Talkin’ bout m..mm…mmmy Generation
Loren invited me to comment on On the Road days ago, and I agreed with some disclaimers that should probably be voiced publicly. I read at least five or six Kerouac novels growing up and in my twenties. On the Road is the one that sticks out to me now, mostly because it was the first one I read. The memory of it is vague in comparison to things I’ve worked on more recently, but as I read his ongoing commentary I knew I would respond before he asked. I read Kerouac purely as a young reader, not as a critic. My critical tendencies are much stronger now and I knew I couldn’t suppress them anymore than he could. The danger of criticism is that it can slay your heroes.
Diane’s isolation of the themes of the book point out the problematic nature of women’s rights, sexual attitudes, and redemptive journeys in the post-war context. The rules were changing, and it could easily be argued that Kerouac missed the point of what real rebellion was about. The same critique was leveled against the Romantic poets by the Victorians nipping at their heels. The more I thought about it, the more I was drawn into the challenge that each new “generation” faces, and the problematic nature of the concept of generations.
Now that I have a deeper understanding of the ebb and flow of literary history, I thought it might be fun to wade from what I now think of as the “deep-end” back to the shallow, because in many ways I believe what Blake said: “Exuberance is Beauty.” Though I don’t spend much time thinking about these guys anymore, I think it’s possible to look at them critically without killing them.
The post which follows is my feeble attempt to draw on what I know best (the Romantics) to cast some light on the battle to revise the Beats. They weren’t politically shrewd or even stylistically astute. They were, however, energetic. And that energy is for me is the spirit of their age.