Wednesday, October 28, 2009

"I am Bhikku Blank Rat!"

Academics disregarded him, critics burned him at the proverbial stake, professors exclude him, I'm fairly certain, if he were alive, Buddha would've murdered him with some lethal laser mantra, but Jack Kerouac, nonetheless, is attracting a new cult following among my generation--a collective of clones, the mini-Beats, imitative train-hopping, half-ass Buddhist, transitive, alcoholic artistes who genuinely respect Kerouac. This collective exacerbated my impression of Kerouac as an uneducated thrill-seeker, a man with little talent but large/lots of balls because I saw "Kerouac the original" via examples of the "Kerouac clones" of my creative writing classes, favorite Fremont coffee haunts, ALL OF CAPITOL HILL, etc.
I can understand the attraction: the Beats were a movement, but never members of a fold. My generation built a bandwagon of the Beats' leftovers, but I think few of us appreciate Kerouac's talent more than (even as much as) his supposed rebelliousness. When I read "The Dharma Bums" (Penguin Classics Edition, 2006, with introduction by Ann Douglas) I saw Kerouac as more of a literary genius and less as an anarchical superhero, an inspired deviant, a drunken bodhisattva.

"The Dharma Bums" focuses on Raymond Smith's (Kerouac's pseudonym) relationship with Dharmic poet/mountaineer/orientalist extraordinaire Japhy Ryder (Gary Snyder). Japhy dominates the friendship; Ray, throughout the book, desires only to please Japhy (e.g. " 'And this is Japhy's lake, and these are Japhy's mountains,' " Ray thinks while spending a summer as a fire lookout on Desolation Peak, Japhy's previous job. "I...wished Japhy were there to see me doing everything he wanted me to do.")
Ray constantly seeks Japhy's approval, and Kerouac's self-awareness is apparent. Kerouac may have written this book in one fell swoop of "spontaneous prose," but his understanding of his relationship with Snyder is the primary theme, and after an entire novel of wine-induced orgies, Californian picnics, midnight ghost train rides, etc., Ray descends Desolation Peak with an image of Japhy in mind--not the "real-life Japhy," but the "realer-than-life Japhy" (a hyperreal Japhy, if you will) Ray created in dreams and idolized.

Kerouac is the Beat voyeur; he lived and wrote vicariously, in his quiet genius.

(In post-script, I need to expose Kerouac as a comic wit as well, whether or not he intended the following lines to elicit laughter:
"All alone and free in the soft sands of the beach by the sigh of the sea out there, with the Ma-Wink fallopian virgin warm stars reflecting on the outer channel fluid belly waters." [He sounds like the trippy version of Ashbery, and all from wine and Buddhism. Who needs opiates?]
" 'Fuck you! sang Coyote, and ran away!' read Japhy to the distinguished audience, making them all howl with joy, it was so pure, fuck being a dirty word that comes out clean."
"Pretty girls make graves." [A few things: I'm not sure if Kerouac was the originator of this saying; the band by the same name isn't half bad, or, rather, is more than half good; and this quote is more sadly true than comic.]
"... colleges [are] nothing but grooming schools for the middle-class non-identity ..."
"This Is the Impossibility of the Existence of Anything."
"For after all ... Augustine was a spade and Francis my idiot brother." [This reminds me of Augustine's own quote, "The Church is a whore, but she is my mother."]
"The Four Inevitabilities: 1. Musty Books. 2. Uninteresting Nature. 3. Dull Existence. 4. Blank Nirvana, buy that boy."
"... I laid my hand on myself to remind myself first and then felt gay ... ." [Yes, this is out of context, and yes, this is the "gay" of the 1950s, but I still laughed, especially since Kerouac was practically the only straight Beat in existence.]
"There's Wisdom in wine, goddam it!"
"I'm a dumb Westerner ... look what preconceptions have done to England." -Henry Morley [John Montgomery] [See also: everything Morley says in the book.])

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