Monday, August 4, 2008

Visions of Cody

I've been reading a Jack Kerouac bio and realizing - yet again - how he's gotten a bad rap as a writer, trampled by his devotees. Yeah I know, we all wish we could be killed by success but it's amazing how forty years after his death, he still gets so little respect. Even avant-gardists who celebrate Burroughs tend to sneer at drunk Jack.

Visions of Cody is kind of a literary anodyne to false impressions about Kerouac. It was written at the same time as On the Road and works as its companion volume, as it covers the same subjects, Neal Cassiday most of all (I would definitely teach them together). It's a mishmash of experiments in style - tape transcripts, automatic writing, fantasies, multiple narrators, false narrators, you name it. You can smell stale benzedrine sweat and pot smoke when you read it. That said, it also has some of the most beautiful passages and scenes in American literature. There are pages where he so perfectly captures a mood, an immediacy - high in a subway station at 3 a.m., a touch football game on the street, a film shoot in San Francisco - that he recreates what life is like at its most intense moments. Kerouac was no mere primitive - he consciously draws on Joyce but the debt to Proust is more interesting. His fascination with jazz is evident as well. If On the Road is a bop novel, than Visions is 'The Shape of Jazz to Come.'

Kerouac's experimental techniques were very influential on the following generation of writers - Pynchon's prose style comes to mind, or the Cormac McCarthy of Sutree. He's always had a huge effect on me and not always in a good way; with my novels I leaned to much on journal entries. I wanted my life and the lives of the people I know to matter. I guess there's a romantic born every minute.


Jack Goes Forth said...

I'd love to know the name/author of that bio.

Good post Robot Boy.

Robot Boy said...

The bio is called 'Memory Babe.' It's not as good as I first thought. The writer doesn't have much of a feeling for the other Beats and it's turgid in places. Still, the drama and tragedy of K's life comes across.

Erica said...

There is a romantic born every minute; but unfortunately, during the same interval, 2 die. We need ya, kiddo.

Robot Boy said...

I've made it this far, without even breaking a bone.