The Dark Corridor (October 1944)

Kerouac translated a line from a French edition of Arthur Rimbaud’s Oeuvres (edited by Robert Goffin – New York: Brentano, 1943):

“When shall we, beyond the shores and the mountains there, salute the birth of the new work, the new vision, the rout of tyrants and demons, the end of superstition, and adore we the first ones!—Christmas on earth?”

He was keen to embrace the nihilism of Rimbaud, though Céline Young (Lucien Carr’s girlfriend) told him that “It is because they deny the ground beneath them that they are insecure.” Kerouac’s retort, as written in the unpublished manuscript, I Bid You Lose Me, is: “The nihilist cuts away the ground under his feet and then resents his insecurity.” This prompted a self-debate in two contrasting perspectives. The Dark Corridor is ten pages of  holograph separated by 76 numbered ideas, all of which stemmed from a dream to which Kerouac asked himself, “Is this the way I’m supposed to feel?

Do they smile at me because I stumbled

into this dark corridor

like an absent-minded child?

 

The “dark corridor” represented a new chapter in a life fraught with uncertainties. Life situations were unwittingly thrust upon him. He was aware of his flaws, of the mistakes he had made in his life. He was aware that sometimes he was treated like a child that didn’t know any better. “They” smiled at him, condescendingly, society, his parents, friends, women he loved, but of them all, their smiles were wasted He could see through them. He was aware of his omissions and they pinged him unrelentingly. He was inflamed with guilt and cast to the nether regions of adult responsibility where he didn’t want to be. Instead, he yearned for the moment of his “snow dream” at nine years old, when he stopped for a moment as snowflakes fell all about him, and he didn’t know who he was, where he was, or why he was alive at all (a recurring motif found in published works like On the Road).

The dark corridor is a tunnel to the past to which he craved: Lowell, the living Gerard, parlor glooms and sandbank glees. Hiding incognito in New York was a reprieve from society and oppressive guilt for his mother slaving away in a shoe mill to earn her daily bread. He was guilty whenever she commented that her dreams in life had never came true. She was and always would remain poor. Hers was a shallowness for material wealth, to have money to go out to her Broadway shows and fancy restaurants.

“Am I supposed to feel, perhaps I should have helped her, because she is my mother?”

Kerouac needed symbols, guideposts to serve as omens to steer him toward rightful shores. In the Paleolithic symbol carved into the stone of his heart, there was a fire serving as the ultimate iconography. He needed to be steered toward the light. Il fait noir!

The lengthening corridor is too long, too far, too remote; his dreamworld is disturbed by a wind that “rumbles with doom.” He was caught in a dream that he could not wake from. Since it was impossible for him to reach through and return to his past, he must lean toward the future, to the “uncharted stretch” lying before him. If only he had the courage. There, on the other side of the corridor, lie a vista of new emotions … a “new humanity.”

By the third page, subtitled “il eclair!”, his dream dissipates into reality. He writes in French (translated):

Work, my beasts! My grief

Do not disturb my pain!

The pain he endures, he must learn to wear. He can use it, for through it, it serves to define experience. Unlike “supreme reality,” emotions, whether of guilt or pain, are nonetheless genuine. He must emerge from the darkness into the light. Rimbaud embraced a “derangement of the senses, and so the same with Kerouac. He reads a sign over a door: “Better to live in heaven than die in hell.” However, through such a door he could embrace the darkness through art. He could shine his own beacon cutting through the darkness: “Better to live in hell than die in heaven.” His was an “aesthetic hell” to which he’d happily perish.

Reason casts its languid spell. He is a wandering poet in search of symbols to serve. He is a poet adrift on a path to madness, straying so far from the path of Whitman and his teeming masses, there is something else, something lying frustratingly beyond grasp.

Where then is his real heart? He wants to become mad.

“Is this the way I’m supposed to feel?”

“I am ill with sanity.”

Th sum total of his work thus far has skirted the true issue at hand, suggesting that art in all its forms is the most powerful, beautiful and moral of human values. It was that in proportion to the depth and wealth of the concrete human experience it conveys. It communicates its full force until it is felt by others. Even as the artist embodies all of humanity,  so does his experience contain at least in germ (or symbol) all related experience.

 

 

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