Saturday, September 25, 2010

On the Road with The Fountainhead

I am reading both On the Road, by Jack Kerouac and The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. Just cuz. I’ve tasted both before.

At this point, it is hard to see the news in OTR. It is there, but the legends, the promotions, the bullshit, and the votive actualities of the real world participants of the events described all overwhelm the tender novel. Still, it reads with freshness, even as it sags into the romantic hokum that felled the Beats. Yes, I am saying the Beats were felled. Self-inflicted felling, let us say, but felling nonetheless.

The adventures are both exultant and silly. I see the effect of such rangers as Thomas Wolfe and John Dos Passos in Kerouac’s gritty spree. I also see Kerouac transcending that oblivion of novelistic finality. A singular chemical reaction occurs amidst the stories and characters that he recounts and invents.

One can bring up Proust, of course. Kerouac lived it loud whereas Proust mediated events across half his life. Truman Capote—remember him?—wrote his own Proustian exercise, Answered Prayers. Highly capable horseshit. It is instructive to consider these three novelistical assertions.

Proust’s work is not just contemplation but a vivification of his discernment. The exercise of embedding moments into his understanding provided his life. His writing dazzled into the opportunity of reflection.

Capote, alas, charged gossip with importance. He must’ve thought that the glow he perceived around Babe Pauley and Lee Radziwill was common knowledge. Madame Vendurin interests us not because she was a superb upper class twit, but because Proust efforted to look real hard. Capote merely flicked a gesture at these mavens, as if that were enough. I highly recommend Answered Prayers for its fervent art for not art’s sake stance. Really.

Kerouac received Cassady, and to a lesser extent all the others of his crowd. He is participant but what jolts us is how Cassady and the others pull him along. I must say that not one name in Kerouac’s work sounds plausible. The cipher is obviously forced.

The Fountainhead fits in with all this, perhaps surprisingly. Heroic Howard Roark is an overdrawn masterpiece. His egoism reigns mightily. At the beginning of the novel, he has just been kicked out of college. In his architectural studies, he refuses to give in to any impulse that is not of a dedicated purity. Tasked to produce drawings for classical or gothic structures, he unswervingly creates more unguent modernism. Rand stokes that grandeur finely. The book’s quite inviting, with Roark up against ambitious duplicity at every turn, while he in pureness only wants to make mere mile high buildings dedicated to his perfect vision. And he will succeed! The sad train wreck of Kerouac, spent, seems unnecessarily true to life compared to Roark.

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