Dialogues in Introspection

Kerouac also handwrote eight pages that took to task his embattled psychology. He posited his creative dilemma (in lead) with his moralistic contrast (in red crayon), both sides of his psyches beleagured by nihilistic despair.

Kerouac maintained that whatsoever the circumstances, he was creatively driven with ideas. But that wasn’t the issue. Kerouac’s contention was that he was being forced to live a “moral” life that was at odds with his creative life. Goethe posited that one must be morally sound in order to be creatively sound. But it was, to Kerouac, the morality of creation that was Goethe’s true intent.

Goethe writes, “This is the nature of poetry, that it utters the particular without thinking of the general or indicating it. But he who vividly grasps the particular receives the general as a gift, even though he knows it not or learns it late.”

This is with or without morality. But could each morality remain separate? Morality could only be found within, not without and if it be true that one could cause pain in friends and family, then this pain, Kerouac reasoned, “is the law of the artist’s life.” The artist is the “final distillery of emotions.”

But emotions, too, had its cost, for not every emotion was morally sound. Some were amoral and asocial. Others corrupt.

Kerouac’s moral dialogue expressed that it was still possible for people to lead good lives. But were they good? Decent? Decent people with decent lives dedicated themselves solely to comfort and security at the cost of repressing their true emotions to the degree that those emotions they did reveal were materialistically evaluated. This, according to Kerouac’s creative dialogue, was the true indecency. If it is such lives that are considered sound and moral, then this too is the basis of society. They had no notion of creation and culture. If they did, both are rejected on materialistic grounds.
It was Thomas Mann, the Creative dialogue writes, that posits: “A high meeting of nature and mind upon their path of yearning in search of one another—that is Man.” Kerouac’s role as artist had its price, as it always would and should. Shelley’s Apollo says:

I am the eye with which the Universe
Beholds itself and knows itself divine;
All harmony of instrument or verse,
All prophecy, all medicine are mine,
All light of art or nature.

And so must Kerouac, going forward, divulge himself of divine properties in order to overturn his beleaguered sensibilities and redefine his understanding of art anew. To do so, he must rid himself of all personal baggage, even his wife. He must surround himself with a personal circle that understood him fully and unconditionally. He must not be discouraged by family. If the road should call him, literally and figuratively, he must  follow it.

Art,” Ludwig Lewisohn writes in The Story of American Literature (1939), “is social and moral and religious and metaphysical, not because it has to be made so, but because man is so and because the artist is a man.”

After reading “The Sea Is My Brother,” Columbia professor Raymond Weaver introduced Kerouac to Eastern texts. He also suggested Emerson, Thoreau, The Egyptian Book of the Dead, Plotinus, Herman Melville’s Pierre, and Gnostic scripture. For Kerouac and Ginsberg, it was their first taste, besides the two Transcendentalists, of theological and Eastern spiritual writings. Kerouac borrowed Ginsberg’s library card and checked out works by Nietzsche, the Comte de Lautreamont’s Maldoror, Aldous Huxley, Yeats and Rimbaud. He embarked upon a series of readings drawing from many sources: sexual neo-Platonism, political liberalism, the decline of religion in the Western church, the psychological theories of Freud, H.G. Wells’s humanism, and the “conflict between modern bourgeois culture and artistic culture in Thomas Mann, in Rolland, in Wolfe, in Yeats, Joyce.”

On November 16, Kerouac estimated his written output: “I wrote close to half a million words since 1939, when I first began to write—Poems, stories, essays, aphorisms, journals, and nine unfinished novels. That is the record—600,000 words, all in the service of art—in five years. . . . Tonight I stored away my writings of the past month, plus an unfinished novel, a total of 75,000 words, in my drawer.”

Again, via “Self-Ultimacy,” he saw Rimbaud’s “new vision” in which he “cravenly turned it to a use in a novel designed to gain me, the man of the world, respect, idolatry, sexual success, and every other thing that goes with it.” The New Vision was a concept discussed with Lucien Carr. In jail, he wrote of it: “The new vision can be achieved in art.” It was fueled by intensive readings of Rimbaud’s A Season in Hell and Lautréamont’s Les Chants de Maldoror.

Writes Lautréamont: “You are being perpetually driven out of your mind and caught in the trap of shadows constructed with so coarse a skill by egoism and self-esteem.Les Chants de Maldoror, a long narrative poem and a nihilistic Bible espouses the principles of evil. Kerouac, who wished to be “well versed in nihilism” was too conflicted by religious and moral obligations to thoroughly divulge it. There was meaning in life, or else his writing served no purpose. Still, in this moment, reduced to poverty and loneliness, he craved the purity of artistic intent that possessed Lautréamont and Rimbaud.

Throughout November 1944, Kerouac was reduced to sharing potato soup from the same bowl with Ginsberg. It was poverty all over again. In the Village, a bum told him, “Life is a bowl of cherries my son, but try and get one.” At night they slept in separate beds in Ginsberg’s room. Kerouac knew that Zarathustra’s Superman lived on the mountain and that the eagle brought him his food in its beak. There was no eagle to bring him food. There were no talons scratching his window. It was just soup, if he was lucky, from the West End cafeteria.

“Ginsberg is my eagle— Ach! j’ai fini—–“


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