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Jack Kerouac
Jack Kerouac by Tom Palumbo circa 1956
Jack Kerouac by Tom Palumbo circa 1956
BornJean-Louis Kérouac[1]
(1922-03-12)March 12, 1922
Lowell, Massachusetts, U.S.
DiedOctober 21, 1969(1969-10-21) (aged 47)
St. Petersburg, Florida, U.S.
OccupationPoet, novelist
Alma materColumbia University
Literary movementBeat
Notable worksOn the Road
The Dharma Bums
Big Sur
Desolation Angels
Edie Parker (m. 1944–1948)
Joan Haverty (m. 1950–1951)
Stella Sampas (m. 1966–1969)


Jack Kerouac (/ˈkɛruæk/;[2] born Jean-Louis Kérouac (though he called himself Jean-Louis Lebris de Kérouac); March 12, 1922 – October 21, 1969) was an American novelist and poet of French-Canadian descent.[3][4][5][6]

He is considered a literary iconoclast and, alongside William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg, a pioneer of the Beat Generation.[7] Kerouac is recognized for his method of spontaneous prose. Thematically, his work covers topics such as Catholic spirituality, jazz, promiscuity, Buddhism, drugs, poverty, and travel. He became an underground celebrity and, with other beats, a progenitor of the hippie movement, although he remained antagonistic toward some of its politically radical elements.[8][9]

In 1969, at age 47, Kerouac died from an abdominal hemorrhage caused by a lifetime of heavy drinking. Since his death, Kerouac's literary prestige has grown, and several previously unseen works have been published. All of his books are in print today, including The Town and the City, On the Road, Doctor Sax, The Dharma Bums, Mexico City Blues, The Subterraneans, Desolation Angels, Visions of Cody, The Sea Is My Brother, and Big Sur.

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  • ✪ 8. Jack Kerouac, On the Road
  • ✪ Jack Kerouac: I'm Sick of Myself...I'm Not a Courageous Man. (French Audio - English Subs)
  • ✪ On The Road - Jack Kerouac BOOK REVIEW
  • ✪ Burroughs on Kerouac
  • ✪ 9. Jack Kerouac, On the Road (cont.)


Professor Amy Hungerford: So, today we find ourselves in a very different novelistic world than we've been in for the last week and a half: On the Road. Did anyone take this course because they love On the Road? Anybody? One, sort of ambivalently. Yes. Okay. Sometimes I do get students who have just an image of this novel in their mind, or they read it when they were in high school and have a sort of irrational, passionate love for it. And so, sometimes people approach it in that way, and I think in a way it holds that aura around itself in our culture and in the history of the novel in this period that we're studying together. I'm going to talk a little bit about its publishing history, its compositional history, actually, at the end of my two lectures on the novel. So, I would ask you just to reserve whatever curiosity you have about that. So, in a way, I'm flipping my usual practice; I would tell you a little bit about its publication history at the beginning. I'm going to do that at the end for this reason: that it has such a special place in the imagination of our culture. And so, I'm going to talk about that after we have a better understanding of what's going on in the book. My point, at the end of my lecture on Lolita on Monday, was that Nabokov is trying to imagine an autonomous work of art that has a life to it, that is in some sense animated or personified, and that this desire to make the aesthetic something living introduces to the world of the aesthetic the problem of mortality. It's mortality that gives it that sense of ephemeral value, but it's also mortality that threatens to cancel it out altogether. The language that the Beats tried to imagine, tried to write, takes up some of these problems that we saw in Nabokov. Unlike Nabokov, these writers are not trying to make a language that is autonomous and separate from the world, so you will not see the kind of artifice and the labored attention to form. You're not going to have a writer spending a month on the representation of a barber from Kasbeam. You're not going to get that in the Beats. Instead, you're getting something, a language that tries to come as close as possible--not necessarily to life in all its facets--but to life as we experience it. In a certain way, this is not a rejection of modernism and its desire for the autonomous work of art, because partly, as I've shown, the desire for the autonomous work of art shades into the desire to replicate life. There is that desire much more explicitly in the writing of Jack Kerouac, the desire to replicate experience as you read, the feeling of having the experience that the writer wants you to have and that the writer himself has had. That's always going to be important to understanding this work. So, that's one aspect in which it shares something with modernism, even though stylistically, and as a matter of craft and composition, it looks very distinct. The other way it shares an ambition of modernism is precisely in that effort to communicate experience, consciousness. So, if you've read at all in the novels of Virginia Woolf, for example, or in James Joyce's novels, you know that part of modernist innovation, part of the stylistic difficulty, is the effort to put on the page what happens in the mind, that sense of the mind drifting from one idea to another that you get in Virginia Woolf's prose, so magically in Woolf's prose. So, that is something these writers share with modernism, but there is one big difference and I want to exemplify that for you just by reading to you two parallel texts, one from the modernist canon and one from the Beat canon. So, first I want to read to you the footnote to T.S. Eliot's The Wasteland. Now The Wasteland was the first poem to have footnotes, and you have to ask yourself: what do you have to think the poem is in order to think that it needs footnotes? So, I'm going to say a little bit more about that, but let me just read to you, first, from the notes on The Wasteland: Not only the title, but the plan and a good deal of the incidental symbolism of the poem were suggested by Miss Jessie L. Weston's book on the Grail legend, From Ritual to Romance (Cambridge)." He has a little bibliography, there: Indeed, so deeply am I indebted, Miss Weston's book will elucidate the difficulties of the poem much better than my notes can do; and I recommend it (apart from the great interest of the book itself) to any who think such elucidation of the poem worth the trouble. To another work of anthropology I am indebted in general, one which has influenced our generation profoundly; I mean The Golden Bough; I have used especially the two volumes Adonis, Attis, Osiris. Anyone who is acquainted with these works will immediately recognize in the poem certain references to vegetation ceremonies. And then there are particular notes for the different parts of the poem. That's the introduction to the footnotes. What I want you to note there is the sense that the matter of the poem comes from an archive, an archive of scholarly work, a body of knowledge that you read about. And I also want you to note that language: "Miss Jessie Weston." It's a very mannered, decorous language. Now I would like to read to you from the footnote to Howl, Allen Ginsberg's famous poem, that for many people embodied at the time what it meant to be engaged in this new literary project. So, this is footnote to Howl: Holy! holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! holy! The world is holy! The soul is holy! The skin is holy! The nose is holy! The tongue and cock and hand and asshole holy! Everything is holy! Everybody's holy! Everywhere is holy! Every day is in eternity! Everyman's an angel! The bum's as holy as the seraphim! the madman is holy as you my soul are holy! The typewriter is holy! the poem is holy the voice is holy the hearers are holy the ecstasy is holy! Holy Peter holy Allen holy Solomon holy Lucien holy Kerouac holy Huncke holy Burroughs holy Cassady holy the unknown buggered and suffering beggar holy the hideous human angels! A little different tone, don't you think? A few things I want to note about that besides the obvious. The fount of poetic inspiration is not to be found in an archive. It is not to be found in Miss Jessie Weston's book on ritual and romance. It is not to be found with a bibliography saying "Cambridge." That's not where you find the fount of the great poem. The footnote to Howl says that the source of Howl--that's what footnotes are; they're an indication of the source--it says that the source of the poetry is that holy, lived experience, and a particular slice of lived experience: the formerly rejected, the indecorous, the ecstatic. I noticed that several of you were smiling, in a way, as I read, that suggested you were embarrassed by the performance. Right? I did not elicit this by accident. Embarrassment is something that the Beats value. When Ginsberg first read Howl, he was on stage, and there was a little bathroom. It was--I think it was--in a book store. (I can't remember; I didn't reread my notes on Howl.) And so, when the show started he was in the bathroom, on the pot with the door open, and then he got up, and he hiked up his pants, and he waltzed out and he gave his reading of Howl. This is indicative of the sense that he wants to lay bare, in a literal way, all the seaminess of human life, all the aspects of what it means to be an embodied person, all the ecstasies that come from that embodiment. And, of course, this is not at all original to Ginsberg. If you read Walt Whitman, you will see much of the same ethos (and probably a lot better poetry). So, Ginsberg is not the first to do this in the American tradition, for sure, but it's a very important part of what the Beats revive. And I want to get at that question of embarrassment, because it comes up very explicitly on page 36. Embarrassment is thematized in On the Road, and it's assigned what I think is a very interesting provenance. So, this is Chad King talking to Sal Paradise: A quavering twang comes out when he speaks. "The thing I always liked, Sal, about the Plains Indians, was the way they always got s'danged embarrassed after they boasted the number of scalps they got. In Ruxton's Life in the Far West there's an Indian who gets red all over blushing because he got so many scalps and he runs like hell into the plains to glory over his deeds in hiding. Damn, that tickled me!" The sense of embarrassment is the sense that the excess of--what?--joy, in this passage, the Indian's bravery, his achievement, his success; all of that is in excess of the decorous presentation of that experience, of that real world of life, of that excessive joy. And it's given here this sort of clichéd, noble origin with the Native American, the Plains Indian. So, there is a sense, in the Plains Indian, that he is both the embodiment of a noble, restrained lineage; but also, deep in that American past, is this sense of great excess. Embarrassment tells us we're in the presence of the excess, and that's why Beat writers court it. That's why I courted it today for you. The excess requires, for the Beats, a new kind of language. One aspect of their language which maybe you've noticed in On the Road--it's not quite so pronounced in On the Road as it is elsewhere, certainly--in the letters that these figures write to each other. Part of that is the elimination of small words, "the," "and"; the abbreviation of certain words, "your" to "yr." There are all kinds of little abbreviations they make, and it suggests that language has to be wrenched out of its conventions; syntax can be set aside; language needs to move at the speed of experience and at the speed of ecstasy. So, that's one small way in the language that they practiced tried to imitate the experience that they were immersing themselves in. But there were more formulated ways of capturing that experience in language. Jack Kerouac had a list of essentials that he taped up on his wall when he was writing, and this is what they include: Scribbled secret notebooks and wild typewritten pages for your own joy [and that's "yr," your own joy]. Submissive to everything, open, listening. Try never to get drunk outside your own house.[Well, this is a piece of advice clearly he never took.] Be in love with your life. Be crazy dumb saint of the mind. Blow as deep as you want to blow. Write what you want bottomless from bottom of the mind. The unspenspeakable visions of the individual. In tranced fixation dreaming upon object before you. And then, my favorite one is: "You're a genius all the time." Now, try putting that up in front of your desk: "You're a genius all the time." It will help you to produce a lot of writing; I guarantee. Kerouac tried over and over again to write On the Road, and it was an effort to practice this kind of free language that would be uninhibited and that would gesture towards some deeper, bottomless part of the human experience, the human soul. Sometimes it was spiritualized. In this sense, this is why I put this quote up on the board from On the Road: "We've got to go someplace, find something." There is a relentless seeking sense that's at the heart of this work. Now, for those of you who don't know, On the Road does document pretty closely the actual road trips that Jack Kerouac took with Neal Cassady and a whole host of others, and I can do a little decoding for you. Old Bull Lee is William Burroughs, and his wife, Jane, Jane Lee. So, Allen Ginsberg is Carlo Marx, and Ginsberg went to Columbia. He was kicked out of Columbia, and then sort of went back. He was in and out of school. So, a lot of them were in this little community, and they picked up wanderers and various people who wanted to learn from them. And that's what Neal Cassady was to them at first, a kind of wanderer who wanted to be in their intellectual, but bohemian, circle. So, you see the kind of language that Neal represents at the very beginning of the novel. First of all, he's introduced in this very mysterious way: "First reports of him." This is on the first page of Part One, the middle of that first paragraph: "First reports of him came to me through Chad King, who had shown me a few letters from him, written in a New Mexico reform school." So, his letters come out of this western land, New Mexico, and a land of criminality, the reform school. So, he's exotic just from the very beginning, and it's an exotic language. It's the letters that come out of this exotic place that first catch their attention. I was tremendously interested in the letters because they so naively and sweetly asked Chad to teach him all about Nietzsche and all the wonderful intellectual things that Chad knew. At one point Carlo and I talked about the letters and wondered if we would ever meet the strange Dean Moriarty. This is all far back, when Dean was not the way he is today, when he was a young jail kid shrouded in mystery. Then news came that Dean was out of reform school and was coming to New York for the first time; also there was talk that he had just married a girl called Marylou. It's that passive sense: "There was talk." Who's talking? We don't know. That passive verb, "there was talk," gives you the sense that there is this wide community passing word mouth to mouth of the coming of a mysterious spiritual figure: "first reports of him;" "news came;" "there was talk." So, language is this communal set of rumors spiritualized by its very vagueness and shared quality. And then, it's just fascinating to listen to what Dean says. Now this on page 2. This is how he talks: All this time Dean was telling Marylou things like this. "Now, darling. Here we are in New York and although I haven't quite told you everything that I was thinking about when we crossed the Missouri and especially at the point when we passed the Booneville Reformatory which reminded me of my jail problem, it is absolutely necessary now to postpone all those leftover things concerning our personal love things and at once begin thinking of specific worklife plans ..." and so on in, the way that he had in those early days." His language is a sort of mishmash of poorly used academic locutions: "worklife plans." It sounds almost like corporate speak, in a way. It has that dry quality to it. And then, on the top of 3, we get another example: "In other words we've got to get on the ball, darling, what I'm saying, otherwise it'll be fluctuating and lack of true knowledge or crystallization of our plans." So, this is not yet that idealized speech that Kerouac is dreaming of when he writes the list of Essentials for Spontaneous Prose. Dean's language is not that in these passages. His desire for the intellectual download from Chad is not what's going to make him the figure of the new language for Sal. Rather, it is another kind of language that he represents that will be that kind of germ of what Sal is looking for. This is, you see, also on 2 at the beginning here: I went to the cold-water flat with the boys and Dean came to the door in his shorts. Marylou was jumping off the couch. Dean had dispatched the occupant of the apartment to the kitchen probably to make coffee while he proceeded with his love problems for to him sex was the one and only holy and important thing in life although he had to sweat and curse to make a living and so on. You saw that in the way he stood bobbing his head, always looking down, nodding like a young boxer to instructions to make you think he was listening to every word, throwing in a thousand "yes"es and "that's right." There is this sense of enthusiasm, so his response is not an articulation of some thought, but an effusion: "Yes; that's right." It's a visceral response, and you see it even more clearly on 4. So, he's staying, Dean is staying with Sal, and Sal has been writing. And they're ready to go out, and Sal says: "Hold on a minute. I'll be right with you as soon as I finish this chapter," and it was one of the best chapters in the book. Then I dressed and off we flew to New York to meet some girls." So, I'm going to skip along a little bit. ("I was…" Oh, let's see. "As we…"Actually, I am going to read that part.) As we rode in the bus in the weird phosphorescent void of the Lincoln Tunnel, we leaned on each other with fingers waving and yelled and talked excitedly and I was beginning to get the bug like Dean. He was simply a youth tremendously excited with life and though he was a con man he was only conning because he wanted so much to live and get involved with people who would otherwise pay no attention to him. He was conning me and I knew it for room and board and how to write, etc., and he knew I knew. This had been the basis of our relationship but I didn't care and we got along fine. No pestering, no catering. We tiptoed around each other like heartbreaking new friends. I began to learn from him as much as he probably learned from me. As far as my work was concerned, he said, "Go ahead. Everything you do is great." He watched over my shoulder as I wrote stories yelling, "Yes, that's right. Wow, man," and "Phew!" "Wow" is Dean's word. "Wow" is the kind of word that means nothing, but it suggests the immediacy of Dean's engagement. So, all that talking on the bus, and the way they're moving their hands, the bug, that's all where this language is rising from. That's where the new language is going to come from, and you can see how Sal assimilates that on page 35. This is just as he is coming into Denver: I said to myself, Wow, what'll Denver be like? I got on that hot road and off I went in a brand-new car driven by a Denver businessman of about 35. He went 70. I tingled all over. I counted minutes and subtracted miles. Just ahead over the rolling wheat fields all golden beneath the distant snows of Estes I'd be seeing old Denver at last. I pictured myself in a Denver bar that night with all the gang and in their eyes I would be strange and ragged and like the prophet who has walked across the land to bring the dark word and the only word I had was "wow." So Neal's--sorry--Dean's sense (I will do this and please forgive me. I will sometimes slip in to calling him Dean because he, Dean… nevermind. You know what I'm saying. I will sometimes slip in to calling him Neal when his name is Dean.) Dean has already projected this mode of language into Sal, so even as he's saying to Sal, "Teach me how to write," what he's doing is teaching Sal how to write, how to write this kind of book, how to be the prophet of "wow." This is all over the text. If you look at page 62, it's in these little stories: Remi woke up and saw me come in the window. His great laugh, one of the greatest laughs in the world, dinned in my ear. And then, if you just skip up to the top of 63: The strange thing was that next door to Remi lived a Negro called Mr. Snow whose laugh I swear on the Bible was positively and finally the one greatest laugh in all this world. The laugh is a lot like the "wow." It's that sound you make just because you're experiencing something, just because you're having a response to what's in front of you, something someone says. Okay. That's another example. And the last one I'll give you is on 55. This is when they've gone up to the mountain pass after getting in fights in the bars in Denver: In the whole eastern dark wall of the divide this night there was silence and the whisper of the wind except in the ravine where we roared and on the other side of the divide was the great Western Slope and the big plateau that went to Steamboat Springs and dropped and led you to the western Colorado desert and the Utah desert all in darkness now as we fumed and screamed in our mountain nook, mad, drunken Americans in the mighty land. We were on the roof of America and all we could do was yell I guess across the night, eastward over the plains where somewhere an old man with white hair was probably walking towards us with the word and would arrive any minute and make us silent. Their yell at the top of the world seems to Sal something that calls for a replacement; it calls for some other prophet to come walking ragged towards them and make them fall silent with his word. But, in the meantime, what you have is the continual reproduction of that yell, that laugh, that "wow," that "yes," that "that's all right," all those things that they say just to register their existence and their relation with one another. I want to note something else, though, about the first time that Dean and Sal meet and the contextualizing of that meeting. When they first meet in that passage that I read to you, he's just rising up from having sex on the couch with Marylou in someone else's apartment. He sent the owner of the apartment into the kitchen so he could have sex with Marylou on the couch. In other versions he says that Dean got up and was naked, not that he was in his shorts. There is an immediate sexual sense that charges the relationship between these people. Those relationships take place in the context of continual negotiations of sexual relationships, and so the book begins with that explanation that: I first met Dean not long after my wife and I split up. I had just gotten over a serious illness that I won't bother to talk about except that it had something to do with the miserably weary splitting up and my feeling that everything was dead. Dean's negotiations between Marylou and Camille in Denver--where he has his schedule, and he has his exact time he has to get from one hotel to the other to sleep with each of them, and then he has to meet Carlo Ginsberg, Carlo Marx, in the basement to have his conversations to get to the "bottomlessness" of each other's mind--all those negotiations are absolutely crucial. It's what they spend their time talking about, often. It's what they spend their time negotiating. So, the search for the immediate language of experience is part and parcel of a very complex negotiation of sexual ties between multiple people. And it's not just between the men and the women. It's between the men and the men. And that moment when Sal meets Dean at the door, and he's naked; it's reflected when he sees Dean with Camille. Camille opens the door to their room when they're in Denver, and he finally sees Dean in Denver. He opens the door to the room, and there is a picture that Camille has drawn of Dean: a portrait of him completely naked, and it notes his penis in that picture. It's as if Sal's first experience of Dean is already, in that scene, assimilated into the image of Dean: the disembodied, aesthetic image of Dean. But that aesthetic image of Dean is all bound up in these negotiations. So, it's a picture that Camille has drawn, and of course Camille doesn't know that he's sleeping with Marylou in another hotel on the same day, and so on. So, all of that is very palpable, and Sal's own desire for Dean is sublimated in those scenes, but it's everywhere at the level of the language. And, if you note the repeated presence of that question, where was Dean? Where was Dean? He's always missing. When Sal gets to Denver, that's what he wants to know. When he gets back to New York, finally, at the end of this first road trip, he has missed Dean. There's always the sense that Dean evades him, and I think part of that sense of an evading object of desire is, again, the pursuit of sex in this novel; it's part of the pursuit of sex. You might think, given all this, and given the ultimate plot of On the Road, that being on the road is about pursuing that kind of desire, and that it is necessitated by leaving home: you have to leave home in order to pursue that desire. But I would suggest to you that home is absolutely crucial to the production of this desire. And I want to point you to page 26. This is Sal's story about Big Slim Hazard, a hobo that he once knew. He was a hobo by choice: As a little boy, he'd seen a hobo come up to ask his mother for a piece of pie and she had given it to him and when the hobo went off down the road the little boy had said, "Ma, what was that fellow?" "Why, that's a hobo." "Ma, I want to be a hobo someday." "Shut your mouth. That's not for the like of the Hazards." But he never forgot that day and when he grew up after a short spell playing football at LSU he did become a hobo. Being a hobo is produced in this little vignette by the experience of seeing a hobo get pie from your mother. Now, did any of you notice how often Sal eats pie? Let me just demonstrate the litany of pie. Okay, page 15. Actually, let's start on 14, or perhaps on 13: "Along about three in the morning after an apple pie and ice cream in a roadside stand…." That's Sal. Top of 14: I ate another apple pie and ice cream. That's practically all I ate all the way across the country. I knew it was nutritious and it was delicious. Fifteen, bottom: I ate apple pie and ice cream. It was getting better as I got deeper in to Iowa, the pie bigger, the ice cream richer. There were the most beautiful bevies of girls everywhere I looked in Des Moines that afternoon. They were coming home from high school but I had no time now for thoughts like that and promised myself a ball in Denver. And if you look on 107, the first thing Sal does when he gets home is eat. When I got home I ate everything in the icebox. My mother got up and looked at me. "Poor little Salvatore," she said in Italian. "You're thin. You're thin. Where have you been all this time?" I had on two shirts and two sweaters. My canvas bag had torn cottonfield pants and the tattered remnants of my huarache shoes in it. My aunt and I decided to buy a new electric refrigerator with the money I had sent her from California; it was to be the first one in the family. There is a sense in which hunger, the hunger generated by the road, in Sal's case in this last scene--he's been penniless; all he had was cough drops to eat at the very end--that the hunger generated by the road exists in a necessary relation to the consumption of home. And I would suggest to you that the consumption of home is driven by a certain kind of desire as well, that desire to move up in the American class structure: "the first electric refrigerator in my family." He's earned a little money on the road and sent it home. What it does for him is allow him to buy his aunt this symbol of a middle-class American domesticity, and he is a happy participant in this new purchase. This is not exactly just what the women do while the boys are out on the road. The boys want the pie. The boys want to become hobos because there's a kind of hunger that's generated at home; it's satisfied at home, but it's also generated at home. And I want to suggest to you that part of the misogyny of the novel--which I'm sure is palpable to all of us as we read--part of that misogyny is connected to this consumptive ethos. So, when we talk about desire for something--"we've got to go someplace, find something--the very vagueness of that desire is connected with the basic hungers of the body for sex, for food, for sleep even. We see Dean sort of begging for sleep after his conversation with Carlo Marx in the basement in Denver. Those kinds of desires are connected also with that American habit of consumption. This is a consumer society; in the 1950s it was already very much so. The mass production after World War II had already taken hold. Supermarkets, as we saw in Wise Blood, are already something one can be fond of, as Enoch was. And so, if this is a novel whose aura has always said to us, "Be free, be countercultural," what I'm suggesting is that it's structured around a very deeply embedded American cultural trait of consumption. It spiritualizes that kind of desire, and my symbol for it is pie. I want to show you one last thing about how the language works, and this is on page 49. To set aside the critique of that search for a moment, I just want to move back into it in these spiritual terms and see what we can see. When Dean and Carlo are talking to each other, there's a lot of anxiety on either part about whether they have actually attained that thing that they were looking for. On 48, their talk is described as business in the beginning. Then they got down to business. They sat on the bed cross-legged and looked at each other. I slouched in a nearby chair and saw all of it. They began with an abstract thought, discussed it, reminded each other of another abstract point forgotten in the rush of events. Dean apologized but promised he could get back to it and manage it fine, bringing up illustrations. And then, they have this very complicated back-and-forth about things that they remembered, or didn't, and they hashed these things over: Then Carlo asked Dean if he was honest and specifically if he was being honest with him in the bottom of his soul. "Why do you bring that up again?" "There is one last thing I want to know.'" "But dear Sal, you're listening. You are sitting there. We'll ask Sal. What would he say?" And I said, "That last thing is what you can't get, Carlo. Nobody can get to that last thing. We keep on living in hopes of catching it once for all." So, all this language is produced because you can't ever get to that last thing; you have to keep hashing it over. But if you go to the next page you can see--or actually two pages over--you can see that already Sal is taking what he can get from this language and transposing it into his experience of reality. So Carlo had earlier--sorry to flip back and forth so much--had read earlier his poem--this is on 47--to Sal. He had been reading poetry. Carlo woke up in the morning and heard the vulgar pigeons yakking in the street outside his cell. He saw the sad nightingales nodding on the branches and they reminded him of his mother. A gray shroud fell over the city. The mountains, the magnificent Rockies that you can see to the west from any part of town, were papier-mache. The whole universe was crazy and cockeyed and extremely strange. So, this is what Carlo represents in his poetry. Well, if you look, Sal, after witnessing what it means--what their business is with one another, the way they try to get to the bottom of each other's soul--he looks out, and he sees the world through Carlo's eyes. He's been awake all this time listening: "What were you thinking, Sal?" I told them that I was thinking they were very amazing maniacs and that I had spent the whole night listening to them like a man watching the mechanism of a watch that reached clear to the top of Berthoud Pass and was yet made with the smallest works of the most delicate watch in the world. They smiled. I pointed my finger at them and said, "If you keep this up, you'll both go crazy but let me know what happens as you go along." I walked out and took a trolley to my apartment and Carlo Marx's papier-mache mountains grew red as the great sun rose from the eastward plains. So, the poetry that is part and parcel of the conversation between Dean and Carlo--Carlo's poetry--seeps out of that basement room. And there's a real spatial sense here, that it's being generated at the base of the world, and it goes up and it transforms these mountains into papier-mache. It makes them in one sense false; there is a falseness to the overlay that Carlo gives to Sal, and through which he then sees. There's a falseness, a craftedness, but it's a kind of folk craftedness. This is not the craftedness of modernism. This is papier-mache, a fairly crude folk art. Anyone can do it. Get your strips of newspaper and paste them up. So, it has a quality that is different from Humbert's elaborate world view through which we see or don't see Lolita. It's a very different kind of crafting, but yet it does replace reality in a similar way, or it makes demands on reality that push the real back. And so, even though they can never get to the bottom of their souls--they can never get, as Sal says, that last thing, that's what you can never have--even though that's true, it has this world-making power. To what end will that power be used? This is one question I want you to think about as you finish this novel. What do these figures think language can be used for? What's it good for? What can it do for them? What beyond that kind of economics of desire, that accounting? If you look on 107-108, again at the very end of the section: "I had my home to go to, my place to lay my head down and figure the losses and figure the gain that I knew was in there somewhere too." What are the losses? What are the gains? Is it just a representation of an imaginative and desireful economy, or is there some other thing being produced here? What is the something? What is the someplace? So, in that relation, I'd like you to think about the representation of America in the novel. What do you see there when you think about the America they're giving us, all these figures? So, that's for your reading. In section please bring Lolita. I think you're going to spend most of your time talking about Lolita. Section for On the Road will probably be next week unless your TF wants to bring up some brief questions about it, but that's all for today.



Early life and adolescence

Jack Kerouac's birthplace, 9 Lupine Road, 2nd floor, West Centralville, Lowell, Massachusetts
Jack Kerouac's birthplace, 9 Lupine Road, 2nd floor, West Centralville, Lowell, Massachusetts

Jack Kerouac was born on March 12, 1922 in Lowell, Massachusetts, to French Canadian parents, Léo-Alcide Kéroack (1899–1946) and Gabrielle-Ange Lévesque (1895–1973).[10]

There is some confusion surrounding his name, partly because of variations on the spelling of Kerouac, and because of Kerouac's own statement of his name as Jean-Louis Lebris de Kerouac. His reason for that statement seems to be linked to an old family legend that the Kerouacs had descended from Baron François Louis Alexandre Lebris de Kerouac. Kerouac's baptism certificate lists his name simply as Jean Louis Kirouac, the most common spelling of the name in Quebec.[11] Research has shown that Kerouac's roots were indeed in Brittany, and he was descended from a middle-class merchant colonist, Urbain-François Le Bihan, Sieur de Kervoac, whose sons married French Canadians.[12][13]

Kerouac's father Leo had been born into a family of potato farmers in the village of Saint-Hubert-de-Rivière-du-Loup, Quebec. Jack also had various stories on the etymology of his surname, usually tracing it to Irish, Breton, Cornish or other Celtic roots.

In one interview he claimed it was from the name of the Cornish language (Kernewek) and that the Kerouacs had fled from Cornwall to Brittany.[14] Another version was that the Kerouacs had come to Cornwall from Ireland before the time of Christ and the name meant "language of the house".[15] In still another interview he said it was an Irish word for "language of the water" and related to Kerwick.[16] Kerouac, derived from Kervoach, is the name of a town in Brittany in Lanmeur, near Morlaix.[12]

His third of several homes growing up in the West Centralville section of Lowell
His third of several homes growing up in the West Centralville section of Lowell

Jack Kerouac later referred to 34 Beaulieu Street as "sad Beaulieu". The Kerouac family was living there in 1926 when Jack's older brother Gerard died of rheumatic fever, aged nine. This deeply affected four-year-old Jack, who would later say that Gerard followed him in life as a guardian angel. This is the Gerard of Kerouac's novel Visions of Gerard. He had one other sibling, an older sister named Caroline. Kerouac was referred to as Ti Jean or little John around the house during his childhood.[11]

Kerouac spoke French until he began learning English at age six; he did not speak English confidently until his late teens.[17] He was a serious child who was devoted to his mother, who played an important role in his life. She was a devout Catholic, who instilled this deep faith into both her sons.[18] Kerouac would later say that his mother was the only woman he ever loved.[19] After Gerard died, his mother sought solace in her faith, while his father abandoned it, wallowing in drinking, gambling, and smoking.[18]

Some of Kerouac's poetry was written in French, and in letters written to friend Allen Ginsberg towards the end of his life, he expressed a desire to speak his parents' native tongue again. In 2016, a whole volume of previously unpublished works originally written in French by Kerouac was published as La vie est d'hommage.[20][21]

On May 17, 1928, while six years old, Kerouac had his first Confession.[22] For penance, he was told to say a rosary, during which he heard God tell him that he had a good soul, that he would suffer in life and die in pain and horror, but would in the end receive salvation.[22] This experience, along with his dying brother's vision of the Virgin Mary (as the nuns fawned over him, convinced he was a saint), combined with a later study of Buddhism and an ongoing commitment to Christ, solidified the worldview which would inform Kerouac's work.[22]

Kerouac once told Ted Berrigan, in an interview for The Paris Review, of an incident in the 1940s in which his mother and father were walking together in a Jewish neighborhood on the Lower East Side of New York. He recalled "a whole bunch of rabbis walking arm in arm ... teedah- teedah – teedah ... and they wouldn't part for this Christian man and his wife, so my father went POOM! and knocked a rabbi right in the gutter."[23][24] Leo, after the death of his child, also treated a priest with similar contempt, angrily throwing him out of the house despite his invitation from Gabrielle.[18]

Kerouac's athletic skills as a running back in football for Lowell High School earned him scholarship offers from Boston College, Notre Dame, and Columbia University. He entered Columbia University after spending a year at Horace Mann School, where he earned the requisite grades for entry to Columbia. Kerouac broke a leg playing football during his freshman season, and during an abbreviated second year he argued constantly with coach Lou Little, who kept him benched. While at Columbia, Kerouac wrote several sports articles for the student newspaper, the Columbia Daily Spectator, and joined the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity.[25][26] He also studied at The New School.[27]

Early adulthood

Kerouac's Naval Reserve Enlistment photograph, 1943
Kerouac's Naval Reserve Enlistment photograph, 1943

When his football career at Columbia ended, Kerouac dropped out of the university. He continued to live for a time in New York's Upper West Side with his girlfriend and future first wife, Edie Parker. It was during this time that he met the Beat Generation people—now famous—with whom he would always be associated, and who as characters formed the basis of many of his novels, including Allen Ginsberg, Neal Cassady, John Clellon Holmes, Herbert Huncke, Lucien Carr and William S. Burroughs.

Kerouac joined the United States Merchant Marine in 1942 and in 1943 joined the United States Navy, but served only eight days of active duty before arriving on the sick list. According to his medical report, Kerouac said he "asked for an aspirin for his headaches and they diagnosed me dementia praecox and sent me here." The medical examiner reported that Kerouac's military adjustment was poor, quoting Kerouac: "I just can't stand it; I like to be by myself." Two days later he was honorably discharged on psychiatric grounds (he was of "indifferent character" with a diagnosis of "schizoid personality").[28]

While serving in the United States Merchant Marine, Kerouac wrote his first novel The Sea Is My Brother. Although written in 1942, the book was not published until 2011, some 42 years after Kerouac's death and 70 years after it was written. Kerouac described the work as being about "man's simple revolt from society as it is, with the inequalities, frustration, and self-inflicted agonies." He viewed the work as a failure, calling it a "crock as literature", and he never actively sought to publish it.[29]

In 1944, Kerouac was arrested as a material witness in the murder of David Kammerer, who had been stalking Kerouac's friend Lucien Carr since Carr was a teenager in St. Louis. William Burroughs was also a native of St. Louis, and it was through Carr that Kerouac came to know both Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg. According to Carr, Kammerer's homosexual obsession turned aggressive, finally provoking Carr to stab him to death in self-defense. Carr dumped the body in the Hudson River. Afterwards, Carr sought help from Kerouac. Kerouac disposed of the murder weapon and buried Kammerer's eyeglasses. Carr, encouraged by Burroughs, turned himself in to the police. Kerouac and Burroughs were later arrested as material witnesses. Kerouac's father refused to pay his bail. Kerouac then agreed to marry Edie Parker if her parents would pay the bail. (Their marriage was annulled in 1948.)[30] Kerouac and Burroughs collaborated on a novel about the Kammerer killing entitled And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks. Though the book was not published during their lifetimes, an excerpt eventually appeared in Word Virus: A William S. Burroughs Reader (and as noted below, the novel was finally published late 2008). Kerouac also later wrote about the killing in his novel Vanity of Duluoz.

Later, Kerouac lived with his parents in the Ozone Park neighborhood of Queens, after they had also moved to New York. He wrote his first published novel, The Town and the City, and began the famous On the Road around 1949 when living there.[31] His friends jokingly called him "The Wizard of Ozone Park", alluding to Thomas Edison's nickname, "the Wizard of Menlo Park", and to the film The Wizard of Oz.[32]

Early career: 1950–1957

Jack Kerouac lived with his parents for a time above a corner drug store in Ozone Park (now a flower shop),[33] while writing some of his earliest work.
Jack Kerouac lived with his parents for a time above a corner drug store in Ozone Park (now a flower shop),[33] while writing some of his earliest work.

The Town and the City was published in 1950 under the name "John Kerouac" and, though it earned him a few respectable reviews, the book sold poorly. Heavily influenced by Kerouac's reading of Thomas Wolfe, it reflects on the generational epic formula and the contrasts of small town life versus the multi-dimensional, and larger life of the city. The book was heavily edited by Robert Giroux, with around 400 pages taken out.

454 West 20th Street
454 West 20th Street

For the next six years, Kerouac continued to write regularly. Building upon previous drafts tentatively titled "The Beat Generation" and "Gone on the Road," Kerouac completed what is now known as On the Road in April 1951, while living at 454 West 20th Street in Manhattan with his second wife, Joan Haverty.[34] The book was largely autobiographical and describes Kerouac's road-trip adventures across the United States and Mexico with Neal Cassady in the late 40s and early 50s, as well as his relationships with other Beat writers and friends. He completed the first version of the novel during a three-week extended session of spontaneous confessional prose. Kerouac wrote the final draft in 20 days, with Joan, his wife, supplying him with benzedrine, cigarettes, bowls of pea soup and mugs of coffee to keep him going.[35] Before beginning, Kerouac cut sheets of tracing paper[36] into long strips, wide enough for a typewriter, and taped them together into a 120-foot (37 m) long roll which he then fed into the machine. This allowed him to type continuously without the interruption of reloading pages. The resulting manuscript contained no chapter or paragraph breaks and was much more explicit than the version which would eventually be published. Though "spontaneous," Kerouac had prepared long in advance before beginning to write.[37] In fact, according to his Columbia professor and mentor Mark Van Doren, he had outlined much of the work in his journals over the several preceding years.

Though the work was completed quickly, Kerouac had a long and difficult time finding a publisher. Before On the Road was accepted by Viking Press, Kerouac got a job as a "railroad brakeman and fire lookout" (see Desolation Peak (Washington)) traveling between the East and West coasts of the United States to earn money, frequently finding rest and the quiet space necessary for writing at the home of his mother. While employed in this way he met and befriended Abe Green, a young freight train jumper who later introduced Kerouac to Herbert Huncke, a Times Square street hustler and favorite of many Beat Generation writers. During this period of travel, Kerouac wrote what he considered to be "his life's work": Vanity of Duluoz.[38] Between 1955-1956, he lived on and off with his sister, whom he called "Nin,"[39] and her husband, Paul Blake, at their home outside of Rocky Mount, N.C. ("Testament, Va." in his works) where he meditated on, and studied, Buddhism.[40] He wrote Some of the Dharma, an imaginative treatise on Buddhism, while living there.[41][42]

Publishers rejected On the Road because of its experimental writing style and its sexual content. Many editors were also uncomfortable with the idea of publishing a book that contained what were, for the era, graphic descriptions of drug use and homosexual behavior—a move that could result in obscenity charges being filed, a fate that later befell Burroughs' Naked Lunch and Ginsberg's Howl.

According to Kerouac, On the Road "was really a story about two Catholic buddies roaming the country in search of God. And we found him. I found him in the sky, in Market Street San Francisco (those 2 visions), and Dean (Neal) had God sweating out of his forehead all the way. THERE IS NO OTHER WAY OUT FOR THE HOLY MAN: HE MUST SWEAT FOR GOD. And once he has found Him, the Godhood of God is forever Established and really must not be spoken about."[18] According to his biographer, historian Douglas Brinkley, On the Road has been misinterpreted as a tale of companions out looking for kicks, but the most important thing to comprehend is that Kerouac was an American Catholic author – for example, virtually every page of his diary bore a sketch of a crucifix, a prayer, or an appeal to Christ to be forgiven.[43]

In the spring of 1951, while pregnant, Joan Haverty left and divorced Kerouac.[44] In February 1952, she gave birth to Kerouac's only child, Jan Kerouac, though he refused to acknowledge her as his daughter until a blood test confirmed it 9 years later.[45] For the next several years Kerouac continued writing and traveling, taking long trips through the U.S. and Mexico. He often experienced episodes of heavy drinking and depression. During this period, he finished drafts of what would become ten more novels, including The Subterraneans, Doctor Sax, Tristessa, and Desolation Angels, which chronicle many of the events of these years.

In 1953, he lived mostly in New York City, having a brief but passionate affair with an African-American woman. This woman was the basis for the character named "Mardou" in the novel The Subterraneans. At the request of his editors, Kerouac changed the setting of the novel from New York to San Francisco.[original research?]

In 1954, Kerouac discovered Dwight Goddard's A Buddhist Bible at the San Jose Library, which marked the beginning of his study of Buddhism. However, Kerouac had earlier taken an interest in Eastern thought. In 1946 he read Heinrich Zimmer's Myths and Symbols in Indian Art and Civilization. In 1955, Kerouac wrote a biography of Siddhartha Gautama, titled Wake Up: A Life of the Buddha, which was unpublished during his lifetime, but eventually serialized in Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, 1993–95. It was published by Viking in September 2008.[46]

House in College Park in Orlando, Florida where Kerouac lived and wrote The Dharma Bums
House in College Park in Orlando, Florida where Kerouac lived and wrote The Dharma Bums

Kerouac found enemies on both sides of the political spectrum, the right disdaining his association with drugs and sexual libertinism and the left contemptuous of his anti-communism and Catholicism; characteristically, he watched the 1954 Senate McCarthy hearings smoking marijuana and rooting for the anti-communist crusader, Senator Joseph McCarthy.[18] In Desolation Angels he wrote, "when I went to Columbia all they tried to teach us was Marx, as if I cared" (considering Marxism, like Freudianism, to be an illusory tangent).[47]

In 1957, after being rejected by several other publishers, On the Road was finally purchased by Viking Press, which demanded major revisions prior to publication.[37] Many of the more sexually explicit passages were removed and, fearing libel suits, pseudonyms were used for the book's "characters." These revisions have often led to criticisms of the alleged spontaneity of Kerouac's style.[36]

Later career: 1957–1969

In July 1957, Kerouac moved to a small house at 1418½ Clouser Avenue in the College Park section of Orlando, Florida, to await the release of On the Road. Weeks later, a review of the book by Gilbert Millstein appeared in The New York Times proclaiming Kerouac the voice of a new generation.[48] Kerouac was hailed as a major American writer. His friendship with Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs and Gregory Corso, among others, became a notorious representation of the Beat Generation. The term Beat Generation was invented by Kerouac during a conversation held with fellow novelist Herbert Huncke. Huncke used the term "beat" to describe a person with little money and few prospects.[49] "I'm beat to my socks", he had said. Kerouac's fame came as an unmanageable surge that would ultimately be his undoing.

Kerouac's novel is often described as the defining work of the post-World War II Beat Generation and Kerouac came to be called "the king of the beat generation,"[50] a term with which he never felt comfortable. He once observed, "I'm not a beatnik. I'm a Catholic", showing the reporter a painting of Pope Paul VI and saying, "You know who painted that? Me."[51]

The success of On the Road brought Kerouac instant fame. His celebrity status brought publishers desiring unwanted manuscripts that were previously rejected before its publication.[19] After nine months, he no longer felt safe in public. He was badly beaten by three men outside the San Remo Cafe at 189 Bleecker Street in New York City one night. Neal Cassady, possibly as a result of his new notoriety as the central character of the book, was set up and arrested for selling marijuana.[52][53]

In response, Kerouac chronicled parts of his own experience with Buddhism, as well as some of his adventures with Gary Snyder and other San Francisco-area poets, in The Dharma Bums, set in California and Washington and published in 1958. It was written in Orlando between November 26[54] and December 7, 1957.[55] To begin writing Dharma Bums, Kerouac typed onto a ten-foot length of teleprinter paper, to avoid interrupting his flow for paper changes, as he had done six years previously for On the Road.[54]

Kerouac was demoralized by criticism of Dharma Bums from such respected figures in the American field of Buddhism as Zen teachers Ruth Fuller Sasaki and Alan Watts. He wrote to Snyder, referring to a meeting with D.T. Suzuki, that "even Suzuki was looking at me through slitted eyes as though I was a monstrous imposter." He passed up the opportunity to reunite with Snyder in California, and explained to Philip Whalen "I'd be ashamed to confront you and Gary now I've become so decadent and drunk and don't give a shit. I'm not a Buddhist any more."[56] In further reaction to their criticism, he quoted part of Abe Green's café recitation, Thrasonical Yawning in the Abattoir of the Soul: "A gaping, rabid congregation, eager to bathe, are washed over by the Font of Euphoria, and bask like protozoans in the celebrated light." Many consider that this clearly indicated Kerouac's journey on an emotional roller coaster of unprecedented adulation and spiritual demoralization.

Kerouac also wrote and narrated a beat movie titled Pull My Daisy (1959), directed by Robert Frank and Alfred Leslie. It starred poets Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso, musician David Amram and painter Larry Rivers among others.[57] Originally to be called The Beat Generation, the title was changed at the last moment when MGM released a film by the same name in July 1959 that sensationalized beatnik culture.

The television series Route 66 (1960–1964), featuring two untethered young men "on the road" in a Corvette seeking adventure and fueling their travels by apparently plentiful temporary jobs in the various U.S. locales framing the anthology-styled stories, gave the impression of being a commercially sanitized misappropriation of Kerouac's story model for On the Road.[58] Even the leads, Buz and Todd, bore a resemblance to the dark, athletic Kerouac and the blonde Cassady/Moriarty, respectively. Kerouac felt he'd been conspicuously ripped off by Route 66 creator Stirling Silliphant and sought to sue him, CBS, the Screen Gems TV production company, and sponsor Chevrolet, but was somehow counseled against proceeding with what looked like a very potent cause of action.[58]

John Antonelli's 1985 documentary Kerouac, the Movie begins and ends with footage of Kerouac reading from On the Road and Visions of Cody on The Steve Allen Plymouth Show in November 1959. Kerouac appears intelligent but shy. "Are you nervous?" asks Steve Allen. "Naw," says Kerouac, sweating and fidgeting.[59]

In 1965, he met the poet Youenn Gwernig who was a Breton American like him in New York, and they became friends. Gwernig used to translate his Breton language poems in English in order to make Kerouac read and understand them : "Meeting with Jack Kerouac in 1965, for instance, was a decisive turn. Since he could not speak Breton he asked me : 'Would you not write some of your poems in English? I'd really like to read them ! ... ' So I wrote an Diri Dir – Stairs of Steel for him, and kept on doing so. That's why I often write my poems in Breton, French and English."[60]

In the following years, Kerouac suffered the loss of his older sister to a heart attack in 1964 and his mother suffered a paralyzing stroke in 1966. In 1968, Neal Cassady also died while in Mexico.[61]

Also in 1968, he appeared on the television show Firing Line produced and hosted by William F. Buckley Jr. (a friend of Kerouac's from his college years). Kerouac talked about the counterculture of the 1960s in what would be his last appearance on television.[62]


At eleven o'clock, on the morning of October 20, 1969, in St. Petersburg, Florida, Kerouac was sitting in his favorite chair drinking whiskey and malt liquor, working on a book about his father's print shop in Lowell, Massachusetts. He suddenly felt nauseated and walked to the bathroom, where he began to vomit blood. Kerouac was taken to a nearby hospital, suffering from an abdominal hemorrhage. He received several transfusions in an attempt to make up for the loss of blood, and doctors subsequently attempted surgery, but a damaged liver prevented his blood from clotting. He died at 5:15 the following morning at St. Anthony's Hospital, never having regained consciousness after the operation. His cause of death was listed as an internal hemorrhage (bleeding esophageal varices) caused by cirrhosis, the result of longtime alcohol abuse.[63][64] A possible contributing factor was an untreated hernia he suffered in a bar fight several weeks earlier.[65][66][67] He is buried at Edson Cemetery, Lowell, Massachusetts.[68]

Grave in Edson Cemetery, Lowell
Grave in Edson Cemetery, Lowell

At the time of his death, he was living with his third wife, Stella Sampas Kerouac, and his mother Gabrielle. Kerouac's mother inherited most of his estate.

He was honored posthumously with a Doctor of Letters degree from his hometown University of Massachusetts Lowell on June 2, 2007.[69]


Kerouac is generally considered to be the father of the Beat movement, although he actively disliked such labels. Kerouac's method was heavily influenced by the prolific explosion of jazz, especially the Bebop genre established by Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, and others. Later, Kerouac included ideas he developed from his Buddhist studies that began with Gary Snyder. He often referred to his style as "spontaneous prose."[70] Although Kerouac's prose was spontaneous and purportedly without edits, he primarily wrote autobiographical novels (or roman à clef) based upon actual events from his life and the people with whom he interacted.

On the Road excerpt in the center of Jack Kerouac Alley
On the Road excerpt in the center of Jack Kerouac Alley

Many of his books exemplified this spontaneous approach, including On the Road, Visions of Cody, Visions of Gerard, Big Sur, and The Subterraneans. The central features of this writing method were the ideas of breath (borrowed from jazz and from Buddhist meditation breathing), improvising words over the inherent structures of mind and language, and limited revision. Connected with this idea of breath was the elimination of the period, substituting instead a long connecting dash. As such, the phrases occurring between dashes might resemble improvisational jazz licks. When spoken, the words take on a certain musical rhythm and tempo.

Kerouac greatly admired and was influenced by Gary Snyder. The Dharma Bums contains accounts of a mountain climbing trip Kerouac took with Snyder, and includes excerpts of letters from Snyder.[71] While living with Snyder outside Mill Valley, California, in 1956, Kerouac worked on a book about him, which he considered calling Visions of Gary.[72] (This eventually became Dharma Bums, which Kerouac described as "mostly about [Snyder].")[73] That summer, Kerouac took a job as a fire lookout on Desolation Peak in the North Cascades in Washington, after hearing Snyder's and Whalen's stories of working as fire spotters. On Desolation Peak he'd hoped to "come face to face with God or Tathagata and find out once and for all what is the meaning of all this existence. But instead I'd come face to face with myself ... and many's the time I thought I'd die of boredom or jump off the mountain."[74] Kerouac described the experience in Desolation Angels and later in The Dharma Bums".

Kerouac would go on for hours, often drunk, to friends and strangers about his method. Allen Ginsberg, initially unimpressed, would later be one of his great proponents, and it was Kerouac's free-flowing prose method that inspired the composition of Ginsberg's poem "Howl". It was at about the time of The Subterraneans that he was encouraged by Ginsberg and others to formally explain his style. Of his expositions of the Spontaneous Prose method, the most concise was Belief and Technique for Modern Prose, a list of 30 "essentials".

... and I shambled after as usual as I've been doing all my life after people who interest me, because 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!"

On the Road

Some believed that at times Kerouac's writing technique did not produce lively or energetic prose. Truman Capote famously said about Kerouac's work "That's not writing, it's typing".[75] According to Carolyn Cassady and others, he constantly rewrote and revised his work.[76]

Although the body of Kerouac's work has been published in English, recent research has shown that, in addition to his poetry and letters to friends and family, he also wrote unpublished works of fiction in French. All these works, including La nuit est ma femme, Sur le chemin, and large sections of Maggie Cassidy (originally written in French), have now been published together in a volume entitled La vie est d'hommage (Boréal, 2016) edited by University of Pennsylvania professor Jean-Christophe Cloutier. In 1996, the Nouvelle Revue Française published excerpts and an article on "La nuit est ma femme", and scholar Paul Maher Jr., in his biography Kerouac: His Life and Work', discussed Sur le chemin's plot and characters. The novella, completed in five days in Mexico during December 1952, is a telling example of Kerouac's attempts at writing in his first language, a language he often called Canuck French. Kerouac refers to this short novel in a letter addressed to Neal Cassady (who is commonly known as the inspiration for the character Dean Moriarty) dated January 10, 1953. The published novel runs over 110 pages, having been reconstituted from six distinct files in the Kerouac archive by Professor Cloutier. Set in 1935, mostly on the East Coast, it explores some of the recurring themes of Kerouac's literature by way of a spoken word narrative. Here, as with most of his French writings, Kerouac writes with little regard for grammar or spelling, often relying on phonetics in order to render an authentic reproduction of the French-Canadian vernacular. Even though this work has the same title as one of his best known English novels, it is the original French version of an incomplete translation that would later become Old Bull in the Bowery (now published in The Unknown Kerouac from the Library of America).[77] The Unknown Kerouac, edited by Todd Tietchen, includes Cloutier's translation of La nuit est ma femme and the completed translation of Sur le Chemin under the title Old Bull in the Bowery. La nuit est ma femme was written in early 1951 and completed a few days or weeks before he began the original English version of On the Road, as many scholars, such as Paul Maher Jr., Joyce Johnson, Hassan Melehy, and Yannis Livadas[78] have pointed out.


Kerouac's early writing, particularly his first novel The Town and the City, was more conventional, and bore the strong influence of Thomas Wolfe. The technique Kerouac developed that later made him famous was heavily influenced by jazz, especially Bebop, and later, Buddhism, as well as the famous Joan Anderson letter written by Neal Cassady.[79] The Diamond Sutra was the most important Buddhist text for Kerouac, and "probably one of the three or four most influential things he ever read".[80] In 1955, he began an intensive study of this sutra, in a repeating weekly cycle, devoting one day to each of the six Pāramitās, and the seventh to the concluding passage on Samādhi. This was his sole reading on Desolation Peak, and he hoped by this means to condition his mind to emptiness, and possibly to have a vision.[81]

An often overlooked[82] literary influence on Kerouac was James Joyce, whose work he alludes to more than any other author.[83] Kerouac had high esteem for Joyce and he often used Joyce's stream-of-consciousness technique.[83][84] Regarding On the Road, he wrote in a letter to Ginsberg, "I can tell you now as I look back on the flood of language. It is like Ulysses and should be treated with the same gravity."[85] Additionally, Kerouac admired Joyce's experimental use of language, as seen in his novel Visions of Cody, which uses an unconventional narrative as well as a multiplicity of authorial voices.[86]


Jack Kerouac and his literary works had a major impact on the popular rock music of the 1960s. Artists including Bob Dylan, the Beatles, Patti Smith, Tom Waits, the Grateful Dead, and The Doors all credit Kerouac as a significant influence on their music and lifestyles. This is especially so with members of the band The Doors, Jim Morrison and Ray Manzarek who quote Jack Kerouac and his novel On the Road as one of the band's greatest influences.[87] In his book Light My Fire: My Life with The Doors, Ray Manzarek (keyboard player of The Doors) wrote "I suppose if Jack Kerouac had never written On the Road, The Doors would never have existed." The alternative rock band 10,000 Maniacs wrote a song bearing his name, "Hey Jack Kerouac" on their 1987 album In My Tribe.

In 1974, the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics was opened in his honor by Allen Ginsberg and Anne Waldman at Naropa University, a private Buddhist university in Boulder, Colorado. The school offers a BA in Writing and Literature, MFAs in Writing & Poetics and Creative Writing, and a summer writing program.[88]

From 1978 to 1992, Joy Walsh published 28 issues of a magazine devoted to Kerouac, Moody Street Irregulars.

Kerouac's French-Canadian origins inspired a 1987 National Film Board of Canada docudrama Jack Kerouac's Road: A Franco-American Odyssey, directed by Acadian poet Herménégilde Chiasson.[89]

A street, rue de Jack Kérouac, is named after him in Quebec City, as well as in the hamlet of Kerouac, Lanmeur, Brittany. An annual Kerouac festival was established in Lanmeur in 2010.[90] In the 1980s, the city of San Francisco named a one-way street, Jack Kerouac Alley, in his honor in Chinatown.

In 1997, the house on Clouser Avenue where The Dharma Bums was written was purchased by a newly formed non-profit group, The Jack Kerouac Writers in Residence Project of Orlando, Inc. This group provides opportunities for aspiring writers to live in the same house in which Kerouac was inspired, with room and board covered for three months. In 1998, the Chicago Tribune published a story by journalist Oscar J. Corral that described a simmering legal dispute between Kerouac's family and the executor of daughter Jan Kerouac's estate, Gerald Nicosia. The article, citing legal documents, showed that Kerouac's estate, worth only $91 at the time of his death, was worth $10 million in 1998.

In 2007, Kerouac was awarded a posthumous honorary degree from the University of Massachusetts Lowell.[91]

In 2009, the movie One Fast Move or I'm Gone – Kerouac's Big Sur was released. It chronicles the time in Kerouac's life that led to his novel Big Sur, with actors, writers, artists, and close friends giving their insight into the book. The movie also describes the people and places on which Kerouac based his characters and settings, including the cabin in Bixby Canyon. An album released to accompany the movie, "One Fast Move or I'm Gone", features Benjamin Gibbard (Death Cab for Cutie) and Jay Farrar (Son Volt) performing songs based on Kerouac's Big Sur.

In 2010, during the first weekend of October, the 25th anniversary of the literary festival "Lowell Celebrates Kerouac" was held in Kerouac's birthplace of[Lowell, Massachusetts. It featured walking tours, literary seminars, and musical performances focused on Kerouac's work and that of the Beat Generation.

In the 2010s, there has been a surge in films based on the Beat Generation. Kerouac has been depicted in the films Howl and Kill Your Darlings. A feature film version of On the Road was released internationally in 2012, and was directed by Walter Salles and produced by Francis Ford Coppola. Independent filmmaker Michael Polish directed Big Sur, based on the novel, with Jean-Marc Barr cast as Kerouac. The film was released in 2013.[92][93]

A species of Indian platygastrid wasp that is phoretic (hitch-hiking) on grasshoppers is named after him as Mantibaria kerouaci.[94]



While he is best known for his novels, Kerouac is also noted for his poetry. Kerouac said that he wanted "to be considered as a jazz poet blowing a long blues in an afternoon jazz session on Sunday.".[95] Many of Kerouac's poems follow the style of his free-flowing, uninhibited prose, also incorporating elements of jazz and Buddhism. "Mexico City Blues," a collection of poems published in 1959, is made up of 242 choruses following the rhythms of jazz. In much of his poetry, to achieve a jazz-like rhythm, Kerouac made use of the long dash in place of a period. Several examples of this can be seen in "Mexico City Blues":

Is Ignorant of its own emptiness—
Doesnt like to be reminded of fits—

— fragment from 113th Chorus[96]

Other well-known poems by Kerouac, such as "Bowery Blues," incorporate jazz rhythms with Buddhist themes of Saṃsāra, the cycle of life and death, and Samadhi, the concentration of composing the mind.[97] Also, following the jazz / blues tradition, Kerouac's poetry features repetition and themes of the troubles and sense of loss experienced in life.

Posthumous editions

In 2007, to coincide with the 50th anniversary of On the Road's publishing, Viking issued two new editions: On the Road: The Original Scroll, and On the Road: 50th Anniversary Edition.[98][99] By far the more significant is Scroll, a transcription of the original draft typed as one long paragraph on sheets of tracing paper which Kerouac taped together to form a 120-foot (37 m) scroll. The text is more sexually explicit than Viking allowed to be published in 1957, and also uses the real names of Kerouac's friends rather than the fictional names he later substituted. Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay paid $2.43 million for the original scroll and allowed an exhibition tour that concluded at the end of 2009. The other new issue, 50th Anniversary Edition, is a reissue of the 40th anniversary issue under an updated title.

The Kerouac/Burroughs manuscript, And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks was published for the first time on November 1, 2008 by Grove Press.[100] Previously, a fragment of the manuscript had been published in the Burroughs compendium, Word Virus.[101]

Les Éditions du Boréal, a Montreal-based publishing house, obtained rights from Kerouac's estate to publish a collection of works titled La vie est d'hommage (it was released in April 2016). It includes 16 previously unpublished works, in French, including a novella, Sur le chemin, La nuit est ma femme, and large sections of Maggie Cassidy originally written in French. Both Sur le chemin and La nuit est ma femme have also been translated to English by Jean-Christophe Cloutier, in collaboration with Kerouac, and were published in 2016 by the Library of America in The Unknown Kerouac.[102][103]


Studio albums

Compilation albums

See also



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  • Berrigan, Ted (Summer 1968). "Jack Kerouac, The Art of Fiction No. 41". The Paris Review.
  • Dagier, Patricia (2009). Jack Kerouac, Breton d'Amérique. Editions Le Télégramme.
  • Knight, Brenda (1996). Women of the Beat Generation: The Writers, Artists and Muses at the Heart of a Revolution. Conari Press. ISBN 1-57324-138-5.
  • Miles, Barry (1998). Jack Kerouac: King of the Beats. Virgin.
  • Nicosia, Gerald (1994). Memory Babe: A Critical Biography of Jack Kerouac. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-08569-8.
  • Sandison, David (1999). Jack Kerouac. Hamlyn.
  • Suiter, John (2002). Poets on the Peaks Gary Snyder, Philip Whalen, and Jack Kerouac in the North Cascades. Counterpoint. ISBN 1-58243-148-5.

Further reading

  • Amburm, Ellis. Subterranean Kerouac: The Hidden Life of Jack Kerouac. St. Martin's Press, 1999. ISBN 0-312-20677-1
  • Amram, David. Offbeat: Collaborating with Kerouac. Thunder's Mouth Press, 2002. ISBN 1-56025-362-2
  • Bartlett, Lee (ed.) The Beats: Essays in Criticism. London: McFarland, 1981.
  • Beaulieu, Victor-Lévy. Jack Kerouac: A Chicken Essay. Coach House Press, 1975.
  • Brooks, Ken. The Jack Kerouac Digest. Agenda, 2001.
  • Cassady, Carolyn. Neal Cassady Collected Letters, 1944–1967. Penguin, 2004. ISBN 0-14-200217-8
  • Cassady, Carolyn. Off the Road: Twenty Years with Cassady, Kerouac and Ginsberg. Black Spring Press, 1990.
  • Challis, Chris. Quest for Kerouac. Faber & Faber, 1984.
  • Charters, Ann. Kerouac. San Francisco: Straight Arrow Books, 1973.
  • Charters, Ann (ed.) The Portable Beat Reader. New York: Penguin, 1992.
  • Charters, Ann (ed.) The Portable Jack Kerouac. New York: Penguin, 1995.
  • Christy, Jim. The Long Slow Death of Jack Kerouac. ECW Press, 1998.
  • Chiasson, Herménégilde (1987). "Jack Kerouac's Road – A Franco-American Odyssey". Online documentary. National Film Board of Canada. Retrieved October 25, 2011.
  • Clark, Tom. Jack Kerouac. Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1984.
  • Coolidge, Clark. Now It's Jazz: Writings on Kerouac & the Sounds. Living Batch, 1999.
  • Collins, Ronald & Skover, David. Mania: The Story of the Outraged & Outrageous Lives that Launched a Cultural Revolution (Top-Five Books, March 2013)
  • Cook, Bruce. The Beat Generation. Charles Scribner's Sons, 1971. ISBN 0-684-12371-1
  • Dagier, Patricia (1999). Jack Kerouac: Au Bout de la Route ... La Bretagne. An Here.
  • Dale, Rick. The Beat Handbook: 100 Days of Kerouactions. Booksurge, 2008.
  • Edington, Stephen. Kerouac's Nashua Roots. Transition, 1999.
  • Ellis, R.J., Liar! Liar! Jack Kerouac – Novelist. Greenwich Exchange, 1999.
  • French, Warren. Jack Kerouac. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1986.
  • Gaffié, Luc. Jack Kerouac: The New Picaroon. Postillion Press, 1975.
  • Giamo, Ben. Kerouac, The Word and The Way. Southern Illinois University Press, 2000.
  • Gifford, Barry. Kerouac's Town. Creative Arts, 1977.
  • Gifford, Barry; Lee, Lawrence. Jack's Book: An Oral Biography of Jack Kerouac. St. Martin's Press, 1978. ISBN 0-14-005269-0
  • Grace, Nancy M. Jack Kerouac and the Literary Imagination. Palgrave-macmillan, 2007.
  • Goldstein, N.W., "Kerouac's On the Road". Explicator 50.1. 1991.
  • Haynes, Sarah, "An Exploration of Jack Kerouac's Buddhism:Text and Life"
  • Hemmer, Kurt. Encyclopedia of Beat Literature: The Essential Guide to the Lives and Works of the Beat Writers. Facts on File, Inc., 2007.
  • Hipkiss, Robert A., Jack Kerouac: Prophet of the New Romanticism. Regents Press, 1976.
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External links

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