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Lions Roar : March 2008
SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2008 96 his knife into the flesh of his victim, thanked him for the ‘experience’” (Harper’s, 9/15/58), and Norman Podhoretz linked Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg to “the spread of juvenile crime,” asserting that “there is a suppressed cry in those books: kill the intellectuals who can talk coherently, kill the people who can sit still for five minutes at a time” (Partisan Re- view, No. 25, Spring 1958). This rhetoric of violence continued in spite of Kerouac protesting at every opportunity that none of his characters is described as owning a knife, and that he considered himself to be a pacifist. The association of On the Road with a sense of threat to the mainstream was likely exacerbated by events taking place in a San Francisco courtroom at the time of the novel’s appear- ance. Allen Ginsberg’s breakthrough poem, “Howl,” had been published in 1956 by Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s City Lights Press, and the poem’s references to homosexuality had got Ferlinghetti busted for obscenity. The ensuing trial, at which various literati testified to the value of the work, attracted the national press and culminated in a not-guilty verdict within a month of On the Road’s appearance (Viking likely rushed the novel out in order to take advantage of the trial publicity). Taken together, the two events made the Beats famous. The “Howl” trial may have, as it were, queered Kerouac’s scene, but within a couple of months, On the Road went into a third printing. Kerouac’s declaration of pacifism can be related to his interest in Buddhism. In the two years following his completion of the origi- nal On the Road draft, he finished four more novels but was unable to interest a publisher in his work. He began to speak of a desire to withdraw, to live simply as a hermit and write without thought of worldly success. Allen Ginsberg had told Kerouac about D. T. Suzuki’s essays on Zen, which Ginsberg had read while pursuing his interest in Chinese painting. Meanwhile, Kerouac had reread Thoreau, whose references to “hindooism” sent him to the public library. There he found Ashvagosa’s Life of the Buddha. According to his first biographer, Ann Charters, Kerouac re- lated the first noble truth to the suffering of Christ, which had been at the center of his religious thinking ever since, as a child, he had witnessed and then heard rehearsed in his mother’s memo- ries the illness and death of his older brother, Gerard, recalled in the family mythos as a saintly prodigy who had visions of heaven. Leland adds that Kerouac must have seen the truth of suffering as relevant to his frustration at being unable to publish. In December of 1953, Kerouac began taking notes on Buddhist texts. Intended in part to urge Ginsberg to further conversation on Buddhism, the research resulted in a massive pastiche he ti- tled Some of the Dharma (Viking, 1997). By the summer of 1955, he had written a book of poems, a second work of Buddhist- inspired prose meditations, two more novels, and was well into a third. Then Viking bought On the Road. As Leland notes, “The success and attendant controversies all but destroyed him.” Why Kerouac Matters portrays On the Road as a teaching that, id i Create your own sacred space for meditation. Zen Home & Gift Since 1994, Chopa has offered uplifting, Zen inspired gifts for you and your home. Please view our ever-changing collection of over 600 items online at www.chopa.com 1.800.961.2555 - Tatami Mats - Shoji Screens and Doors - Meditation Supplies - Kimono - Home Decor - Zen Gifts MAR 78-107.indd 96 MAR 78-107.indd 96 12/19/07 2:43:42 PM 12/19/07 2:43:42 PM