Saturday, January 26, 2008

Readings: ...And One More for the Road

After Thursday's trip to the swamp, I feel the need for an intellectual shower bath. I don't mean to discourage further discussion of my political rant, but I want also to get back to "home base," as it were.

On my Christmas gift wish list this year was On the Road: the Original Scroll, published to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Jack Kerouac's seminal novel of the Beat Generation. This edition presents the novel as it was originally typed-out, in the space of a few long days and nights, on a roll of taped-together sheets of tracing paper, 120-feet long. This new edition publishes for the first time Kerouac's manuscript, minus the good services of the editors of the version that was eventually released to the public in 1957. As spontaneity is one of the key philosophical tenets of Kerouac's artistic m.o., the Original Scroll is a book I am very keen to experience first-hand.

Unfortunately, my request was misunderstood, and I found the 50th Anniversary hardcover re-release of the edited version under the tree instead. While that is a nice book to have, I still wanted the Original Scroll--so I bought it this past week with some cash I had received for my recent birthday.

There is an introduction, written by the book's editor, Howard Cunnell, which nicely sums up what I believe to be most important in Kerouac's body of work:

Long before his readings in Buddhism Kerouac was intuitively attempting to reconcile a worldview that saw his lived experience both as one made painfully meaningless by his hard-wired knowledge of mortality and as one to be celebrated in every detail and at every moment precisely because, as he writes in Visions of Cody, we are soon "all going to die." Kerouac escapes this encircling loss in the act of writing. To say what happened. To get it down before it is lost. To make mythology from your life and from the lives of your friends. This urgency pushes Kerouac to strip his writing of "made-up" stories. Life's impermanence and the inevitability of suffering inform and motivate Kerouac's heightened sensitivity and responsiveness to the phenomenal world. What Allen Ginsberg called his "open heart" and Kerouac himself described as being "submissive to everything, open, listening" results in a body of fiction in which the representation of the magical nature of entrancing and life-affirming fleeting detail is the outstanding feature.

Kerouac was about living in the moment. He was about being awake(!).

I am also reading the novel WE by Russian author, Eugene Zamiatin. As the synopsis on the book's cover states, WE is: "Recognized as the inspiration for George Orwell's famous 1984." The synopsis goes on to state, WE tells the story of the minutely organized United State, where all citizens are not individuals but only he-Numbers and she-Numbers existing in identical glass apartments with every action regulated by the "Table of Hours." It is a community dedicated to the proposition that freedom and happiness are incompatible; that most men believe their freedom to be more than fair exchange for a high level of materialistic happiness.

It's kind of a prescient critique of the Bush administration's neocon philosophy.

These two books represent opposite poles. It is going to be interesting to read them simultaneously.