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Lions Roar : March 2008
SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2008 97 says Leland, “has remained a rite of pas- sage” because “it gives readers something they can use.” The novel “is about how to live your life.” Leland’s On the Road is a set of parables offering lessons on work, money, friendship, love, sex, fam- ily, writing, revelation, and redemption, beginning with the episodes of misun- derstanding and failure that character- ized Kerouac’s first journey and culmi- nating with the end of the fifth and last trip, where Kerouac (Sal Paradise) aban- dons Neal Cassady (Dean Moriarity), the erstwhile mentor now understood as the perpetual adolescent, in favor of a double date to see Duke Ellington at the Metro- politan Opera with the new wife, “the girl with pure and innocent dear eyes that I had always searched for and for so long,” and the sophisticated friends who have no interest in Neal. Leland locates this coming-of-age tale in the tradition of Goethe’s Sorrows of Young Werther, with a touch of Faust thrown in to show that perseverance in toil can undo the Devil’s bargain. This is good stuff, not least be- cause it helps this prof to disabuse his undergraduates of the notion that the Beats proved that you don’t have to be a reader to be a writer. Now here’s the rub. Leland grounds his argument in evidence from Ker- ouac’s letters and diaries, or at least we assume this is the case, because Leland doesn’t cite his sources. We learn, for example, that Kerouac was dismissive of what he called “middleclass subterra- neans.” That’s telling, because it suggests that Kerouac understood the class prob- lem later exploited by FBI Cointelpro operations to fracture the larger youth movement along class and race lines. But where or to whom Kerouac said this we may never know. Leland’s previous book, Hip: The History, a detailed study of a cultural value from its African roots through the succession of hybrids that the pop machine has exploited largely at the expense of any real sense of debt to the African minority, is thoroughly doc- umented, a feature that makes the book valuable for scholars. In order to make use of Why Kerouac Matters, the scholar h h h h h MAR 78-107.indd 97 MAR 78-107.indd 97 12/19/07 2:43:43 PM 12/19/07 2:43:43 PM