some thoughts on a book.

15 Mar

I finished On the Road this afternoon. It is, to me, a book of travels that mimics an inner journey. Like Kerouac’s outward journeys across America, and later, to Mexico, which followed no rational patterns, make no sense as they criss-cross the continent, so too is his search for meaning. They are chaotic, senseless, driven by some phantasmal impulse to “Go.” This impulse to “Go,” is  to find “IT,” as Kerouac’s friend Dean Mortiary said. But what is “It?” Even the two close friends couldn’t come to a definition together. It’s mysterious, beyond the confines of some dictionary, moving and waiting to be discovered by two very alive men. It seems “IT” lay imbetween their live-for-the moment philosophy, somewhere in those chaotic, half in their mind half out of it moments. They see it flickering, sometimes, but it doesn’t appear they ever came to the glorious destination they all thought the road would lead to.

For all the appeal no responsibility, live-for-the moment philosophy would have for people, it didn’t satisfy Kerouac, nor his friend Dean. Rather, it left them depressed. Toward the end of the book, Kerouac’s talking about a photograph. In it they look neat, tidy. He says maybe someday their children would look at that photograph, which would have become frayed and discolored, and think what ordered lives their parents led. Of course this is not at all their life. Kerouac goes on to say something that for me, reveals a lot about him. He says, “Never dreaming the raggedy madness and riot of our actual lives, or actual night, the hell of it, the senseless nightmare road. All of it inside endless and beggingless emptiness.”

I’m not sure I’ve heard sadder words than these, to call the road one’s been on their entire life, “the senseless nightmare road.” To describe an emptiness so deep, so pervasive that it’s without beginning and without end? It sounds, quite literally, like hell.

Kerouac died at age 47, of alcoholism. For all his beautiful language, his shattering of all previous literary style and for all his confounding fame, which even he didn’t understand, his life ended just as he described it years before, a nightmare. Perhaps because his search for IT no longer mattered. The road had no end. It just continued.

And he couldn’t see what it all meant.


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