Kerouac & Self-Ultimacy

Self Ultimacy: Kerouac wondered what it would take to drive someone to tip the balance of “profound frustration”? Kerouac based these ideas within the “sphere” of his experience asking himself questions that would put him to the test. What if he were homosexual and was discovered by his family, or by his beloved who would be “repulsed,” or, consequently scorned and avoided by friends? Would this alienation drive him at last to “self-ultimacy”? What if he fell in love and “desecrated” a 13-year old girl? He would face “social expulsion,” could he live wit that? Was the basis of self-ultimacy social or anti-social? Kerouac’s source for his ideas lie within Part 1, Chapter 22 of Friedrich Nietzsche’s, Thus Spake Zarathustra. He quoted the most relevant part of it in his journal:

“Now I bid you lose me and find yourselves; and only when ye have all denied me, will I return onto you.”

This was the germination of Galloway. Its proto-version was written as a 63-page novella titled “I Bid You Lose Me” (complete with blood spatters from Kerouac’s ode to Nietzsche) written between November 4 to November 15, 1944. Kerouac had taken Nietzsche’s maxim (“Of all that is written, I love only what a man has written with his own blood”) quite literally when he cut his finger and wrote in blood on his “I Bid You Lose Me” holograph manuscript. Now he sought to take further action following Nietzsche’s dictum. He recognized that he no longer identified with the society he was unavoidably part and parcel. Informally, he participated by consuming material goods purchased with “informal resources.” He regarded himself as a tax-paying citizen, even though his income was considered too low to pay taxes at all that year. He had indeed shunned society, and in fact, that month, after leaving his wife and hiding from his mother, all that was required of him now was to sleep, eat, earn enough money to survive … and to write.

He wrote a draft of a note to give to Allen Ginsberg:

My dear Allan,
one needs no bidding to lose one’s self but one does need bidding to lose society and find ones’ self. Shaking off the shadow of this loss is weakness where spiritual decisions are not carried out, intellectual dishonesty if you must (if I must make an unfair remark);
let’s also call it:-disloyalty to a cosmology wrought out in pain. “Nothing is true, everything is allowed.” Allen, I dare you lose society—I dare myself! Remember that I am a revolutionary hedonist and gaze at the spectacle (which you called anti-physical) of experimentation.

I can find no time to compromise— I am the revolutionary. It is for you, the compromiser, to realize the progress, to implement, rather, the progress that I shall have given birth to (no cracks about laborer pains—) Each man to his own work—and to his own hedonism, if you wish. And I have not had occasion yet to realize my relative intellectual immaturity.
In his rooming house, Kerouac noted a large desk sitting in the hallway. He watched a black laborer who just finished applying a second coat of paint and was in the process of storing his brushes. Kerouac asked if he needed an assistant. The painter pointed to the desk, suggesting that it needed to be moved. It was too heavy to do it himself. Kerouac helped him carry it into the room. Though the painter thanked him for his help, Kerouac detected incredulity in his tone. It made him wonder, as a “respectable citizen,” who would ever imagine doing what he had done? To help a black man, to ease the burden of his labors? The “Negro is cursed with menial tasks” and, by its virtue, any ordinary citizen wouldn’t be bothered to help. Kerouac, having lost society, is no longer burdened by their prejudices and judgments. He is free and therefore unburdened from the matrix. He is now in a position to attain self-ultimacy: “I know of the hatred and envy of your hearts. You are not great enough not to know hatred and envy. Then be great enough not to be ashamed of them!”

Kerouac glowed that he was going against society’s grain, his sister’s comment about joining the ranks of the working class be damned! He, the assistant of a Negro laborer! His joy overflowed at not only losing society as he saw it, but of attaining true liberation from it. This time he had successfully severed the chains of bondage to social norms. It was something he always wanted to develop. It was the “virtue of virtues” that he ascertained as “unselfconsciousness” in society, yet it was a “consciousness” in himself. It became the opening sentence of The Subterraneans: “this is the story of an unselfconfident man […]” The anecdote of the black painter would flower to Mardou Fox, his African-American/Cherokee love interest in The Subterraneans, the seeds of that novel born almost ten years previous!

“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… Art so far has rationalized my errantry, my essential Prodigal Son behavior. It has also been the victim of an ego craving fame and superiority. I have been using art as a societal step-ladder―which proves that my renunciation of society is yet incomplete. Self-Ultimacy I saw as the new vision―but I 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. Au revoir à l’art, then.”

Kerouac had set himself apart from his friends after they senselessly argued over art, religion and politics one evening. He referred to Nietzsche’s maxim: “The man of knowledge must be able not only to love his enemies but also to hate his friends.” It was an excellent “transvaluation” and he remembered weeping over the conversational brawl between some companions. They were, in his estimate, “idiots” and he was one even moreso for taking the time to understand them. He hated his friends for hating his enemies. This, he realized, was why he related so closely to Nietzsche, remembering the first time he read him, how he didn’t like his writings at all. Kerouac felt that he, more than others, was the most “timely” in wartime America.

“I am the revolutionary!”

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