Follow Bruce Chatwin's mind as it travels quite pruposefully through time and space, mythology (Western and Eastern), archaeology, and art history, leFollow Bruce Chatwin's mind as it travels quite pruposefully through time and space, mythology (Western and Eastern), archaeology, and art history, leaving a kibble trail of concrete images. A bullet hole in the wall of a divey tavern. A homo habilis skull pierced with two holes corresponding to the teeth of an extinct type of megafauna cat. A styrofoam cooler with melted ice and bloody water from thawed steak. A Frenchman in the Australian bush country hunched over a copy of Proust behind a grocery store counter. Tin shack shanties. Red dust. An aboriginal rock band. The Songlines reads like a textbook on human anthropology meets Kerouac's On the Road meets...??? "Athletic prose" I want to call it. Prose without any extra fat. Chatwin's mind was an Internet of knowledge unto itself....more
So, some beatniks meet up in California. They climb a mountain. they receive cosmic insight en route to summit. Beatniks return to base of mountain anSo, some beatniks meet up in California. They climb a mountain. they receive cosmic insight en route to summit. Beatniks return to base of mountain and disperse. Reconvene in California later for wild bohemian wine parties in the woods. Talk a lot about the void. Womanize. Go hiking. Protagonist hitchhikes to Washington State to spend two months on a mountaintop. Protagonist receives enlightenment on mountaintop.
What strikes me about "Dharma Bums" is how fresh it still seems, how Kerouac was tuned into the West Coast weirdness vibe before hippies were a thing, before "Keep Portland Weird" signs started popping up, before grunge, legalized weed, Ted Bundy, Gary Ridgway, Ken Kesey, or the Rainbow Family.
There is also something that Kerouac does with prose where he mixes different types of jargon together. He can use highbrow poetic words cribbed from Dostoevsky and drop them into Mexican trucker talk he learned while thumbing his way through Juarez. My guess is that this linguistic skill was developed because Kerouac himself was raised in a bilingual household. Language was perhaps for him always a malleable thing that he could bend to suit to his own purposes. The result is a uniquely American voice that can speak to all strata of society. Seriously. Think about it. How many authors feel equally comfortable chilling in a boho coffee house talking shop with Ginsburg as they do seeking Zen enlightenment on the top of a railroad boxcar? Say what you will about Kerouac, he is a multifaceted person, and that's always been his appeal to me. There's some depth there.
Indeed, while "Dharma Bums" primarily a religious book, it is also part travelogue, part hiking memoir, part social commentary.
Kerouac is an underrated figure in American letters, if that's possible to believe. Many people want to relegate him to a mere "beatnik author." But he is more than that. He is a highly original stylist and "Dharma Bums" can stand up to "On the Road" as one of Kerouac's best novels.
Emerson understood that the common man is capable of being a Shakespeare, a Milton, a Homer---this in keeping with the very American (Puritanical?) idEmerson understood that the common man is capable of being a Shakespeare, a Milton, a Homer---this in keeping with the very American (Puritanical?) idea that a man makes his own greatness by self-discipline; that all of the inspiration and tools needed to make a destiny are out there, waiting to be claimed by inquisitive, diligent minds who will take the tools and inspiration and create acts of genius. (Whitman also championed the common man. And John Steinbeck. And Faulkner. That's always where the action is in American literature: where the common man does something uncommon and becomes great for a moment or else damned).
Emerson's self-discipline was an unremitting lifelong effort at sentence craft. He was a poet-philosopher, doling out terse one-liners of self-contained philosophy, making from words neat little parables in simple cardboard boxes that detonate once you fully digest them.
Like this gem of sentence:
"Nothing astonishes men so much as common sense and plain dealing."
I am inspired by E's dedication to sentence craft (like my father-in-law, a musician who daily practices endless variations on piano scales as way to create a "flow state" wherein technical knowledge and appreciation of life, aesthetic reality, are seamlessly in the performer and transferred to the listener).
The takeaway: grammar can influence the minds of the many and even change civilization, when used skillfully and truly....more
Well, shoot-dang, it took me a damn second to get through this boogerin' lost gem of a novel ("gem" in the sense that it is a thing of value, hidden bWell, shoot-dang, it took me a damn second to get through this boogerin' lost gem of a novel ("gem" in the sense that it is a thing of value, hidden beneath substrata of time, and "gem" in it's second connotation as a thing that is multifaceted [like the narrative] and refracts light [or,in this case, words] into dazzling and surprising shapes). A real work of storytelling, "Sometimes" is, and I do wonder how it hid so long in obscurity as it did, away from the Reading Public, when all this time it deserved to be ensconced in the Canon of Time. Might I postulate that SAGN is too "low brow" for some?
Because this is, after all, the sprawling, brawling, drawling story of working-class men of the Pacific Northwest, as well as whores and drunkards and cons and cowards and fools. Works for me. I'm the son of a construction worker, born myself into backwater-rain-slogged-middle-of-nowhere-Cascade-Foothills-Monroe, Washington. The Pacific Northwest regionalism and depiction of class here is my bag, but I don't want to open that can of worms here. All I'm saying is that Kesey captures the language of a certain time and place and makes it sing, makes these vivid characters come to life: sneaker-wearing daydreamer Viv, a reclusive wino bolt cutter ("Horseshit!"), the superstitious and naive(?) Indian Jenny and a whole host, a choir of voices working in a harmony of fiction.
Yes, the language here is at times crass, blue collar, and at times blatantly vulgar but that's the appeal of the book in my way of thinking as, running contrapuntally, or rather, in simultaneous harmony with, the blue-collar talk of Hank Stamper and his log-felling, whiskey-swilling townsfolk is the stilted, ironic collegiate highbrow-speak of his half-brother Leland. To say nothing of the third-person voice of Ken Kesey. This third-person voice is something like poetry. It is the compassionate and unflinching song of human lives told (yes!) simultaneously in real time---a feat (feat!) that I have never seen another author accomplish---made all the more powerful by it's blood and mud and crud realism.
There is no other book that I have read like this book (fun fact: Kesey said that he wrote sections of this book at 30 hours a stretch [!]). If you are thinking of testing the waters with this book, I suggest making yourself read the first hundred pages. If you can get that far you'll be in the rhythm of what Kesey's got going on, a harmonic epic of fraternal feuding, a novel that's as big and robust and wide-spreading as an old growth Douglas Fir ripe for the felling. ...more
Quote: “The poor ye shall always have with ye.” –Christ (= job security for social workers)
Meaning: given that as long as there are humans there willQuote: “The poor ye shall always have with ye.” –Christ (= job security for social workers)
Meaning: given that as long as there are humans there will be exploited persons among us. When read in context (Christ speaking to Pharisee) it seems as if it is a challenge, an incentive to do something about it.
Well, John Steinbeck did do something about it and made a pretty damn good book about what it means to care about the little guy. He wrote an epic-length novel that treats the marginalized with compassion. Particularly moving is his treatment of Rose of Sharon, a pregnant and quite naive daughter of a sharecropper.
Given that society is inherently flawed (by virtue of being composed of men) and will continue to be that way indefinitely, barring any radical governmental change… (Someone once told me, “Capitalism will never work because men are too greedy. Socialism will never work because men are too lazy.” You could make your own formulaic truism along these lines. “A libertarian government will never work because men thrive on order; the lack of rules is not freedom, it’s chaos”, etc. See the common denominator?)…
... Mr. J. Steinbeck seems to champion community as the antidote to the ills of poverty.
What is it called when everyone gets an equal vote?
John Steinbeck is a champion of democracy, through his written words. Thus he is an American writer. ...more