. The dreadfully wooden prose of Ayn Rand sells famously as well, and in both cases we have examples of adults pushing adolescent agendas to readers who need an image to attach their forming cosmologies to. It’s youthful spontaneity for Kerouac’s cause, hooliganism disguised as spiritual practice, and it’s a bullying appeal to the genius of the misunderstood little man for Rand. With any luck, those enamored of these two dreadful writers grow up and refine their reading tastes, but many do not, and consequently perpetuate the flimsy , sub cult contrivances that constitute both their reputations.

4 comments:

  1. I think I was seventeen when I read On the Road...for some reason I was really impressed with the fact that it was typed on a single roll of paper. Unfortunately, I strove to emulate those shiftless drunks (and another then idol, Bukowsky). My liver doesn't thank me, though I've since changed my ways.
    Still, reread it a couple of years ago and found it interesting as a slice of history. I think Ginsberg is the only one of that group whose writing still holds up for me.

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  2. I'm a sober drunk myself, and it's funny how reading tastes change after you take the pledge. It's about growing up, I guess. On the Road will be read because it was precisely a perfect document of a moment and a mood of it's time, and I agree with you about Ginsberg. His early work, at least, is for the ages.

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  3. Kerouac was a speed freak, known as a tweaker... This is tweaker lit. I'm going to get some crack and start writing...

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