Thursday, September 13, 2007

Jack Kerouac - Desolation Angels (Yet Another Extract)

Like On the Road, Desolation Angels is primarily a novel of many journeys, with Kerouac as ever trying to live out (and describe) the American Dream as idiosyncratically and as anti-materialistically as possible. That, aside from the philosophical musings and emotional agonising, is the pure simplicity of the book. Kerouac was an author who combined deep introspection of his own psychological state with close observation of the world around him. Together, this produces in his writing neat, lyrical stories which would merely be called ‘real-life’ if, in fact, they were not so sublimely realistic and uniquely beautiful. Here, in ‘Passing through New York’, Kerouac nearly loses his complete pack while riding the bus – the story passing from sudden disaster to existential angst, on into biography, then religious mysticism and back to calm, Zen-like relief again:

“I got down to the bus station with my rucksack and foolishly (high on Jack Daniels) began talking to some sailors who then got a guy with a car to drive out to the back streets of Washington in search of an afterhours bottle. A Negro connection was dickering with us when up walked a Negro cop who wanted to search us all, but was outnumbered. I simply walked away with my rucksack on my back, to the station, got on the bus and fell asleep with the pack by the driver’s well. When I woke up in Roanoke Rapids at dawn it was gone. Somebody had taken it off at Richmond. I let my head fall on the seat in that harsh glare nowhere worse in the world than in America with a stupid guilty hangover. A whole new novel (Angels of Desolation), a whole book of poetry, and the finishing chapters of another novel (about Tristessa), together with all the paintings not to mention the only gear I had in the world (sleepingbag, poncho, sweater of holy favour, perfect simple equipments the result of years’ thinking, gone, all gone. I started to cry. And I looked up and saw the bleak pines by the bleak mills of Roanoke Rapids with one final despair, like the despair of a man who has nothing left to do but leave the earth forever. Soldiers waited for the bus smoking. Fat old North Carolinians watched hands aback clasped. Sunday morning, I empty of my little tricks to make life livable. An empty orphan sitting nowhere, sick and crying. Like dying I saw all the years flash by, all the efforts my father had made to make life something to be interested about but only ending in death, blank death in the glare of automobiles day, automobile cemeteries, whole parking lots of cemeteries everywhere. I saw the glum faces of my mother, of Irwin, of Julien, of Ruth, all trying to make it go on believing without hope. Gay college students in the back of the bus making me even sicker to think of their purple plans all in time to end blind in an automobile cemetery insurance office for nothing. Where’s yonder old mule buried in those piny barrens or did the buzzard just eat? Caca, all the world caca. I remembered the enormous despair of when I was 24 sitting in my mother’s house all day while she worked in the shoe factory, in fact sitting at my father’s death chair, staring like a bust of Goethe at nothing. Getting up once in a while to plunk a sonatas on the piano, sonatas of my own spontaneous invention, then falling on the bed crying. Looking out the window at the glare of automobiles on Crossbay Boulevard. Bending my head over my first novel, to sick to go on. Wondering about Goldsmith and Johnson how they burped sorrow by their firesides in a life that was too long. That’s what my father told me the night before he died, “Life is too long.”

So wondering if God is a personal God who’s actually personally concerned about what happens to us, every one. Putting us up to burdens? To Time? To the crying horror of birth and the impossible lostness of the promise of death? And why? Because we’re fallen angels who said in Heaven “Heaven is great, it better be anyway” and off we fell? But do you even remember doing such a thing?

All I remember is that before I was born there was bliss. I actually remember the dark swarming bliss of 1917 altho I was born in 1922! New Years’ Eves came and went and I was just blisshood. But when I was dragged out my mother’s womb, blue, a blue baby, they yelled at me to wake up, and slapped me, and ever since then I’ve been chastised and lost for good and all. Nobody slapped me in bliss! Is God everything? If God is everything then it’s God who slapped me. For personal reasons? Do I have to carry this body around and call it mine own?

Yet in Raleigh a tall blue-eyed Southerner told me my bag was being shipped to my destination station in Winter Park. “God bless you,” I said, and he did a calm double take.”

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