Kerouac . . . had been trying to write On the Road for two and a half years before he started working on this version; he’d struggled through several drafts that lacked the necessary immediacy and voice. That’s one reason the book has so much power—it’s the expression of an artist wrestling with a problem, the problem of how to make language and experience explode off the page. As a cultural ideal, though, it’s a disaster, directly responsible for fifty years of careless prose. It may be true, as Kerouac wrote to Viking editor Malcolm Cowley on September 11, 1955, that “what a man most wishes to hide, revise, and un-say, is precisely what Literature is waiting and bleeding for,” but it’s also the case that this kind of “first thought, best thought” authenticity is often little more than an excuse for not putting in the necessary work.
Sunday, September 16, 2007
Fifty years of careless prose
From David Ulin's piece on Kerouac in the latest issue of Bookforum: