Jack Kerouac is likely the best known of the beat authors. Up and risen in the 1950s, beatnik culture was considered fringe. Little was understood of it by the so called mundane outsiders. They reclaimed poetry by taking it “back to the streets” from what they considered stuffy, conventional living and sought freedom from what they considered oppressive, conventional culture.
Kerouac writes Big Sur after the success of his previous book, On the Road, which depicts a cross-country road trip of a group of friends. Not adjusting to his new found fame, he finds he needs to get away from the business of life, the city, and a very active party scene to recluse himself at his friend’s cabin, in Big Sur, California.
What he doesn’t count on however, is his need to escape himself. Years of binging and an overly imaginative mind is impossible to set aside and this story is his narration of the following few months. Presented as a stream of consciousness with minimal punctuation (as consciousness is I suppose), you’re amazed at the many detours and distractions it takes.
So even that marvellous, long remembrances of life all the time in the world to just sit there or lie there or walk about slowly remembering al the details of life which now because a million lightyears away have taken on the aspect (as they must’ve for Proust i his sealed room) of pleasant mental movies brought up at will and projected for further study—And pleasure—As I imagine God to be doing this very minute, watching his own movie, which is us.
He takes a thought or idea, then shoots off so far from topic you wonder how he’ll ever find his way back or where he’s going, but the beauty of it is, he always does. It always falls together in a strange albeit uncomfortable clarity. The ramblings of a madman and a beautiful mind can sometimes be confused as they are so clearly linked. In reading Big Sur, a certain type of person (myself included) may think, ‘Oh ya, I recognize this. It is both totally mad and completely beautiful…humm, who would have thought’.
‘You said in 1957 in the grass drunk on whiskey you were the greatest thinker in the world’—’That was before I fell asleep and woke up: now I realize I’m no good at all and that makes me feel free’
He slips into madness. You know it’s coming both because he tells you as much and because you see the signs. You see it in the mind-tangent that goes a little too far, getting stuck in the darkness just a little too long. You may see it coming because you recognize the patterns in yourself and see right where he’s reached the edge. The place where you normally catch yourself and pull back up for air—except he doesn’t. He not only allows you to join him in his journey down and back out again but invites you to. This, and his other reads, are not for everyone but those who would appreciate it, do so immensely.