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Wednesday, October 3, 2018

RAW on Kerouac's 'Dharma Bums'

I can't say I was a big fan of Jack Kerouac's On the Road. But now I kind of want to read Dharma Bums, not just because it has Buddhism and interesting Beats in it, but also because of Robert Anton Wilson's interesting review, another great Martin Wagner discovery. Excerpt:

"If you are looking for a story to fill your hours with gimmicks and surprises, go elsewhere (TV will even save you the trouble of turning pages), but if you are looking for a poetic (i.e., simple; i.e., holy) truth about the universe, then read Kerouac, read him slowly, and re-read him carefully. If the word 'God' means anything, every great poem is a partial revelation of the nature of God; and Kerouac has here written a great poem."

Martin, by the way, published the review on Oct. 2, the 60th anniversary of the book's first publication.

1 comment:

Adam Gorightly said...

Dharma Bums is one of my fav Kerouac books. I've read where it was also one of the more edited of his books. It certainly reads that way as compared to On The Road or some other of his stuff. It came quickly on the heels of On The Road, when Kerouac was the hot ticket, and publishers wanted to capitalize on his sudden fame. Sudden fame coming, of course, after writing about a dozen unpublished novels over 10 years. (Town and the City notwithstanding.)

Dharma Bums certainly tapped into the vibe of the times. As RAW noted, Gary Snyder appears in the form of Japhy Ryder. Alan Watts also popped up as I recall. Allen Ginsberg appears as Alvah Goldbook. Some of the scenes from a party in the book really tap into the Beat spirit of the period, a freewheeling scene, part of that overall nexus in the San Fran Bay Area that linked Beats with Buddhism, or what Kerouac called Zen Lunatics.

Climbing the mountain was also great stuff, too. The Mallory character was based on poet Phillip Whalen, as I recall.

One of my favorite paragraphs from Dharma Bums:

“Japhy was considered an eccentric around the campus, which is the usual thing for campuses and college people to think whenever a real man appears on the scene - colleges being nothing but grooming schools for the middleclass non-identity which usually finds its perfect expression on the outskirts of the campus in rows of well-to-do houses with lawns and television sets in each living room with everybody looking at the same thing at the same time while the Japhies of the world go prowling in the wilderness to hear the voice crying in the wilderness, to find the ecstasy of the stars, to find the dark mysterious secret of the origin of faceless wonderless crapulous civilization.”