brief thoughts on jack kerouacs defining work, on the road

on the road is a book by jack kerouac. jack kerouac was a key figure in the beat generation, which was a social movement in the united states in the forties and fifties that grew into the sixties and seventies hippies. basically.

on the road is considered a masterpiece and a defining work. bob dylan loves it. tom odell loves it. lots of other creative rebel types love it, in particular the kind of creative rebels who would get an invite to radio two. its kind of a big deal.

i dont think think its a stretch to say that its the worst book ive ever read


of course.

its the book ive enjoyed reading the least in memory, and ive read a lot of solidly mediocre books. when i recorded it in my media diet[1], i gave it the alternate title "how i fucked my way across america, passing commentary on the daughters of everyone i slept with as i went".

maybe this is slightly harsh. i do not give a shit.

this isnt my only criticism. ill give my three broad criticisms because three is a good number.

critique the first: writing style

they say jack wrote the first draft of the book on a single roll of paper in three weeks. maybe it was three months, or three days. i am almost certain it was not three hours. regardless, it takes the regularity and authority of three and attributes legend status to a man because of his ability to write a lot in a short amount of time.

in my head im imagining our young author snorting coke through an extra long curly straw as he leers tappily over his tippety typewriter, reminiscing on his jolly es-ca-pa-des.

they say this vision is bullshit and he didnt write that manuscript on any level of cok├ędness, it wasnt a single roll of paper, and it probably wasnt any temporally threed period.

thats a shame for mister jack because his prose is rushed and stilted. had this been a product of his frantour i would not have had a problem, probably, and might even have found it oddly endearing. in hindsight, that is. first reading, i would have considered it lazy and lacking in talent. which is indeed what i considered it first reading. in hindsight, i considered it the same.

he uses the same words repeatedly in close proximity, with apparently no thought for their freedom, happiness, or desire to dance. no thought for their effectiveness in pairs or throuples; couples, thrairs, or quartets. suddenly he saw dean. he suddenly tried to pick up a teen. the poeticism was lacking with such vigour it was almost poetic. but in the same way an unmade bed is only almost modern art, kerouacs poetry only almost managed to be a modern classic.

it seems im the only one to think this. his beat poetry is considered beautiful by a bunch of people. in my subjective objective opinion, theyre all wrong. this is a subjective opinion. but objectively, i think im right.

critique the second: writing content

my main issue here is that sal paradise, aka jack kerouac himself (thats right, the main character of jacks book is jack. this isnt a problem i dont know why i said that), is not a likeable protagonist. there is a word to describe his character. it is "hedonist", the shit kind.

at its core, on the road is however many pages of sal paradise getting it on with a bunch of women he descibes as being a bit less attractive than he would have liked, and then feeling slightly guilty about not settling down, and /then/ not doing anything about it to get where he wanted. as jesus would say, "hypocrite".

anyone who knows me (fully untrue) will know that i totally endorse stripping christianity down from its position as a bureaucratic moral-tripping nightmare to a doctrine of love dropped by a middle eastern left-of-centre country bumpkin radical type. even so, i feel like sals, and therefore jacks, interpretation of catholicism is a bit on the lenient side, veering into the territory of using "but im a catholic so god says its okay" in the same way i use jims tab to get free drinks (which i would never do, because its wrong. go figure).

but whatever

its a thing, its done

oh also, ive seen it said that kerouac should be considered in the same vein as graham greene, a tortured catholic who writes tortured catholic epics about the torture of modern catholic life. i disagree. then again, i havent read any of grahams stuff so what would i know? and then again again, they both comment on the sexual potential of minors. so maybe they are similar after all. or maybe im being over the top dismissive of their tortured souls.

critique the third: the third critique

that second critique was pretty short. this one is going to be even shorter, as beyond the writing and whats written, what else is there to critique? ive already vaguely covered the legacy, but this third critique is the legacy.

authors are people, not gods.

part five of on the road, the final chapter, did not redeem the book for me. but it did make me slightly less opposed to sal. it felt somewhat like a cop out, and autobiographically, felt quite unrealistic, given the little i know about jacks life, child, and marriages. the final chapter of a clockwork orange comes to mind. i liked it, it brought the words in a word circle, but it really didnt fit the rest of the book and kubricks decision to cut it from his film was the right one.

jack isnt a literary genius, he didnt do anything particularly impressive except express his experiences as a normal person in a way that hadnt really been expressed well before that point. being a normal person was changing, as normal people could get way richer and most of them were left with very little, but bigger dreams and faster travel opportunities. almost the dream, if you were a young white man.

you can define a generation without being exceptional. please stop saying kerouac was exceptional, half the point was that he wasnt exceptional. he was a nobody who didnt matter, trying to make a way and have a good time, trying to marry loyalty to his friends with loyalty to his other friends, trying to marry, trying to survive, never forgetting to dream.

thats all, really.