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FOUND TEXT SERIES: Letters From Jack Kerouac Jack Kerouac LETTERS FROM JACK KEROUAC TO ED WHITE, 1947-68 The accepted thumbnaü portrait of Jack Kerouac depicts him as soured and embittered in his later years, turning his back on the ideals of the Beats and most of his old friends. In a Paris Review interview of 1967, he said: Oh the beat generation was just a phrase I used in the 1951 written manuscript of On the Road to describe guys like Moriarty who run around the country in cars looking for odd jobs, girlfriends, kicks. It was thereafter picked up by West Coast leftist groups and turned into a meaning like "beat mutiny" and "beat insurrection" and aU that nonsense; they just wanted some youth movement to grab onto for their own political and social purposes. I had nothing to do with any of that. I was a football player, a scholarship college student, a merchant seaman, a railroad brakeman on road freights, a script synopsizer, a secretary. . . . The community feeUng was largely inspired by the same characters I mentioned, like Feriinghetti, Ginsberg; they are very socialistically minded and want everybody to live in some kind of frenetic kibbutz, solidarity and all that. I was a loner. Snyder is not like Whalen, Whalen is not Uke McClure, I am not like McClure___ There's no "beat crowd" like you say___ what about Scott Fitzgerald and his "lost crowd," does that sound right? Whether Kerouac was iU and disiUusioned when he made these remarks or not, he was teUing the truth. He mythologized the Beats but he never fuUy embraced them. He certainly did not present the Beat Ufe as a formula for happiness. On the Road ends with a turning away from the road, as the narrator Sal refuses to leave on another journey with Dean Moriarty, and has a final vision of him as a lost man, ragged and freezing in his "motheaten overcoat." It was somewhere between such incongruities, and partly because of them, that Kerouac's writing reaUy Uved— between his rhapsodic acceptance and his criticism of the Beat ethic, between the group as a self-conscious Uterary avant-garde and a post-war condition, between himself as a mythologist and an objective noveUst. Even more than most writers, Kerouac was a bundle of contradictions . He sometimes yearned for the stabUity of a middleThe Missouri Review · 109 class Ufe but was never able to maintain it for long. Primarily a heterosexual, he flirted with homosexuaUty. An intense and at times predatory woman chaser, he was also a Ufelong momma's boy who regularly cared for and went back to Uve with his mother. An Easterner, he fantasized about the West and moved to Denver , and several times to San Francisco. A CathoUc, he became deeply interested in Buddhism for many years, before returning to Catholicism at the last. As someone who had grown up a working-class kid of FrenchCanadian ancestry in a New England miU town, he seldom strayed from a conservative bias in his personal poUtics. Yet like many of the leftist writers of the 1930s—Jack Conroy, Mike Gold, Edward Dahlberg, Henry Roth—he wrote about people who floated around, often broke, with laboring jobs or no jobs at aU, and no futures. The seeming unconcern of his characters about security or their futures was their definitive difference, the very thing that made them so fascinating. However, it only went so far, and at those times when the uprootedness and poverty began to bite, when the future went particularly bleak, their stories are surprisingly like the desolate novels of the thirties. Kerouac's great hero was Neal Cassady of Denver. Cassady was the model for Dean Moriarty, and he reappeared under the name Cody Pomeroy in several of Kerouac's later novels. Cassady was variously described by those who knew him as a con artist, a "psychopath," and genius. He was a car thief of epic accomplishments, who had boosted some five hundred cars during his teenage years. He was also an extraordinarily weU-read autodidact, a taker of bennies, a manic seducer of women, as well as the lover of a few...


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