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Saturday, June 14, 2008

KEROUAC'S ON THE ROAD--A LOOK AT THE BEAT GENERATION

Here’s a book touted as speaking for a generation, and 60 years after its publication, Jack Kerouac’s On the Road is still popular, still being read on college campuses, still selling well, and still in the midst of controversy.

As Sal Paradise, Kerouac’s stream-of-consciousness journey back and forth across the United States and eventually to Mexico with a zany, wild friend, Dean Moriarty, (Neal Cassady in real life) is rumored to have been written in three weeks in a benzedrine induced sleeplessness. Cassady’s wife debunked this myth, admitting Kerouac was much more conventional as he wrote episodes in journals over a seven year period and transformed those journal entries into this novel—names changed to protect the real people he wrote about: Allan Ginsburg, the poet, emerges as Carlo Marx in the novel, for instance. Use this link to a short NPR program on the book: Morning Edition - 09/09/2002 - Segment: 13

Stream-of-consciousness allows Kerouac to write at a fevered pitch, eschewing many grammatical rules and allowing him to raise Dean to god-like status, beatific, in a beat(nick) world that is alienated from middle class morals, dreams, and practices. It’s a trip—pun intended!

What these characters search for is IT. What IT is is unknown, but they know they have TIME to find IT. This is a sad search by disenchanted, alienated men and women in their 20s. The desultory existence of On the Road’s inhabitants is infused with sex, drugs, alcohol, and lack of commitment. I don’t see that as my father’s generation; Tom Brokaw’s view in The Greatest Generation is much more in my experience. Still this is an interesting look at some of lost members of that WWII generation as was Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises a view of those lost in the aftermath of WWI.

Why do I include this novel in Third Age Traveler? I read it because I am facilitating a book discussion for the New York State Council for the Humanities. But there are special qualities in this book. It’s different enough to be an interesting read. It’s famous enough to be something worth exploring. It’s poetic enough to include some beautiful images, and it’s crazy and real enough to have you shaking your head in disbelief! If you read On the Road, I sure would like you to comment on it.

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