Sunday, February 20, 2011

Kerouac does read better as a scroll

For City Lights
his bookstore

In 2007 the executors of the estate of Jack Kerouac approved the publication of On the Road (1957) in its original scroll version, and to one's way of thinking the anarchic layout made the work more coherent than ever before. Its debt to Whitman, always acknowledged in its frontispiece quotation, leapt constantly off the page, along with the influences of his renowned contemporaries and friends.

At the same time, I noted a discovery of this book in the present generation which one's own had never accorded it. Undoubtedly, we had resisted his milieu as his literature, an extremely common mis-take in American youth. They were no different, but Kerouac had slipped into the unthreatening past. And the culture had sunk into that torpor and denial which originally inspired his project. So they discovered Whitman:

                      I give you my hand!
                      I give you my love
                      more precious than

                      I give you myself
                      before preaching or law;
                      Will you give me

                      Will you come travel
                      with me?
                      Shall we stick to each other
                      as long as we live?

Allen [Ginsburg] was queer in those days, experimenting with himself to the hilt, and Neal saw that, and a former boyhood hustler himself in the Denver night, and wanting dearly to learn how to write poetry like Allen, the first thing you know he was attacking Allen with a great amorous soul such as only a conman can have. I was in the same room ..

The purity of the road. The white line in the middle of the hiway [sic] unrolled and hugged our left front tire as if glued to our groove. Neal hunched his muscular neck, T-shirted in the winter night, and blasted the car along. In no time we were at the approaches of Philadelphia. Ironically we were going over the same road to North Carolina for the third time; it was our route. I kept wondering what it was that I had forgotten to do back in New York; it unrolled behind me more and more and I forgot more and more what it was. I brought it up. Everybody tried to guess what I had forgotten. It was no use.

Walt Whitman
Song of the Open road
  final lines
Leaves of Grass
  1891-92 edition
Justin Kaplan, editor
Library of America, 1982©

Jack Kerouac
On the Road
  The Original Scroll
  excerpts, pp 113 and 235
Howard Cunnell, editor
Viking Penguin, 2007©

No comments:

Post a Comment