Kerouac, the Word and the Way: Prose Artist as Spiritual Quester

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SIU Press, 2000 - Literary Criticism - 246 pages
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Jack Kerouac, a "ragged priest of the word" according to Ben Giamo, embarked on a spiritual quest "for the ultimate meaning of existence and suffering, and the celebration of joy in the meantime." For Kerouac, the quest was a sustained and creative experiment in literary form. Intuitive and innovative, Kerouac created prose styles that reflected his search for personal meaning and spiritual intensity. These styles varied from an exuberant brand of conventional narrative (On the Road, The Dharma Bums, and Desolation Angels) to spontaneous bop prosody (Visions of Cody.Doctor Sax, and The Subterraneans). Giamo’s primary purpose is to chronicle and clarify Kerouac’s various spiritual quests through close examinations of the novels. Kerouac began his quest with On the Road, which also is Giamo’s real starting point. To establish early themes, spiritual struggles, and stylistic shifts, however, Giamo begins with the first novel, Town and Country, and ends with Big Sur, the final turning point in Kerouac’s quest.

Kerouac was primarily a religious writer bent on testing and celebrating the profane depths and transcendent heights of experience and reporting both truly. Baptized and buried a Catholic, he was also heavily influenced by Buddhism, especially from 1954 until 1957 when he integrated traditional Eastern belief into several novels. Catholicism remained an essential force in his writing, but his study of Buddhism was serious and not solely in the service of his literary art. As he wrote to Malcolm Cowley in 1954, "Since I saw you I took up the study of Buddhism and for me it’s the word and the way I was looking for."

Giamo also seeks IT—"a vital force in the experience of living that takes one by surprise, suspending for the moment belief in the ‘real’ concrete grey everyday of facts of self and selfhood . . . its various meanings, paths, and oscillations: from romantic lyricism to ‘the ragged and ecstatic joy of pure being and from the void-pit of the Great World Snake to the joyous pain of amorous love, and, finally, from Catholic/Buddhist serenity to the onset of penitential martyrhood."

 

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Contents

ROAD TOWN AND CITY
17
What IT Is?
19
Tearing Time Up
44
The Revelation to Ti Jean
53
The Track of Glory
69
THE NOBLE PATH
83
Gone Beyond
85
6l Icon for the Void
99
Kindred Spirits
131
THE LIFELONG VULTURE AND THE LITTLE MAN
149
Downsizing
151
The Old Rugged Cross
175
Afterword
196
Notes
213
Bibliography
231
Index
239

Ethereal Flower
113

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About the author (2000)

Ben Giamo is an associate professor and chairman of the Department of American Studies at the University of Notre Dame. His previous books are The Homeless of Ironweed: Blossoms on the Crag, Beyond Homelessness: Frames of Reference (with Jeffrey Grunberg), and On the Bowery: Confronting Homelessness in American Society.

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