Mark Sullivan

September 29, 2007

On the Road

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 8:10 pm

My last three issues of the New Yorker went straight to the trash–but “Drive, He Wrote,” by Louis Menand about Jack Kerouac in the October 1st issue–I couldn’t read fast enough.

I’m so happy that Menand set the record straight on the writing of On the Road. Contrary to popular myth, it wasn’t written in a three week speed-fueled frenzy. Kerouac worked on it for ten years. His cross-country trips with Neal Cassady were research. Kerouac took notes. Read a lot and thought about what he was doing. Putting the unending scroll into the typewriter was a physical constraint he used to force his technique. Menand compares Kerouac to Jackson Pollock. “Jackson Pollock knew that he was not making an easel painting, with all the aethetic assumptions that that implied, when he put a canvas on the floor and poured paint on it.”

But my favorite line in the article is this–”On the Road is a self as self-consciously a work of literature as ‘A la Recherche du Temps Perdu’–and Proust was a writer whom both Kerouac and Cassady emulated, someone who turned his life into literature.” I’m not familiar with Proust. But how is that different from a Christian reading the gospel and trying to imitate Christ in their own life.  Or in the words of St. Josemaria Escriva, “the Christian vocation consists of making heroic verse out of the prose of each day.”

I pray for the repose of Kerouac’s soul.


  1. Okay, let’s see….in three paragraphs we get a mention of:
    1) Kerouac
    2) Pollack
    3) Proust
    4) The Gospels
    5) St Josemaria

    I need to go sit down. The cultural whiplash here is making me dizzy.

    Oh, and for the record, the difference between Kerouac’s imitation of Proust, and the believer’s imitation of Christ is that imitating Christ does not involve copious amounts of heroin. At least in most cases.

    Comment by Conan — October 5, 2007 @ 9:25 pm

  2. Well, sort of. Kerouac eventually came to believe the PR, and his later books never really matched the art of OTR. Dharma Bums is just sloppy, and it gets worse from there. Satori in Paris worked nicely because it had the virtues of brevity and focus. My essay on Kerouac is here.

    Comment by mike — October 6, 2007 @ 10:52 am

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    Trackback by Kelly — July 29, 2014 @ 9:23 pm

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