A Brief and Informal Defense of Kerouac

Nov 04 2002 Kelly Norton

Last night after I finally took the time to read the remaining two-thirds of Tao Te Ching the only book fit to follow was The Dharma Bums which has been sitting on my shelf since Christmas waiting for my mood to take me away from the pedantic and back into the spiritual, so I took it down and began to read the first page. Every time I read Kerouac's writings, I am amazed at the verbal abuse he has been dealt by so many “trained writers”. The criticisms seldom stray very far from the stake; they attack his long rambling style and his obvious aversion to editing. I have seen journalist who have belittled his writing as “not really writing at all”, and that point I would quickly concede. In the next breath though, I would argue that it is that point which makes his writing memorable. In that point are the reasons why more than any other writer, Kerouac makes me want to carry out my life with a pencil and a paper in my hand. His words are subordinate to spirit. Words impede human expression. Language by its nature makes the unique unoriginal. And if he has contributed nothing lasting to the world of literature, then literature has dismissed human expression as irrelevant and has therefore amputated its own heart in the name of perfect mechanics. An artists foe is always language, so who are these “trained writers” who always side with language? What in a well placed comma serves to inspire? What inspires is a sentence that exhausts itself of breath trying to illuminate the human spirit in a picture with no consideration for commas whatsoever:

before we all go to Heaven
All that hitchhikin
All that railroadin
All that comin back
to America
Via Mexican & Canadian borders …

Less begin with the sight of me with collar huddled up close to neck and tied around with a handkerchief to keep it tight and snug, as I go trudging across the bleak, dark warehouse lots of the ever lovin San Pedro waterfront, the oil refineries smelling in the damp foggish night of Christmas 1951 just like burning rubber and the brought-up mysteries of Sea Hag Pacific, where just off to my left as I trudge you can see the oily skeel of old bay waters marching up to hug the scummy posts and out on over the flatiron waters are the lights ululating in the moving tide and also lights of ships and bum boats themselves moving and closing in and leaving this last lip of American land.

Jack Kerouac
Lonesome Traveller (pg. 1)