Tuesday, July 8, 2014

A Rucksack Revolution

First Page, "Dharma Bums" Manuscript

Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac read by Allen Ginsberg from Sal Paradise on Myspace.

My man Jack Kerouac let it be known back in the 1950s -- 1958 I think it was -- that when the Revolution comes, it will come via a cohort of Rucksack Revolutionaries:
See the whole thing is a world full of rucksack wanderers, Dharma Bums refusing to subscribe to the general demand that they consume production and therefore have to work for the privilege of consuming, all that crap they didn’t really want anyway such as refrigerators, TV sets, cars, and general junk you finally always see a week later in the garbage anyway, all of them imprisoned in a system of work, produce, consume, work, produce, consume, I see a vision of a great rucksack revolution thousands or even millions of young Americans wandering around with rucksacks, going up to mountains to pray, making children laugh and old men glad, making young girls happy and old girls happier, all of ‘em Zen Lunatics who go about writing poems that happen to appear in their heads for no reason and also by being kind and also by strange unexpected acts keep giving visions of eternal freedom to everybody and to all living creatures.
Except my man himself is quoting here, quoting a character in "The Dharma Bums" named Japhy Ryder (a fictionalized version of American man of letters Gary Snyder of Mt Aukum and Bixby Canyon and so on and so forth) who is predicting the surreal events of a Revolution yet to come some years down the road. And so it does.

It does and then something happens to it, to the Rucksack Revolutionaries, who, like Gary Snyder, or like Japhy Ryder, become tamed somehow and take up their positions of honor, trust and majesty, with their awards and sinecures and their hail-fellows. They continue on their Way, to be sure, but they no longer know or practice revolution, rucksack or otherwise. Their dharma caught up with them.

Can't say when I first read Kerouac, but I was pre-teen, 12 maybe even younger. "The Dharma Bums" was first, and it left a huge impression on me, more even than "The Catcher in the Rye" would when I read it later. I remember reading "Dharma Bums," then "On the Road," and finally, when I was about 14, "Big Sur", devouring them really wondering what would come next, and how could anyone write like that?

Now I wonder why no one writes that way any more.

Of course, Kerouac was fucked up on liquor and drugs, a basket case, dead well before his time, aged 47, in 1969.

His later output could not match the three exquisite novels I read when I was barely an adolescent. At least for me his later stuff didn't. Others may disagree.

I know I have a copy of "Big Sur" here at the house somewhere, I remember packing it -- probably in a box out in one of the sheds -- but I doubt I have copies of either "Dharma Bums" or "On the Road" any more.

I find things now and then, though, so maybe if I dig around enough, I'll find them. You never know.

In the meantime, there's a Dharma Bum Temple in San Diego, and for those more Catholic-ly inclined -- we must recall Jack Kerouac was Catholic and never left the faith -- there is the San Juan Diego Friary in Albuquerque which seems so similar in so many ways...

No comments:

Post a Comment