Saturday, September 01, 2007

On the Cult of Kerouac

A superb demolition of the Cult of Kerouac, "Another Side of Paradise," by Anthony Daniels (aka Theodore Dalrymple), appears in the the September issue of The New Criterion. Here's a sample of the good doctor's evisceration:

"He led a tormented life, and I cannot help but feel sadness for a would-be rebel who spent most of his life, as did Kerouac, living at home with his mother. He also drank himself to a horrible death. But while it is true that most great writers were tormented souls, it does not follow that most tormented souls were great writers. To call Kerouac’s writing mediocre is to do it too much honor: its significance is sociological rather than literary. The fact that his work is now being subjected to near-biblical levels of reverential scholarship is a sign of very debased literary and academic standards.

"I have seen some of the most mediocre minds of my generation destroyed by too great an interest in the Beats."


Joe(new york) said...

Truman Capote, who was a boyhood friend of Harper Lee and whom she modeled the character of Dill from To KIll A Mockingbird, commented on Kerouac's, On The Road: That's not writing, it's typing."

May said...

I agree with the quote. Though I voraciously read everything by Kerouac as a teenager, I was more fascinated by the myth of the free man and his unconventional lifestyle than by his writing art. And, in my humble opinion, the same "sociological than literary significance" judgement applies to what is considered a masterpiece of American literature: "The Catcher in the Rye". Yet everybody praises it...

Joe(new york) said...

Geoffrey Hill: "But hear this: that which is difficult preserves democracy; you pay respect to the intelligence of the citizen."

Karl Shapiro on suffering," Across the expedient and wicked stones."


Its quick soft silver bell beating, beating
And down the dark one ruby flare
Pulsing out red light like an artery,
The ambulance at top speed floating down
Past beacons and illuminated clocks
Wings in a heavy curve, dips down,
And brakes speed, entering the crowd.
The doors leap open, emptying light;
Stretchers are laid out, the mangled lifted
And stowed into the little hospital.
Then the bell, breaking the hush, tolls once,
And the ambulance with its terrible cargo
Rocking, slightly rocking, moves away,
As the doors, an afterthought, are closed.
We are deranged, walking among the cops
Who sweep glass and are large and composed.
One is still making notes under the light.
One with a bucket douches ponds of blood
Into the street and gutter.
One hangs lanterns on the wrecks that cling,
Empty husks of locusts, to iron poles.

Our throats were tight as tourniquets,
Our feet were bound with splints, but now,
Like convalescents intimate and gauche,
We speak through sickly smiles and warn
With the stubborn saw of common sense,
The grim joke and the banal resolution.
The traffic moves around with care,
But we remain, touching a wound
That opens to our richest horror.
Already old, the question, Who shall die?
Becomes unspoken, Who is innocent?
For death in war is done by hands;
Suicide has cause and stillbirth, logic;
And cancer, simple as a flower, blooms.
But this invites the occult mind,
Cancels our physics with a sneer,
And spatters all we knew of dénouement
Across the expedient and wicked stones.

shelli said...

I believe that Poe would have appreciated Shapiro's work in both theme and cadence as evidenced by Poe's "The Bells".

How they tinkle, tinkle, tinkle,
In the icy air of night!

Keeping time, time, time,
in a sort of Runic rhyme,
To the tintinnabulation that so musically wells
From the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells...

Byron said...

I thought that comment by Capote was directed at Bukowski.

Anonymous said...

Though I disagree with the opinion here of Kerouac's work, I can see how the conclusion could be drawn. The commented posted regarding the Catcher in the Rye, however, is sorely disappointing. Salinger's novel (and most of his stories, for that matter) are some of the most sublime and penetrating, if at times disturbing, works of literature the United States have produced.