Posts tagged ‘Jack Kerouac’

March 15, 2012

“Essays from the Edge” Meets “Big Sur” Without a Hangover

There’s a fine review by Patricia Hampl of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Essays from the Edge” in the American Scholar. While the excessive use of alcohol is often associated with an impulse to run away from feelings and, thus, an impulse towards cowardice, it is clear that it took great courage to expose his disease by writing these essays. While he did write fiction, it is clear from the writing that he had first-hand knowledge and that these are autobiographical events.

A generation later, Jack Kerouac came up with a novel called “Big Sur” which is a masterpiece of a chronicle of his own “crack up” with alcohol. I imagine he had read those essays of Fitzgerald’s. It’s amazing to me that great writing does not always require a sound mind. Perhaps writing is more than an intellectual exercise—ya think? The Crack-Up was published in 1945 and by then Fitzgerald was known as a great American writer. “Big Sur” was published in 1962 and by then Kerouac, too, was considered one.

Here’s a quote from Patricia Hampl’s piece:
“John Dos Passos was particularly exercised. “Christ, man,” he wrote to Fitzgerald in October 1936. “How do you find time in the middle of the general conflagration to worry about all that stuff?” The “general conflagration,” presumably, was the Great Depression, but also National Socialism and fascism in Germany and Italy, and the Spanish Civil War, which had ignited in July. “We’re living in one of the damnedest tragic moments in history,” Dos Passos steams on. “If you want to go to pieces I think it’s absolutely OK but I think you ought to write a first-rate novel about it (and you probably will) instead of spilling it in little pieces for Arnold Gingrich,” the editor of Esquire, who had commissioned the essays.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Essays From the Edge:

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November 26, 2011

New Works from Kerouac and Woody Allen

Jack Kerouac has a new book out (possibly one he never would have let out of his desk drawer) called “The Sea is My Brother,” which he wrote about his travels in the merchant marine. It’s short, a 158-page work that was unpublished during his life. It was written even before “The Town and The City” (1950) and certainly before his powers as a novelist reached their full fruition. I will probably get time to read that at some point, so I will have a review of it then.

For a better time and a better read, just re-read “Visions of Cody” which is to his own canon, what Finnegan’s Wake is to James Joyce—they are both long novels full of soliloquy from their main characters. For my money, Joyce’s best book is “Dubliners,” while “Cody” is Kerouac’s most sublime long work. In the category of average-length novel, the most over-looked novel of Kerouac’s is “Big Sur.” I believe a movie of Sur is to be filmed in the coming year, but don’t pass up the writing in “Big Sur” to see the movie. The writing you’ll find there is excellent—indeed it’s the best novel ever written about a horrendous drunken week by a horrendous drunk (and there have been a few who wrote well).

Speaking of which, I just read the “Letters of Hemingway, Volume 1” which is a bit of a disappointment compared to the excellent early letters that Kerouac wrote: “Notes from an Underwood,” I believe. I must admit I enjoyed the Hemingway letters to Gertrude Stein—he seemed to pull his best self together for her. She did a lot for his writing. This is quite amusingly dramatized in Woody Allen’s latest film, “Midnight in Paris,” which brings us into the art and literature world of the Parisian 1920s.

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