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368. Revolution (VIII)

“It’s…it’s fucking Beat poetry,” said my editor when I returned from a press trip to the Finger Lakes. He thought I did it deliberately, to be a writer or something—“So he thinks he’s a fucking writer,” said a senior editor sometime later—but in truth I had just read Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums too many times and listened to Alan Watts lectures on YouTube too much, hypnotised by Anglican-Buddhist sermons set to ambient, well, beats. If you do this long enough you start to drop the definite article: long California-red fingers broke clouds in little valley where red-ripe grapes were picked by mournful Okies. Over on left, great railway tracks ran clacking-clacking eastwards; and glorious bums, content in cheap wine and grapes, stretch out and read funnies. On the road, soon would we be; be-bopping across sad old American highways to meet long-forgotten friends and drink cool beer with wistful Dean Moriarty and make girls.

Julius Evola, the arch-Traditonalist, had high hopes for the Beats—Kerouac in particular. That sounds strange, Evola was an ultra-rightist but rightists usually hate the Beats; they were fathers to the hippies and their improvident ways, hitchhiking about America with no real direction and cadging money from their aunts before, as with Kerouac, ensconcing themselves with ma mère and going full NEET. Where is the responsibility? This is degeneracy, no?

What Evola liked about Kerouac was his mystical bent. For Kerouac “Beat” meant “out of money”, as in “beat to his socks” like a hobo, but it also meant “beatific”—as in the church services of his French-American youth. Kerouac is not really an American writer; he is too poetic for that. His family were French-Canadians; they came down in great numbers decades before and settled in Lowell, Massachusetts. Kerouac knew French before he knew English; he was a Catholic French boy in America—accordingly, he could not settle in this Protestant and mechanical civilisation. He was a man more at home with the Catholic wetbacks in LA than the Anglo-Protestant ascendency. “I just want to…be, man,” said Kerouac; shades of Heidegger there, even in his writing: live on red-dust American heels and tears in neon; life immediate, under sad sad trails. Knock out the verb “to be”, knock out the definite article, and draw attention back Being. Kerouac’s project: write spontaneous, like old Zen artist in Chinee story—or old German philosopher in Black Forest hut.

Kerouac and his crew were very into Spengler. In On the Road Kerouac speaks about “American fellaheen”—a phrase he takes from Spengler’s term for a moribund civilisation. William S. Burroughs, who appears in Kerouac’s novels, read Spengler too and retained an old libertarian sentiment—along with a belief in magic. These proto-hippies were not exactly leftists; except for, ahem, the Jewish Beat, Allen Ginsberg—dubbed “Carlo Marx” in Kerouac’s works. So Kerouac, handsome and on a scholarship for American football at college was no natural degenerate; in his drunken decline he praised “order, tenderness, and piety” on William F. Buckley’s show.

In Kerouac we have a would-be American mystic, mixing Zen and Catholicism with his wine—there was a lot of wine; just as with his fellow alcoholic Alan Watts, drunkenness helps with mysticism. As Watts observed, Kerouac never really got Zen; he just got drunk.

This was because, as an adult revisit to Kerouac shows, he was a terrible narcissist: collapsed in self-pity in this sad, so sad and melancholy world—a phrase he returns to constantly; “in love” with some tart he just picked up on a Greyhound; off on another grandiose scheme; on the road, quitting another job—and, finally, drinking himself to death because he was starved of real experience. He was a poet; he was fascinated with the way everything fades away, as poets are: it made him sad, babe, so sad; so he tried to capture it on the page instead, but he should have killed his ego first—in the end, he only killed himself.


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