Kerouac and The Web and the Rock

webandrock

By the second week of June, Kerouac, is tanned, rested and prepared to write his novel. Typewriter on desk, and a fresh ream of paper, his desk lamp casts a luminescent ring over the battlefield set before him. He is especially inspired. He is pent up. He turns the pages of The Web and the Rock to place himself in the proper mindset:

“This novel is about one man’s discovery of life and of the world—discovery not in a sudden and explosive sense as when “a new planet swims into his ken,” but discovery through a process of finding out, and finding out as a man has to find out, through error and through trial, through fantasy and illusion, through falsehood and his own foolishness, through being mistaken and wrong and an idiot and egotistical and aspiring and hopeful and believing and confused, and pretty much what every one of us is, and goes through, and finds out about, and becomes.”

For Kerouac, Wolfe wrings truth from the phantom dogs of existence.

Wolfe wrings truth from the phantom dogs of existence.

looking for critiques

Hi, I have taken the liberty to upload several selections from my manuscript. I am looking for honest critique, as I feel that the best opinions come from readers and not paid critics. Feel free to comment… thanks! Paul

I Am My Mother’s Son

Searching, exploring; a loftier meeting between nature and the mind. The pathway from one to the other is what it means to be human. Kerouac is seduced time and time again by Siren voices—family, religious, moral, sexual, literary, philosophical and political—but conceded ultimately to his own, or to the ventriloquial version of his own voice that he assigns to his soul. It is the further propulsion of the growth spirit that has evolved in stages. It is only five years before that he staked a claim to his identity and stood by it:

“I am my mother’s son. All other identities are artificial and recent. Naked, basic, actually, I am my mother’s son. I emerged from her womb and set out into the earth. The earth gave me another identity, that of name, personality, appearance, character and spirit. The earth is my grandmother: I am the earth’s grandson. The way I comb my hair today has nothing to do with myself, who am my mother’s son. I am also on this earth, my grandmother, to be her spokesman, in my chosen and natural way. The earth owns the lease to myself: she shall take me back, and my mother too. We have proven the earth’s truth and meaning, which is, simply, life and death.”

Back then, he had a conviction to plant his stake into the world, to be not only a man of substance, but a writer too. It seemed, in retrospect, all so clear. Now, in 1945, he has survived his raging self-fighting that had plagued him since 1943. He was led astray, slightly, caught up in war hysteria.

The onset of 1945 represented a turning point. Kerouac began to come into his own, shorn of his marriage and with it, its attendant obligations of being a provider. There was, he felt, a “crucial sense of “end” and “beginning.” Because of this, his written output increased: a collaboration with Burroughs on a novel; a novella, Orpheus Emerged; some literary essays on William Blake, Nietzsche and Yeats. By February, he had completed his sections of And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks.

The novel was split between Burroughs and Kerouac writing alternate chapters (with the exception toward the end of the book where Burroughs wrote three in a row). Their target was the events leading to David Kammerer’s murder. Despite the scandalous nature of the murder spreading  like wildfire not only on the Columbia campus, but the entire city, the crime is rather muted, not occurring until the closing chapters. Burroughs, writing as “Will Dennison” and Kerouac as ”Mike Ryko”, they each offer not very dissimilar perspectives on their motley group as they cavort from couches and floors to locations like the Minetta Tavern.

Through March, Kerouac spent more time with Burroughs, allowing him an opportunity to perform psychoanalysis on him. On the 16th, Burroughs concluded that Kerouac was too dependent on his mother, and that it would only constrict the older he got. Writes Kerouac:

“Seeing a lot of Burroughs. He is responsible for the education of Lucien, whom I had found, in lieu of his anarchy (rather than in spite of it), an extremely important person. “I lean with fearful attraction over the depths of each creature’s possibilities and weep for all that lies atrophied under the heavy lid of custom and morality” – and – “The bastard alone has the right to be natural.” (Gide) These lines elicit a picture of the Burroughs thought. However, the psychoanalytical probing has upset me prodigiously.”

Kerouac, disturbed, went to Ginsberg at Livingtone Hall. Kerouac was persona non gratis on the Columbia campus after the murder. Multiple operatives were in effect: Ginsberg wasn’t allowed to have overnight guests, even moreso if it were Kerouac, and even furthermore, an overnight male sharing a bed. There he slept until the Columbia authorities were alerted to Kerouac’s presence. Knocking on Ginsberg’s door, Kerouac hid under the blankets leaving Ginsberg to fend for himself.

It was the assistant dean who was here on report that Allen had scrawled obscenities in the dust of his dorm window sill. Ginsberg was suspended from school. Without a place to stay, Ginsberg moved into Joan Vollmer’s apartment on West 115th Street.

By summer 1945, the group dispersed. Edie was now with her grandmother in Ashbury Park, no longer answering Jack’s letters. Joan Vollmer and her daughter Julie moved with her parents in Loudonville, New York. Burroughs moved in with his parents in Clayton, Missouri. Ginsberg went to the US Maritime Service Training Center, and Kerouac moved in with his parents in Ozone Park. From there, as he began to shape ideas for a new novel started in May 1945, he took on small jobs so that he could eventually be free of them once and for all. Maybe he could even return to sea. But even this was no longer possible for the moment.

In August 1945, Leo Kerouac was admitted to the hospital where his stomach condition continued to worsen. There was no going to sea, Kerouac’s seaman’s papers were suspended by the U.S. Coast Guard over his abandoning ship in Norfolk back in October ’44. His mood swung in a continuous pendulum of depression and jubilation. He felt unsuited to keep any job for any length of time. He thought of attending U.C.L.A. using his G.I. Bill and applied in July 1945. He would not be accepted there either, receiving his rejection letter in September. He was driven to fulfill his goal of writing a novel before his father died. He felt his end to be imminent. This may be that he wanted to show his father what he was capable of, or maybe for more practical reasons. Without his father alive, Jack would become the “man of the house” and therefore, solely relied upon to work and support his aging mother.

There was no time to wait for the revolution he was yearning for, that he wrote of on July 24 when he thought that man’s primary issue was cultural. For his part, he was waiting for the “only authentic revolution on this earth: The inward revolution.”

There was nowhere for him to go. He was an outcast, even where he was accepted. Ginsberg wrote in July 1945: “Jean, you are an American more completely than I, more fully a child of nature and all that is of the grace of the earth.”

But Kerouac did not feel the same. He saw fault in his country. He even saw it in the nuclear family, where it did not instill family values, but that of a nurtured neuroses:

“The fault with the American home, with the middle class home anywhere, is that it is uninteresting, and therefore holds no water.

“The other two homes, the upper class and the lower class, are empty and wretched.

There should be no homes at all. All degrees of incest create neurosis. Children must develop vigorously together en masse.”

Kerouac felt that the “artistic personality” was the basis of all “great achievements.”

“I recommend it for all human beings.”

Society Bleeds Geniuses

Edie Parker reveals in her memoir that she had “spoken with Celine [Young] and she told me he tried to seduce her, but she wasn’t having any of it.” This was in October 1944, with Edie in Detroit and Lucien Carr in jail and Kerouac hopelessly in love with Celine. He appealed to Ginsberg to help seduce her. When she demurred, Kerouac’s attack on her was vicious, labeling her a “simpering school girl” willing to “vomit to drink the blood of a poet.” His true motives exposed, Kerouac poisoned the well further by sullying his writing with a smattering of self-absorbed venting.

Society bleeds geniuses” Kerouac wrote into Ginsberg’s journal. Both were attempting to abide by Nietzsche’s mantra, that Art was the “complement and consummation of existence.” It was a time of deep and wide reading. Kerouac’s self-absorption had him watching from the window at the busy street below. The traffic of time and tide, of the great rivers of humanity passing like water beneath a bridge. He marked up texts, scribbling marginalia into the pages directly, or into one of his notebooks.

Who was he in the eyes of others?

He asked Ginsberg:

Kerouac: You must think, just by spending an evening with me, by the perpetual gloominess on my face, that I am the most unhappy bastard of the weight-of-the-world type you ever saw.

Ginsberg: (as usual, searching his mind for a feasible contradiction) No! As long as you wear that expression—it means you are most happy.

A flurry of literature swept through their hands courtesy of Burroughs: Kafka’s The Castle; Moby Dick; Oswald Spengler’s two-volume The Decline of the West; a French volume of Jean Cocteau’s Opium; and Crime and the Human Mind by David Abrahamsen which informed that a capacity for “criminalistic tendencies” exists in all humans. Even with the fullest knowledge of one’s psychology, one cannot signal or reveal the depths of sociopathic behavior.

On his own, Kerouac read Andre Gide, Joseph Conrad, Herman Melville, D.H. Lawrence, Franz Kafka, Denton Welch (inspiring the prose he was writing at this time with Burroughs), Blaise Pascal (“Our nature consists in motion; complete rest is death.“), Baudelaire, and Rimbaud. Hiding from Edie gave him freedom, though he struggled in self-imposed starvation. But sometimes he missed her.

As Kerouac sought to attain art in its most undiluted form, the ramifications of ignoring his wife and only focusing on himself was apparent to his immediate circle: Joan Haverty, Burroughs, Hal Chase, John Kingsland, Ginsberg, Celine Young. They were his other family, a group of like-minded compatriots actively discussing art, literature and life.

Celine asked him: “Do you think you’ll ever find another woman who understands you as well as Edie?

Perhaps.

In his January 1945 journal, he wrote: “Edie all right.

And so he prepared a new start for themselves. Only the previous month at Christmas, Kerouac sensed a primal force in their marriage, that he was in love and invited her back to his family for the holidays. But these were nebulous feelings at best. She came  and then returned to Detroit where she survived a car accident leaving her with fifty-four stitches in her face. When he went to Detroit to visit her on New Years Eve, he arrived to a purple wreath on her front door (traditionally a sign of the recently-deceased in Franco-American Lowell) and fainted on their doorstep. There he remained bedside, remorseful. When he returned home, he continued his other novel-in-progress, a collaboration with Burroughs about the Carr/Kammerer murder. Kerouac’s repeated absence distanced Edie from him. Kerouac for his part kept his head down in his work.

The Hounds of Heaven

Kerouac was especially affected by English poet Francis Thompson’s 182-line poem, “The Hound of Heaven” to the extent that he wanted to use the following lines as a preface to his poem, “Supreme Reality”:

For ah! we know not what each other says,
These things and I; in sound I speak—
Their sound is but their stir, they speak by silences.

Others before him were equally impressed, like John Francis Xavier O’Conor writing in his book-length study (A Study of Francis Thompson’s “The Hound of Heaven”):

“The name is strange. It startles one at first. It is so bold, so new, so fearless. It does not attract, rather the reverse. But when one reads the poem this strangeness disappears. The meaning is understood. As the hound follows the hare, never ceasing in its running, ever drawing nearer in the chase, with unhurrying and imperturbed pace, so does God follow the fleeing soul by His Divine grace. And though in sin or in human love, away from God it seeks to hide itself, Divine grace follows after, unwearyingly follows ever after, till the soul feels its pressure forcing it to turn to Him alone in that never ending pursuit.”

Kerouac felt it was the most personal poem he had read of late; “that Thompson is expressing exactly what I express in different lines. Somehow, I feel I understand this poem more profoundly than anyone else.”

All which I took from thee I did but take,
Not for thy harms,
But just that thou might’st seek it in My arms.
All which thy child’s mistake
Fancies as lost, I have stored for thee at home

It was reminiscent of Wolfe; the “voice of loneliness” is the “hound of heaven” hunting our days of constant loss. For fear of truth, we must flee: “Aye, men have died from tenor of the mind!” says Lucretius (a line Kerouac lifts from his journal and uses in I Wish I Were You in August 1945).

It is the spirit returning, the flesh burning impalpably, lingering forever. The poem affected Kerouac to the degree that he wanted to incorporate it into a new symbolistic novel in 1945, after leaving the Nietzschean phase of his writing development (encapsulated in I Bid You Lose Me, progenitor of Galloway which is the prototype for The Town and the City).

The influence of “The Hound of Heaven” was prevalent for its time for many other writers used allusions/references to the poem in a number of works. For Kerouac, its influence is found all the way through to The Town and the City where its theme of loss and loneliness is personified in the character of Peter Martin. This “hound of heaven” felt in Martin’s life trials is carried down from his father, George Martin and on down to the youngest, Julian, who died in childhood. It is evident in the emotional development of Martin and his kin, veering away from The Brothers Karamazov-influence of character exploration through multiple siblings, and instead developing a “strictly anthropological triad in American terms.” The references to “The Hound of Heaven” in Kerouac’s journal are short-lived, but he took from the poem the aching satisfaction of like-mindedness in another’s poetic mindset and applied it for his own use.

***

Kerouac and Ginsberg’s living arrangement led to problems when a local bartender reported to the dean that Ginsberg was drinking alcohol every night. Ginsberg and Kerouac drank at the West End until well after 3 A.M. They returned to 360 Riverside Drive, near the scene of Lucien Carr’s murder of David Kammerer and boarded with Burroughs who had just returned from St. Louis after being implicated in Carr’s crime.

Burroughs found Kerouac’s quest for Self-Ultimacy absurd, seeing no use for self-destruction as a means of achieving high art. Instead he recommended a “bang of morphine.” Burroughs helped administer Kerouac’s first bang, approximately 1/2 grain, that lasted approximately six hours. On it, Kerouac wrote poems:

“Straighten your limbs or you will not become an arrow for a flight along a parallel.”
Kerouac sat at Burroughs’s feet listening to his strange worldviews. He thought Burroughs to be the “authentic devil” whom seduces. Burroughs gave Kerouac another “voyage to morphina” on January 19, 1945 and from this experience Kerouac gathered notes dwelling on the use and misuse of Aristotle’s “Logos.”

A week later Kerouac composed a poem, “Song of Modern Sorrow,” morbidly poeticizing the city’s bleakness:

All is evil, all is retribution; and there

exists men who

find positive pleasure in exacting

blood taxation

from feeble anaemic hordes.

In his junk haze, the worst of humanity blotted out Kerouac’s cheer at the world, and so drinking alcohol stunned him back into dim acceptance.

On November 10, Kerouac was at Columbia University campus with Céline Young. Kerouac told her that there was no point to them being together. She smiled “secretly”:

“Oh.”
“Unless, of course, the emotion overran the practical difficulties,” Kerouac suggested.
“It doesn’t.”
“It did for me for awhile.”

On Christmas 1944, Edie returned to Kerouac in New York. Afterward, they moved in with Joan Vollmer at a spacious five-bedroom flat at 419 West 115th Street. Vollmer, erring on thriftiness and wanting the most cash she could earn to split the rent, was refreshingly open-minded and non-judgmental. Tenants over time were Ginsberg, Hal Chase and Burroughs. It was here that Kerouac spent much of his time, languishing in an atmosphere where he could easily succumb to a cobra’s den of seductive temptations.

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—–“

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.

 

 

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!”

Read more

On The Sea Is My Brother & The Brotherhood of Man

In February 1943, Kerouac fleshes out on paper what his new writing will eventually encompass. He wants to exceed narrative constraints using a writing craft beyond his means. Though he is in agreement with his country’s desire to squash Fascism, he criticizes Modernism’s pussyfooting of social issues. He feels it disguises the truth behind symbolistic writing. Besides, equality for all through politics is insincere at best. Kerouac feels that to preserve independence of spirit, he must retain skepticism and practice caution. His thoughts lie with the Universal Brotherhood whom espouses similar sentiments. He, like they, seeks to explore the nature of man and his relation to the universe. Kerouac is reminded of Socrates’s tale of ill-fated Hypatia whom yearns to break down the wall of exclusiveness dividing races and nations and is yet torn part by an angry mob for her beliefs.

Well before most attribute Kerouac’s immersion into Buddhism in 1953, he is alerted to Buddha’s lesson that the paths of right and wrong are open to all. The truest path for mankind, Kerouac firmly believes, is  the “Brotherhood.” It is a spirit of helpfulness springing effortlessly from his heart. It renders to those in need. Where Kerouac champions self-reliance in 1939 to 1942 (writing in a journal at one point about his “Moor of Myself”), he now realizes its discordance with the true harmony of the Brotherhood. This is The Sea is My Brother’s underlying message, bridging Whitmanic camraderie to intellectualism. Before, Kerouac treasured his independent spirit. He now yearns for a Brotherhood that usurps societal constraints that seeks to shackle the Universal spirit. Kerouac, on February 15, 1943, vowed to never “heed” to any; to stay true to his path.

March 15, 1943: Kerouac advises Sebastian Sampas that though they, as the Brotherhood should “stick together,” they mustn’t become dependent on each other. Kerouac realizes that what he specifically (and his group of Lowell friends, the Young Prometheans generally) discovered thus far (Kerouac had just turned twenty-one years old) was an “awakening of social conscience.” He realizes that his views differ from Sampas, a young ill-fated theatre student serving time on the European front as an army medic. Kerouac, at the moment (March 1943) has amassed  35,000 words on The Sea Is My Brother. He writes feverishly, night and day, determined to finish the book “before the Navy gets me.”

Kerouac intends address his passion for glory and life. The polarities he experienced, to his detriment and advantage, are present too; where he finds peace, he is also plagued by a simmering restlessness. Where he suffers ennui, he also endures a feverish facility for life. His desires by night, morning and afternoons are present in equal abundance. There is never enough time. He ‘burns his candles at both ends,’ as the saying goes. He expends his youth solely for creation experiencing what one scholar describes of Kerouac’s literary hero Thomas Wolfe, a “Faustian sickness.” Despite stacking odds, a world war, the draft board,  drinking binges and women… all are bottom-tiered to the act of writing. He is labeled crazy, irresponsible, foolish, deluded and petty-minded. But he is in fact proud to the extent that he self-pens press squibs from The New York Herald-Tribune, the New Yorker and The New York Times, each calling The Sea Is My Brother the authentic work of a young Melville-like scribe, drawing comparisons to Keats, Shelley and even Beethoven. The Sea Is My Brother, Kerouac imagines, is the greatest book of its time, certainly of his generation of writers, and perhaps the most potently poetic stirring tome since Whitman’s Leaves of Grass.

On March 21, he is alone in his family’s Crawford Street house in Pawtucketville, Lowell. It is 4 A.M. on a Sunday. He writes to Sebastian. In a few hours he’ll kneel with the faithful at the very same church he will determine the meaning of “beat” in later years. But for now he is awed by the hushed stillness of a home formerly bustling with activity. He feels the ghosts of those he loves, an exasperating sorrow smothering him into a fit of weeping. He thinks of his mother, and others like her embodying the far-flung stars of humanity. He sees it so clearly that he begins to understand it.

Humanity.

It breaks his heart and he cries.