Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Revenge of the Dharma Bums

I've written before about my appreciation for Kerouac. It's something a lot of people don't understand, to say the least. People typically discover Kerouac as kids and then set him aside. I get that. He's certainly a terribly flawed writer. But I'm consistently drawn to Kerouac. With all the flaws and problems and madness. Because that's his appeal. He isn't ever pretending to be anything but flawed. He was the first to acknowledge his weaknesses, and he desperately tried to catalog every instance of his own failure. Later in life you saw the sadly logical conclusion of this self doubt and criticism as he drank himself to death. He died at 47, ashamed and broken. But still writing.

The secret to Kerouac for me, and perhaps for many who still admire his work, is the madness and contradiction. He wasn't sure where he was or what he was doing. He hated his generation, he hated the war that had just ended. He later romanticized his youth but seemed to resent the Lowell of his youth even as he idealized it. He obviously lacked an understanding of relationships yet sought romance every moment of his life. I can relate to that madness. Humans are complex creatures, and we're bombarded with our own contradictions every day.

Another great hero of mine, Walt Whitman- more genteel and philosophical than Jack- was accepting of it. "I am large, I contain multitudes" could very well be a mantra of Jack's, if he had stopped to consider it. Kerouac always seemed so afraid of his intellect, afraid to pursue the great thoughts and deep passions of his life. He was always running towards a smaller world. He avoided the wild friends and comrades he loved, and sought a middle class life that never really suited him. He constantly regretted not having that monochrome world to fall back into.

Funny that Allen Ginsberg, so much more unstable in appearance, could appreciate Whitman and live to be an old man. While poor Jack was too frightened of his own mind to seek out the words that would have helped him cope. And as much as I feel for the person, that fear and self-recrimination is what draws me to the work. It's fascinating to me. With all of my own instability, wanderlust and hopelessly labile reflection, I never see any reason to run from myself. I never blame. It just seems counterproductive. I'm not sure if that's a sign of mental health or a signal that I'm lacking in some aspect of my reasoning. But if it prevents me descending into Kerouac's dark depression, I'll stay grateful for it.  

1 comment:

barker blog said...

Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this sun of, pants-n-boots-n-pants-n-boots-n-pants-n-boots-n...May be a sign of mental health.