Wednesday, September 7, 2011

No one wants a fellow with a social disease.

Current book: On the Road
Pages read: 1 - 85

Ew. Just ew.

So, Jack Kerouac is apparently the original hipster, and, as such, is obnoxiously irresponsible and proud of himself for it. I'd tell you what happens, but something would have to happen first. I mean, honestly, in 85 pages, the main character, Sal Paradise (Paradise? Seriously? Give me a goddamn break.), hitchhikes from New York to Los Angeles and gets drunk a lot. That's about it. He stops in Denver for a while, where he hits on girls (who are, by the way, pretty much just pieces of meat to Jack...I mean Sal...and he even refers to them as such) and fights with his friends because they're all drunk and idiotic. He proceeds to San Francisco (which he refers to as Frisco, and, though I have never been there, I cringed on behalf of all San Franciscans), where he, you guessed it, gets drunk a lot and fights with his friends. He has no money, because he's wasted it all on whiskey, basically, so he's constantly crashing with people (and by people, Jack Kerouac always means men), hitting on their girlfriends, and eventually fighting with them until he gets kicked out or leaves.

Anyway, he also gets a job as a barracks guard for the navy, of all things, and spends some time discussing how his fellow guardsman are all terrible people with "cop minds." (And normally, I'd be on his side there, because I know what he means by that, but frankly, I was so disgusted with him at that point that I wasn't inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt.) Eventually, he leaves and goes to Los Angeles. On the bus there, he meets a Mexican woman and successfully propositions her. When they get to his hotel room in L. A., however, she accuses him of being a pimp and they have a tawdry little fight before falling into bed together, an experience that Kerouac describes as "having found the closest and most delicious thing in life together," (85), clearly indicating that he has no idea what it is to be in love with someone, if you ask me.

Um. Wow. I hate it a lot. I'm also failing to see the redeeming value of the book (because I'm pretty sure there isn't one). I mean, I get what we're trying to say here, which is that, when you abandon all pretense of social obligation, you can choose your own path and be free to move along it. But frankly, the message so far seems to be that, in so doing, you will waste all your time and money drinking and pissing people off, and mostly you'll be sorry about it later. The narrator often regrets his decisions and is sorrowful and depressed about his circumstances and surroundings. He remarks on how awful bus stations are, no matter where you find them, for example (and you can't deny him on that one), but it's hard not to think, "Well, then go home, for Christ's sake."

I'm sure there are a lot of people who argue for this book being original and saying something about the era that produced it, that it characterizes the desire for freedom and that it lead a whole generation of people to question, pardon my diction, the establishment. I'm sure they're right about the generation of people who paid attention to it, but that doesn't make it original, and it doesn't make it great literature. It's Tropic of Cancer all over again, with fewer drugs and set in America. Original, my ass.

Also, did I mention it's sexist? It's ridiculously sexist. The women are all either "untamed shrew[s]" or simple sex objects, and he often describes "balling" and "banging" them. I have very little patience for that sort of nonsense.


  1. Wow, I thought there were LOTS of drugs in this one. I may be mixing it up with The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test OR you just haven't gotten that far yet. Ah, dissolution, the mid=sixties, freak flags, and all that jazz. Brings a nostalgic smile to my face. How noisy everyone was trying to prove how "dropped out" they were. As I said this morning, I do remember liking this book at the time. I'm not sure what I'd think of it now. "Self-indulgent" is a word that immediately leaps to mind. Looking forward to tomorrow's scathing commentary. I've missed your blog.

  2. According to a conversation I had with Northern Californians last year, "Frisco" is actually an acceptable name for the city, but "San Fran" is right out. If you're really cool, you call it "SF."

    Glad you're back :)



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