Sunday, April 05, 2009

On reading "On the Road"

It's interesting because I've had the book in my possession for sixteen years and yet hadn't read much more than the first couple pages before. Maybe it helped that I actually have been 'On the Road' for years, that that made me more willing to read it. Back when I got it, in the early '90s, there was a Beat-o-philiac moment going on in the mainstream culture, where Kerouac was featured in Khaki ads, Burroughs suddenly got publicity, and Ginsberg experiencing a Renaissance as well, in other words they were co-opted. Marketed, packaged, sold, becoming part of the 'official' culture. So I ended up not reading my copy of "On the Road" even though I bought it. Now that I'm working on it a couple of observations are in order:

First, there's no way that Kerouac wrote this thing on amphetamines, and there is no way that this was just a stream of consciousness book, no matter how fast Kerouac could type. There's a very defined structure and order to it, and the tone is reflective and slow paced. I buy that the final draft of it was written all at once, but even then I'm sure that he was looking at his notes when he was typing it out. I've written stuff flying high in the sky with my mind going a mile a minute and know that it just doesn't come out looking like "On the Road". Structurally, it's not all that innovative; it's more the content of the book that's interesting and innovative.

I'm surprised by this. Henry Miller's "Tropic of Cancer" and "Tropic of Capricorn" are both much more experimental both in form and content than "On the Road". Both are personal favorites.

In any case, there's some satisfaction in reading "On the Road" after doing a significant amount of traveling on one's own initiative as opposed to starting traveling because you've read a book about people doing it. We're trapped in such a media-saturated consciousness that we follow examples in books, thereby putting one more layer between ourselves and reality, as opposed to just going out and doing it. Books can be inspiring, but ultimately no one should wait for permission from some other source before deciding on how to live their life. They can, but it'll always be one step removed from what the experience could have been if you went at it without a map.

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