On the Road – The Hipster Bible

On the Road
Ever wanted to travel across America with nothing but a leather jacket, cheap pack of cigs, distressed jeans, and an equally cheap gang of Hardy Boys? Well, now you no longer need to when you just need to read this book.

On the Road is funny bad prose from a traveling hobo. I’ll be honest and say it was an amusing read particularly because of this for a while, but chapter after chapter you start to get into serious deja vu as Kerouac (“Sal Paradise” is his name in the novel) keeps going back and forth across America and experiencing, well, virtually the same things. Personally, I feel the work is severely overrated given so many people’s mid-life crises during its published generation; it must be like the 1950’s version of In the Aeroplane Over the Sea.. At least Howl had some wicked cool metaphors. It also helped that the author was batshit insane. In here however, nothing really happens save for Kerouac documenting his mundane journey with pen names for the people in his life (it turns out he really wanted to fuck over their privacy and publish their real names, but fortunately his editor was a little smarter than that and realized how not to get your ass sued).

On the Road‘s textual subtleties are nil, and it wrongly perpetuates the American standard of ‘cool’ that remains pernicious in modern culture. Sex, drugs, racism, raving madly in jazz clubs, and having a Devil’s threesome—some of these are not things to flaunt (and do so pretentiously), and yet Kerouac feels his three-week-written novel is boastworthy because of how little time he spent on it. The homoerotic nuances were interesting at least; his passages feel more passionate talking about Dean than any of the bimbos he screws. Let that last thought sink in. For a homophobic class which worships this novel so blindingly, that implies somethings about the American populace, doesn’t it?

As a melodramatic idiot back in high school, I did aim to hitchhike across the galaxy world at some marker in my life. However, I later arrived at the sounder conclusion that it simply isn’t worth it. Ever see that episode in the latest Arrested Development season where Lindsay and Tobias go on separate “soul-searching” journeys to India, and only perchance on colossal failures of an enlightenment? That’s how I feel it would be like. It’s really quite unproductive; starters questions like “What is the meaning of life?” won’t get any closer to be solved when you spend months, or even years in Kerouac’s case, talking with bumbling idiots and taking half the time sitting on dirt roads with your pitchblack thumb whicketing in the air. What an American dream.

You may be asking what the hell I’m doing writing about a novel when this is supposed to be an anime blog. Well, it turns out I’m taking the GRE tomorrow morning which I’ve been studying my ass for this whole week, and I can’t be arsed to watch any anime at the moment. This is a nice break from my GRE self-study sessions, and will at least tide things over when I can get started (hopefully) writing about Monogatari next week.

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10 comments

  1. I think you have pretty much summed up all my thoughts on Jack Kerouac and the Beat movement in general.

    1. Hehe, thanks. While I like to bash on beatnik culture, I find it really interesting how it gave rise to that massively coffee shit-stained, horn-rimmed glasses affair—that “you’re one of us if you say you hate us and not one of us if you say you are” subculture. Which is worse than the other, beatniks or hipsters? Both different sides of the same superficial coin perhaps?

      I’m curious what the beatniks would be like in modern society. Would they too listen to obscure indie rock bands, or would they stick with their hallucinogens and wacky jazz? In any case, they both produce some of the most “interesting” characters in history.

  2. I think you’re being a bit too harsh on the book. I’ve only read parts of the book a while back but I did research on Jack Kerouac and your observation is a little one sided considering what things were like back in the 50s, what with the social unrest on minorities against the middle-class, white middle-class to be more specific. It’s not literally saying that we should go on a spiritual journey in order to find ourselves in a much peaceful society, just to show how the weirdos were like back in the old days to break the illusion that the 50s were considered the most prosperous times of America. However, I would recommend some of William S. Burroughs poems to get a better idea of what I’m saying.

    1. And to be fair, Jack Kerouac despised being labeled a part of the Beat Generation.

    2. I feel historical context (or more generally, just context) is important, but it doesn’t mold contemporary criticism as one sees fit. Moreover, that’s simply incorrect. On the Road has nothing to do with “social unrest”, and anyone in the “middle class” hardly appears in the story. All the people he meets are clubbies, drug addicts and jazz musicians, and a bunch of hillbillies. The book also never aims to “break the illusion that the 50s were considered the most prosperous times of America.” This never appears in the novel nor is it one of its minor themes. Further, what does “social unrest on minorities against the middle-class” mean? Nobody’s lynching anybody in the story. Or are you saying Kerouac was being ironic with his racism? Because, well, that’s a little too optimistic.

      What I think you mean is that On the Road is one of the first historically relevant books to criticize American culture. However, let’s make it clear that public reception and influence makes no difference to the quality of a work. This could be interpreted whichever way and bootlegged to fit whomever’s agenda. It still doesn’t mean On the Road, or Catcher in the Rye by extension, are good because they’re different. There will always be books that are propagated by current societal views and there will always be books that are overlooked by them. Kerouac was simply lucky to get published and then ridiculously lucky to become mainstream; most writers—even the great ones—tend to be.

      Evaluating the work itself, Kerouac’s prose for instance is nowhere as detailed or vivid as other books of its time. That shouldn’t even be the lone comparison in the first place, but if we’re sticking to Beat writers, I would say Ginsberg is far more articulate despite my contentions with his content. Honestly, you could make the same excuses to defend Gatsby’s plain metaphors, but it doesn’t make up for the fact that Kerouac and Fitzgerald’s writing abilities are simply average. Of course, this may seem nitpicky about prose when the story content is what matters most, usually. However, if we’re going by narrative, well, there is little to glean from it. Pacing is not one of On the Road’s strengths; I would be hard-pressed finding one.

      Also, I suggest Waiting for Godot. Unlike Kerouac, Beckett manages to make a lack of story convivially entertaining.

      1. From the first paragraph, it seems as though you’re over-generalizing my point. Of course Kerouac doesn’t reference anything about racism or the middle class, but you focusing too much on the novel itself and not the overarching narrative beyond the actual text. That is how I view most literature that are somewhat similar to On the Road, or any other beat novel for that matter, and to call it as something that hipsters love to read in a negative context is quite absurd and silly. You can call me a post-modernist this way but that’s just how my thoughts work out in reading something.

        Now sure it’s quite possible that Jack and Salinger were lucky in publishing something different and got famous for it, but does that really matter? Luck is not a very convincing argument in critiquing a person’s legacy, it takes hard work and bravery to get something like “On the Road” to be published. And yes The Catcher in the Rye is another good example and I happen really like that book, so we’ll save that huge debate another time…

        I thought you liked Gatsby? Hmm, maybe I misread that 4 star rating. But then again I haven’t read On the Road and I hope to soon when I get my hands on it so we can talk about it more when I do.

        Also I happen to know who Beckett is and I love Waiting for Godot, but I would disagree in saying that it’s convivially entertaining because it’s about as entertaining as watching paint dry.

      2. Well, no. If the text doesn’t deal with any subtopic it can’t more extensively be placed into that larger category. You admit Kerouac doesn’t directly reference racism or the middle class, but then somehow by the mere relevance of its time period it does? Then what it is even saying? I’m really not sure I’m the one who’s overgeneralizing here. No offense but I would advise reading the book before having a discussion about its themes and motifs.

        Also just to be clear, I’m not deriding it to go contrarian against hipster or beatnik culture. I lambaste On the Road from the text alone; mocking Beat influence is just a funny side note, well for me at least. Relating this back to recent anime, it’s similar to making fun of Aku no Hana and then the fans. It’s not like my argument is pivoted around fanbase arguments, and I don’t think calling Aku no Hana fans “post-modernists” compensates for overly generous interpretations.

        You’re missing my point here. I thought I was being fairly clear that luck makes no difference to the work itself. You’re offering the pretense that its historical context as well as its influences somehow offers greater depth to the content. I’m saying in On the Road’s case, this makes zero difference. That’s why I went on that “luck” tangent in the first place. :\ Also you’re being too lenient with the effort to get On the Road published (and popular). While there is necessary effort to get a work across all groups of people, every artist faces the same difficulties. This makes Kerouac’s task no less harder than any other published or amateur writer’s.

        Also, I’m not deriding Catcher in the Rye or Gatsby above. I’m simply stating making comments about them. I hate Catcher in the Rye but the remark I pointed out above has had zero impact on why I hate it. Similarly, while I think Fitzgerald sucks at writing, I still found the narrative driven enough to get its point across; this is a matter of content superceding amateur technical skills.

        I suggest Godot because both it and On the Road have the most hilariously stupid paces ever. But one does it better than the other for multiple reasons: plot structure, prose, characters, dialogue, the list goes on and on.

      3. I understand now what you mean. Just wanted to understand your ideas more clearly. Thanks for your time.

      4. No problemo? :3

      5. Well I mean it’s one of those things that I’m trying to formulate my idea but I don’t know how to make it clearer to someone like you. B-but don’t think I’m dropping this because I l-lost this debate! T___T

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