Thursday, 27 August 2009

Article twenty-six - On the Road

Literature │ Buddha of American prose
On The Road by Jack Kerouac

(published in "Avrupa" newspaper)




In 1948, Jack Kerouac, born as Jean Luis Kerouac (1922-1969) placed his own stamp upon his generation of writer’s, poets; hobos who were all on a journey in the search of a truth, whilst enduring the rawness of life, he called it the “Beat Generation” of 1950s America. The Beat generation, the beatniks, all strumming along to their own beats, dancing to the beats of those around them, riding and crashing into the waves of life whilst searching for “this” truth, in the search of their “own” truth, even if it meant slamming into a wall resulting in a broken nose, a smashed cranium and death by alcoholism, by drug overdose, by the tiredness of riding life too hard. The Beatniks of his generation are to be found hovering, chanting, experimenting, climbing and dragging themselves through the dirt of the land and the pages of Kerouac’s novel. On the Road is Kerouac’s story, his story of life on the American road, about the discovery of his own country, of making friends, loves and foes along the dusty, mucky and disappearing road which his feat and wheels carry him across. Kerouac turns his life over to us, but not with his own name or the real names of those he travelled with, but turns his scroll of literature into an autobiographical piece of fiction. The reason why one refers to this piece as a scroll of literature is due to the fact that Kerouac wrote this entire novel on pieces of paper that he had cut down to size and stuck together in order to prevent the disturbance of having to replace another piece of paper into his typewriter, leading to the loss of trail of thought, and with the beat generation, trail of thought is everything. Within three weeks of non stop tapping at his typewriter, Kerouac had written his novel.

On the Road is a novel which not only tests ones endurance for the long and winding journey that we are dragged along on, and an almost nauseating sense of the need and hunger for the unknown, and for adventure at any cost, it is also one that shows a side of America through the eyes of the lost and desperate generation of the 1920s through to the 1940’s. Jack hides behind the character “Sal Paradise,” but the story is not really about Sal, it’s about his friend Dean Moriarty, the great Moriarty holds within him everything that the Beat generation denotes, his exhausting energy, his scrupulous desire to see and experience everything is what makes Sal (Jack) look up to, and follow Moriarty to the ends of the earth, well America. Dean Moriarty is one of the greatest tortured souls that one can possibly come across; in real life his name was Neal Cassady. Cassady, lost his mother at a young age, had a drunk for a father and found himself in and out of the penal system, and desperately seeking for all that was new, and as with most beatniks, his fate was a sad one, dying at the age of 41 by the side of a rail way track, he had simply experienced too much of everything in too a small space of time, even Kerouac himself died at a young age from alcohol, and there was of course good old William S. Burroughs. William Burroughs, one of the fathers of the beat generation who makes a number of appearances in the book as “Old Bull Lee,” now he was certainly a character, along with Old Bull Lee, was the famous beat poet Allen Ginsberg disguised as “Carlo Marx.” Old Bull Lee and Carlo Marx have very interesting roles in Dean and Sal’s lives; they are the only two who have the insight to ask the crucial question, “Why are you doing this?” “Doing this” refers to choosing to drive around America haphazardly, seemingly aimlessly just as we, the reader also question. The read is an exhausting one, but we too fall into the beat of the road, the adventure, the madness, in essence we too become the road, but as with all roads and all things in life, we learn, we live, but it must all come to an end, the major question that one must ask themselves is, “what will you do with it?” With this question in mind, On the Road is what Kerouac did with his adventure, his love for his friends, and the love he had for his country as he travelled along to the thumping beats it resonated. With that note my fellow reader, I shall leave with you an extract, do with it what you may, there is always another road to take, and that’s the beauty of it.

“On the horizon was the moon. She flattened, she grew huge and rusty, she mellowed and rolled, till the morning star contended and dews began to blow in our windows- and still we rolled.”

©Zehra Mustafa

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