Thursday, March 16, 2023

One Route

 And there was the time crossing the I-states Beth and I taking Erin to visit his father in a summer exchange. Highway tide rushing thru nondescript Illinois skirting the big Windy City which had a gravitational pull even as we passed then dun-coloured Indiana where rest stops were something crushing and barely relief and excited nearing a bridge over the Mississippi was that ever a challenge to spell and over the great river father so called and found the motel where we would meet on a hillside above. It got to be a good downpour there while I gathered suitcases from the car in rising wind and only after did I learn a siren sounded tornado warning just a mile or so away while I scrambled inside with our luggage. And in the lobby we saw a pen and ink drawing of the North Bridge in Concord by an artist we met at the North Bridge in Concord who drew as he sat by the North Bridge in Concord and sold us some prints of local interest. All interest should become local it just takes a bigger hand. The homely and not so majestic Concord River thereby tied us to the very Father of Waters tho it looked more industrial and smelled a smell but it was history and context and even trumped up riverboats and the map has life and eyes into the world however we want to read it then and now.

Monday, February 13, 2023

The Grungy Henry Miller

 The extended philosophical passages in Henry Miller’s work have little resonance for me. It’s just argle-bargle, written in glib confidence. His use of slurs also exhibits glibness. He sounds enclosed when using slurs. Rather than showing rugged power, as profanity can, his usage deflects towards emptiness and cold hell. I acknowledge that he wrote at a time when profanity and obscenity were synonymous and offensive. Nowadays one hears fuck commonly used as an intensifier. The word becomes more a flimsy noise and distraction than a meaningful stun gun. Miller’s slurs have the same effect. They sound unexamined, and barely give testament. I see Miller’s method as sluice-like where the quantum of writing involves unleashing the stream. He wants to get as much out as he can where much means ‘capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason’, as Keats lastingly had it. Some of ‘it’ is malarkey and literary tripe. When his acerbic beam is working, as well his sense of the absurd, matters gain a raiment of wonder.

Saturday, February 11, 2023

Kerouac Note

 Neither On The Road or The Dharma Bums give much picture of him as a writer. Both give passing mention to his modest success as a writer, and he speaks of his notebooks here and there. No sense of him banging away at a typewriter. Given his peregrinations, filling notebooks would maybe not be a practical priority. The record of these books falls outside ‘pure facts’.

Monday, February 06, 2023

Miller and Kerouac

 Henry Miller seems like a writer who would resonate with the Beats. Anyway, I have started Tropic of Capricorn for the sake of perspective. I read Tropic of Cancer a couple years ago in a bold attempt to figure things out. Both writers write self-reflectively, in a torrential way. What are the shining rocks in that stream?

Miller is worth reading, thanks for asking, but he is crass and coarse. His philosophical musings favour vitriol, and don’t exactly swing. The forthright determination to lay it all out produces some keen insights and acerbic bite along with pompous detritus. He’s ready to wring it all out.

In contrast, Kerouac seems almost innocent. Kerouac lacks Miller’s world-weariness; he believes the kicks are still there, even as semi-colons appear. Where Kerouac welcomes the choices of the world, Miller infatuates in priapic devastation. I detect no sweetness in Miller’s work, tho brave and chilling,  whereas Kerouac’s sweetness reproves Miller’s taut and clumsy hedgerows.

The connections are interesting: Anaïs Nin, Laurence Durrell, the boho wanderers and dilettantes in the pre post war years, meeting an angry, fluttering, and almost round world. We can only be forgiving as we read. I am just the nobody reader who has chosen this task.

Sunday, January 29, 2023

On The Road and Dharma Bums

 Jack Kerouac’s recklessness or carelessness interests me. This attitude manifests in two ways: in his writing, and in his actions and life choices. Both cases lead to a cloudy charisma, simultaneously inspired and loutish.

I am unsure what I knew of Kerouac when I was a teenager, I surely hadn’t read him. I can see the attraction for young minds, the sense of freedom. As a writer, words poured out for him. In sooth, he sometimes wrote awkwardly. That awkwardness was a grace. 

Kerouac trusted the energy of writing and kept the internal editor at bay. He doesn’t just outpour. He carefully reads the Zen script of the moment. He releases into that, not literature, not career. He is stalwart that way. This is important because typing fast supplies no rare glory. The sloppiness and abrupt oddity of his prose offers testament of singular integrity. 

As a naive teen writer, I moved to the typewriter soon after starting to write for myself. I didn’t know how to type but it made the writing act more serious for me. When I eventually learned to use all my fingers, the act of writing quickly (and legibly) became possible. I realized that I needed to outrun the internal editor that pressed me to overthink. I had no idea what to write, only that I wanted to. Kerouac probably had a clearer mission from the start.

T S Eliot’s constructions, for instance, seem very thought out in comparison to Kerouac’s methods. I don’t see Eliot hitchhiking across the country with ten salami sandwiches in his pack thinking this is a good idea. Kerouac committed himself to being on the edge of something happening.

Those passages where Kerouac writes of his travels (and travails) ring with energy. He proceeds with a romantic vision but endures the realities. A compelling wonder instills his words. However literally accurate his accounts are—mayhap his memory is of Proustian order—they proceed with cork-on-water determination. Thru thick and thin. Those long, waiting stretches and nowhere near home, and he just awaits the next and next destination.

Neal Cassady hardly appears in The Dharma Bums, and is hidden by the name Cody Pomeray whereas he stands central to the On The Road narrative. I will continue believing that the pseudonyms Kerouac had to use create a perplexing distance between Kerouac the writer and those of which he writes. My original version of On the Road enjoys greater immediacy of characters as Kerouac writes directly to the real name.

Cassady, Kerouac’s angel, is not quite lovable. Whatever clinical description that might be made, he is an original perplexity. Forces drive him and Kerouac follows in awe. The difference between Ryder/Snyder and Pomeray/Cassady shows in Kerouac’s reaction to each. Snyder offers a calm while Cassady offers ruction, however divine. Kerouac seems envious of Snyder’s determined path. Cassady leaves Kerouac in tantalized delectation.

The women in these two books barely survive scrutiny. They seem mostly tinny voices distracting men from enviable impulse. Kerouac the character remarks that friend and fellow traveler Al Hinkle got married for carfare, which indeed is the gist of it.

I don’t want to read Kerouac as a map to self-destruction tho I gather his latter years were less than glorious. In On The Road his peregrinations seem like a path inchoate. In The Dharma Bums he seems desperate to find the Zen path. But he was guided by a centripetal force from which he could not free himself. The romanticized account overwhelmed the living sparks.

Monday, December 26, 2022

When The Mahabharata Becomes Boring

The Mahabharata goes slightly less a-pace. I slipped off reading other things. The war is over for the Pandava’s, they have their kingdom again. Yudhisthira now feels the weight of kingly responsibility. He goes to his uncle Bhishma for advice. Bhishma fought for the Kaurava’s out of a sense of duty that doesn’t add up for me. Well there you are. His lessons for Yudhisthira bring Confucius to mind, not that I claim any breadth to that statement. Class distinctions stand inviolable. Warriors are warriors, Brahmins are Brahmins. Caste is understood as a sanctity. It is hard to wrap around this from my vantage. It reads like the bland list of advice that Polonius gives. I believe more action awaits, this part drags.

Saturday, December 10, 2022

More Mahabharata

More Mahabharata

The battlefield action in the Mahabharata strains belief. Not its fantastical nature, I expect supernatural exploits in mythological tales, but just the difficulty of imagining the events. When we read that thousands died at Arjuna’s hand as he plunges into a fray, we can shrink that figure down to tens or a lot. if we are thinking of historical events. I don’t know what historical event might have inspired the story. Perhaps some Hatfield versus McCoy thing amongst cousins expanded to include a few trillion souls on their karmic journeys including every person dumb enough to be a chariot driver, id est expendable.

A few instances of so-called celestial weapons occur. These offer complete devastation in not quite explained ways, gifts from the gods like nuclear bombs.. Mantras and magic can also be weaponized. Arjuna’s quiver remains always full despite shooting thousands of arrows a second. I can’t even picture that, tho folks at Marvel Studios probably can. The fighting brings Marvel to mind because tho the nameless cannon fodder feed rivers of blood, the upper echelon heroes join in fierce battle but walk away merely wounded. Or pouting.

Heroic speeches prior to engagement with the enemy have a long tradition. But just thinking about all these zapping arrows, strewn bodies, gored elephants and horses, overloads you. Amidst this enormous clutter of human endeavour the valiant knights scurry about seeking chivalrous one on one fights. It wears thin. The Iliad, in comparison, reads like reportage of a real event, even with the similar boasty speeches.

A marked aspect of the Mahabharata is how resplendent the people and gods are. Dressed in splendid colours and bejeweled to the gills, they are visually vivid. The Greek gods seemingly just wear robes, if that. The Norse must be imagined ever in battle gear, men and women both.

So the action on the battlefield goes clearly over the top but amidst that we still have beautiful thoughtful passages. A strong moral and spiritual note holds the story up. It comes to us by oral tradition. You can imagine the originators telling the stories, however solemn, vivacious, or thrilling.