Friday, October 24, 2008
Jack Kerouac's On the Road works best when read aloud ... quickly, slowly, with a careful mind paid to the sounds and rhythms of the words as they loiter and rush across the page. The [. . . scroll of paper three inches thick made up of one single-spaced, unbroken 120-foot-long paragraph . . .] was written by Kerouac in three weeks in a marathon series of day and night writing as Kerouac transformed himself into the American Balzac. Because On the Road rolls outward in a torrent rather than _____ in stasis like a carefully crafted sculpture, the writing style and method of composition is American in the sense that the emphasis is on timing and production.
Kerouac churned out the novel like he laid it on an assembly line and the speech patterns of the sentences when read aloud have an obvious connection to jazz ... America’s only indigenous art form. When reading this mountain for the first few times, it’s nearly impossible for the reader not to feel swept away by the exuberance expressed by the book and the obvious reverence that Kerouac endearingly held for his subjects. The author, as Sal Paradise, casts out doubt and ventures in the Wilderness to find the elusive truth that he feels bubbling inside him. Certain aspects of On the Road give it a spiritual quality; as heroes Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty race back and forth across the country searching for what it means to be alive in various cars that are nearly like ships slicing the waves of farmland that crisscross middle-America. Kerouac’s bookish alter-ego Sal Paradise, even in name, jumpstarts a journey of discovery that leads none know where. Submerged in the book one also experiences catalogs of details of a 1950s America that Kerouac so lovingly documented. Kerouac also framed the downbeat characters in the novel unabashedly. His polyphonic portraits were nothing more than thinly veiled representations of his own inner-circle, which sometimes gives the book a feeling of inspired gossip. It was enjoyable for me to discover who each subject was and to eventually read their work. This has led many to claim that On the Road is the novel that set them on a path toward an active interest in many other artistic and cultural rivulets and streams. The characters, Sal Paradise (Jack Kerouac), Rollo Greb (Alan Ansen), Old Bull Lee (William S. Burroughs), Jane (Joan Vollmer), Damien (Lucian Carr), Dean Moriarty (Neal Cassady), Chad King (Hal Chase), Carlo Marx (Allen Ginsberg), Ian MacArthur (John Clellon Holmes), and Elmer Hassel (Herbert Huncke) all seem on the edge of something: But what that something is doesn’t resonate completely. It’s a feeling being expressed in these pages, not a dismal or defeatist existential problem. The book celebrates life and emphasizes the journey (versus the destination) in a wholly unique way. Kerouac’s oratorio hums in the imagination and lingers in the mind. There’s something singular and elemental about this book like the smell of a winter fireplace, or sighting a planet in the night sky, or watching a dog catch a Frisbee in the park, or the sound of a lonely ship’s horn enveloped in mist, or gazing down on a panoramic view after hiking a woodsy hillside. Kerouac’s deft timing and sincerity reaches out through the page and grabs you by the arm, pulling you along for the windswept cinematic ride. [Pictured: Neal Cassady, circa 1955]
Come hear me read a portion of Jack Kerouac's novel On the Road, Wednesday, November 5, at 8pm in the Conaway Center, 1104 South Wabash, on the Columbia College Chicago campus. Here's how I answered the introductory question of what On the Road means to me.
"On the Road was one of the first books I read that really ignited a sense of the passion that I hold for words. The musicality of the language was such an inspiration at a critical time in my life. Seeing the world through Kerouac's eyes in this book gave me hope for my own journey down life's proverbial 'road.'"