Today it has been exactly 96 years ago since one of the greatest literary cult figures entered the world. Jack Kerouac. Creator of the spark that became the Beat Generation, worshiper of animated living, and allround-tramp. A veil of truth encircles him that makes him in one way or another pretty untouchable. A truth that was much needed in the postwar years as a reaction against the sober and choking bourgeios reality of the time. Something that seems more relevant than ever nowadays. Hence this ode to Jack Kerouac.
Who was Jack Kerouac?
Jack Kerouac got his fame foremost because of his book On The Road. Not entirely surprising it is then, that this blog derived its name from this renowned piece of literature. It's a book that tries to permeate the Ground of Being and does it awe-inspiringly well. In this autobiographical novel, Jack Kerouac describes an odyssey he (Sal Paradise) makes with his travel buddy Dean Moriarty (Neil Cassady in real life). Retrospectively he explains the trip:
“Dean and I were embarked on a journey through post-Whitman America to FIND that America and to FIND the inherent goodness in American man. It was really a story about 2 Catholic buddies roaming the country in search of God.”It's the characterization of the ultimate road trip. It's a tribute to life and simultaneously a reverance to death. Kerouac and Cassady went with unbridled energy in search of sophisticated business like sex, drugs, and profound conversations that took until early morning. But like often with a sincere quest to Meaning, this one has been accompanied too with a deep notion of loss and melancholy. Throughout the book one can perceive a hint of sadness: from the capricious existence in the margins of society to having an admiration for the souls of sigaret-gathering railway bums, the train jumping hobos, the hitch hiking pennyless, the labourious seasonal workers, and lastly to an all-encompassing realization of the meaningless of everything.
The exuberant freak
Jack Kerouac knew about the dark side of the moon. This, however, was not an excuse for nihilism. On the contrary, it gave in fact a boost to his unrestrained and unadjusted life. Whether or not together with Neal Cassady, throughout his life Kerouac was in search of the answer to whatever it's all about. Often this was done in periods of solitary soul searching. In his book Desolation Angels he describes his experience as a fire lookout on the mountain Desolation Peak. For months on end he lived alone in a wooden cottage, cut off from the temptations of the city and in search of what the Buddhists call 'direct experience' (Most of his life, Kerouac was fascinated by buddhism). Eventually he gave up his solitary life and decided to take part again in society. However, just like he was intrigued by the quest to inner quietness, he was also attracted by the exuberant freaks:
“[…]the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!”
Jack Kerouac is a man who dared the splash and took the dive into the deep. He saw that it was unfathomable and that experience in the world goes from ecstacy to deadly silences, and back again. With a whole generation of pseudo-backpackers today, the call for a courageous life is needed now more than ever. Ooh! Where are the Jack Kerouacs of yesteryear?