“On the Road” by Jack Kerouac

A sustained poem, genuinely great in that it combines a modern(ist) absence of overall narrative, and a concentration on the modern, young, world, with a profound literary resonance both explicit (references to e.g. Le Grand Meaulnes & Proust), and implicit, in its reworking of, from Homer, Telemachus’ search for his father, and Achilles’ preference, later reversed, for a short life of kicks over a longer but less eventful one.
Firstly the narrative [SPOILER ALERT]: Dean appears soon after the start, and disappears at the end, but we’re not told that Sal will never see him again after the novel ends, as it were, and the pattern of the novel suggests that Dean will never finally go away… And there is a progression, a linear growth, an intensification, shown through e.g. Dean’s behaviour, the crazier and crazier descriptions of musicians, and the A to B of hometown New York to the very Paradise of Mexico. But the overall feel of Sal’s story is of a Beckettian cycle of loops, trips, recurrences; a texture rather than a thread; as Sal puts down his pen Dean turns another stolen car into his street. And it’s got this fecund mythicity: how Dean is like a character trait which won’t go away, an alter ego; and how its kinship with the Odyssey (Sirens, Cyclopes, missing fathers, even cars described as ships and land as the ocean) joins with its “Spontaneous Prose” style to make it a follow-on from Joyce.

Words: beat cool jalopy blow cat treed “ecstasy and speed” (end of Part 3). “Cool” is used only twice (as far as I remember), both times of a musician, once paired with “commercial” – i.e. a selling-out, and once as a complement, a style of “blowing” the opposite of “heated”. “Treed” is not a very good example of Kerouac’s easy use of words in unfamiliar grammatical categories, particularly as new verbs and adjectives. Fecundity.

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