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MAN OUT OF TIME: KEROUAC, SPENGLER, AND THE "FAUSTIAN SOUL" Michael D'Orso* In Jack's Book, a compendium of tape-recorded interviews with friends and contemporaries of Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg recalls that William Burroughs recommended to the young Jack Kerouac that he read, among other books, Oswald Spengler's The Decline of the West.1 This was in 1944, when Kerouac and his circle of Columbia University friends first began delving into what Ginsberg described as "some kind of spiritual crisis in the west and the possibility of Decline instead of infinite American Century Progress."2 The novels, poems, and articles that Kerouac produced over the next twenty years are all concerned, in one way or another, with this "spiritual crisis" in his society. Throughout his writings, Kerouac displays a dissatisfaction with post-World War II American society and the condition of modern Western man in general, an obsession with the concept of time, and a longing for the innocence of a childhood free of the push and pull of time. At the core of Spengler's gargantuan study was the same theme of contemporary man's alienation rooted in a sense of dissociation from time, and the fact that specific Spenglerian terms and even the German philosopher-historian's name periodically dot the pages of Kerouac's books indicates that Kerouac found in Spengler someone who shared his own perspective. Both men were aware of what they considered the decay of their society, and both examined that decay—one analytically and the other by recreating it in fiction. Spengler referred to his description of restless modern man as the "Faustian soul."3 Kerouac took this Faustian man and showed him as he lived, in all his passion and frustration. Examining Kerouac's work through a Spenglerian perspective reveals Kerouac's intellectual struggle with the concepts of the breakdown of civilization and man's consequent loss of union with time, a struggle that was acted out by the characters he created. Spengler's ambitious work, completed near the end of the First World War, not only attempted to describe the historical evolution of Western civilization but to extend this evolution into the future, predicting, in terms both general and specific, the ultimate destiny of this civilization. When Spengler's two-volume analysis was published in 1926, it was understandably attacked by critics for its proliferation of questionable or unsupported statements; nonetheless, the plausibility 'Michael D'Orso, a staff writer for Commonwealth magazine, did his graduate work at the College of William and Mary. 20Michael D'Orso of Spengler's broadest observations made The Decline of the West a widely read and much discussed work.4 Spengler centered his analyses on the proposition that "civilization" is the sterile, inevitable culmination of "cultural" evolution. He maintained that man had begun as a primitive creature, allied with nature, uncluttered by intellectual thought, and living each moment with no conception of past or future. As he became aware of his surroundings, however, man imposed thought on them, gradually distancing himself from them and losing touch with the rhythm of nature, a pulse which Spengler called the "cosmic beat."5 The evolution of man's intellectual attempts to understand and to define the world around him is a vibrant process of "becoming," or growth, which Spengler termed "Culture." But he asserted that this process is not infinite, that each Culture reaches a point where it has fulfilled its potential, where "becoming" ceases and the Culture has "become." This rigid condition is Spengler's "Civilization": Civilization is the inevitable destiny of the Culture. . . . Civilizations are the most external and artificial states of which a species of developed humanity is capable. They are a conclusion, the thingbecome succeeding the thing-becoming, death following life, rigidity following expansion, intellectual age and the stone-built, petrifying world-city following mother-earth and the spiritual childhood (I, 31). Spengler's words aptly describe the post-World War II American society that Kerouac disdained. In his first novel, The Town and the City, Kerouac established an opposition between the pastoral life of primitive man allied with nature and the "redbrick, neon" sterility of cities and their inhabitants. While cities...


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