Wednesday, 17 September 2008

17 September 2008

bug’s name was Neal Cassady and I was off on another spurt around the road. We packed my sister’s boxes of clothes and dishes and a few chairs in back of the car and took off at dark, promising to be back in thirty hours. Thirty hours for a thousand miles North and South. But that’s the way Neal wanted it. It was a tough trip and none of us noticed it; the heater was not working and consequently the windshield developed fog and ice. Neal kept reaching out while driving seventy to wipe it with a rag and make a hole to see the road. In the spacious Hudson we had plenty room all four of us to sit up front. A blanket covered our laps. The radio was not working. It was a brand new car bought five days ago and already it was broken. There was only one instalment paid on it too. Off we went, north to Virginia, on 101, a straight two-lane highway without much traffic. And Neal talked, no one else talked. He gestured furiously, he leaned as far as me sometimes to make a point, sometimes he had no hands on the wheel and yet the car went as straight as an arrow, not for once deviating the slightest bit from the white line in the middle of the road that unwound kissing our left front tire. I didn’t realize this was going to be the case all the way to California before this new season was over. It was a completely meaningless set of circumstances that made Neal come and similarly I went off with him for no reason. In New York I had been attending school and romancing around with a girl called Pauline, a beautiful Italian honey-haired darling that I actually wanted to marry. All these years I was looking for the woman I wanted to marry. I couldn’t meet a girl without saying to myself, “What kind of wife would she make?” I told Neal and Louanne about Pauline. Loanne suddenly leaped to the situation. She wanted to know all about Pauline, she wanted to meet her. We zoomed through Richmond, Washington, Baltimore and up to Philadelphia on a winding country road and talked. “I want to marry a girl” I told them “so I can rest my soul with her till we both get old. This can’t go on all the time…all this franticness and jumping around. We’ve got to go someplace, find something.” “Ah now man” said Neal “I’ve been digging you for years about the HOME and marriage and all those fine won-


Martin Glaz Serup said...

Hi Simon,

How is it, to retype the whole thing, physically - a kind of meditation every morning? How long time does it take? Are you bored? Or? Anything?

All the best,

Marin (Glaz Serup)

information as material said...

Dear Martin Glaz Serup,

Thank you for your comment on the blog and the additional questions/comments you sent to me via e-mail. I will try and answer your enquiries here.

Martin: “How is it, to retype the whole thing, physically - a kind of meditation every morning? How long in time does it take? Are you bored? Or? Anything?”

Like a series of footnotes, I have been trying to write down my thoughts on re-typing Kerouac’s book as I go along. Kenneth Goldsmith whose own anecdote was the inspiration for this work has asked me for a book report.

Goldsmith: “Please keep track of this project - how it makes you feel, how it affects your subsequent writing, how it alters your relationship to Kerouac's production, etc. - and let us know.” With that in mind, I’ve been jotting down my thoughts as I go along.

Timewise it takes about twenty minutes a day to physically input the data and there are approximately 400-450 words per day to be retyped.

Martin: “You do know that the 21 day marathon-thing is a part of a mythology, right? That was like his third draft or something”

When I started retyping Jack Kerouac’s book, I read everything I could get my hands on about Kerouac and his best known literary novel. There were several essays at the front of both editions of On the Road that I read and heavily noted. In On the Road: The Original Scroll (2007) there is an essay by Howard Cunnell entitled, ‘Fast This Time’, an essay by Penny Vlagopoulus entitled ‘Rewriting America’, one by George Mouratidis entitled ‘Into the Heart of Things’, and one by Joshua Kupetz ‘The Straight Line Will Take You Only to Death’. And in the Penguin Modern Classics edition, an introductory essay by Ann Charters. Certainly, Howard Cunnell’s essay is intended in his words to “displace mythology and recover Kerouac as a writer.” So, yes I’m very aware that Kerouac completed earlier drafts and filled notebooks over several years prior to the sweaty twenty-one day literary marathon (additional draft) which was then subject to countless further revisions. From these essays, I’m also aware of the other works that informed his own creation, whether that be writers like Melville, Dostoyevsky, Whitman and Joyce or Neal Cassady’s own long ‘Joan Anderson and Cherry Mary’ letter. But for me, this is still a very expressive act, the continuous scroll and the frenzied pace of its construction, not unlike Jackson Pollock’s technique for completing an action painting. I know Kerouac was interested in Budhism and I see his preparations as the preliminaries of a zen master, getting themselves in the right state of mind in order to create. This from Eugen Herrigel’s book Zen in the Art of Archery:

"A painter seats himself before his pupils. He examines his brush and makes it slowly ready for use, carefully rubs ink, straightens the long strip of paper that lies before him on the mat, and finally, after lapsing for a while into profound concentration, in which he sits like one inviolable, he produces with rapid, absolutely sure strokes a picture which, capable of no further correction and needing none, serves the class as a model. A flower master begins the lesson by cautiously untying the bast which holds together the flowers and sprays of blossom, and laying it to one side carefully rolled up. Then he inspects the sprays one by one, picks out the best after repeated examination, cautiously bends them into a form which exactly corresponds with the role they are to play, and finally places them together in an exquisite vase. The completed picture looks just as if the Master had guessed what Nature had glimpsed in dark dreams. In both these cases-and I must confine myself to them-the Masters behave as if they were alone. They hardly condescend to give their pupils a glance, still less a word. They carry out the preliminary movements musingly and composedly, they efface themselves in the process of shaping and creating and to both the pupils and themselves it seems like a self-contained event from the first opening manoeuvres to the completed work. And indeed the whole thing has such expressive power that it effects the beholder like a picture. But why doesn't the teacher allow these preliminaries, unavoidable though they are, to be done by an experienced pupil? Does it lend wings to his visionary and plastic powers if he rubs the ink himself, if he unties the bast so elaborately instead of cutting it and carelessly throwing it away? And what impels him to repeat this process at every single lesson, and, with the same remorseless insistence, to make his pupils copy it without the least alteration? He sticks to this traditional custom because he knows from experience that the preparations for working put him simultaneously in the right frame of mind for creating. The meditative repose in which he performs them gives him that vital loosening and equability of all his powers, that collectedness and presence of mind, without which no right work can be done. Sunk without purpose in what he is doing, he is brought face to face with that moment when the work, hovering before him in ideal lines, realizes itself as if of its own accord." Eugen Herrigel, Zen in the Art of Archery, Routledge, London, 1953, p.60-62

In spite of Kerouac’s preliminaries, it should be clear that the play I’m making is made in relation to this particular version of On the Road: The Original Scroll published for the first time by Penguin Books in 2007 and edited by Howard Cunnell, and yes, of course there are many different versions, before and after the 1951 scroll. As Cunnell mentions in his introductory text, Kerouac recalled he: “went fast because the road is fast.” (On the Road: The Original Scroll, London: Penguin Books, 2007, p.1) Between April 2 and April 22, 1951 he had written a 125,000 word full-length novel. Where as this draft was completed at great speed as a continuous flow of prose, an unbroken paragraph on a scroll, my copied text is retyped methodically, slowly and chopped up into daily posts on the blog. Kerouac felt like the poet Hart Crane that his writing was hampered by having to change paper at the end of a page (Ann Charters, Introduction, On the Road, London: Penguin Modern Classics, 2000, p.14) where as I would suggest, my reading up to this point in my life may have been hampered by a lack of breaks and the disjunctive nature of a daily post allows me to meditate fully on his words which I make my own through tracing, copying and pressing myself up against - the same letters in the same order.

Interestingly, Howard Cunnell also makes the link between Jack Kerouac and Jackson Pollock:
“Kerouac’s clattering typewriter is folded in with Jackson Pollock’s furious brushstrokes and Charlie Parker’s escalating and spiralling alto saxophone choruses in a trinity representing the breakthrough of a new postwar counterculture seemingly built on sweat, immediacy, and instinct, rather than apprenticeship, craft and daring practice.” (On the Road: The Original Scroll, London: Penguin Books, 2007, p.2)
Mythology or not, Kerouac certainly made this version of his book at great speed, the sentences piling upon themselves like waves (Cunnell’s analogy). Kerouac is supposed to have said in conversation to John Clellon Holmes:

“I’m going to get me a roll of shelf-paper, feed it into the typewriter, and just write it down as fast as I can, exactly like it happened, all in a rush, the hell with these phony architectures-and worry about it later.” (On the Road: The Original Scroll, London: Penguin Books, 2007, p.23)

Cunnell puts it beautifully when he says this version of On the Road (The Original Scroll) “does not call into question the authenticity of the published novel but is in dialogue with it and all other versions of the text.”

Martin: “And you’re really working with two fingers? I’m working with… let’s see… No, they can’t perform when I look…6-7 perhaps, I don’t know, maybe less… ”

I like the play of Kerouac’s frenzied expressive act (“He could type faster than any human being you ever saw.” – Philip Whalen) against my slow methodical re-typing of a page a day as a form of meditation. In Darren Weshler-Henry’s The Iron Whim: A Fragmented History of Typewriting, he notes in his chapter ‘Acceleration: Typewriting and Speed’ that Kerouac could supposedly type 100 words per minute. So, in the construction of my own ‘mythology’, it’s nice to suggest this is a two-fingered act, but in reality I’m using a few more fingers. Like you, I’ve never counted the exact number of fingers being employed at any particular moment. I’m certainly not a touch typist and have never had any formal training.

Martin: “I can see on your blog that you're typing like a mad man! That seems... hmmm... promising, at least, it's like the daily sign of life from you, as if we, the readers, were your mom, and as long as you just call home every morning we're assured that nothing has happened to you ;-)”

I love this comment from you which positions the readers in the role of my Mom and it resonates for me as I would compare my act of retyping as similar to the practice of the artist On Kawara who would often send his friends postcards and telegrams with simple messages such as: “I am still alive” and “I got up at 8.24am”.

In terms of manufacturing mythologies, I have told several people in an excited manner that “this is the most thrilling read/ride of my life”. This is both true and untrue. Certainly, I have never paid any single book this much attention and having never read Kerouac’s book, the unfolding story is certainly a pleasurable experience – it’s a great read. Not only do I type it up, word for word, each day but I then proof read each page, checking for mistakes before posting it on the blog…so each page is being re-typed and read several times. By the nature of things, it is not always a welcome task. When you are tired and ready for bed, and you remember you have to type up your daily page, it can be a bit of a drag. For example, I haven’t done today’s page and I have 58 minutes left before I turn into a pumpkin! But the level of scrutiny that the daily activity has opened up to me in my reading has drawn my attention to certain characteristics in Kerouac’s prose which in my normal reading style (greedily sucking on words) I’m fairly certain I wouldn’t have noticed. For example:

1. Narrative unity is maintained by the ever presence of the road throughout the novel. Not only is Kerouac constantly on the move, from East to West etc but the words ‘On the Road’ are often repeated, constantly bringing us back to the title of the work. For example, in the first 104 pages of the scroll the words “on the road” occur 24 times. In most films or novels, the title often comes in once at a certain point in the film and you notice it because it is the title of the film and those words have a particular resonance. In Kerouac’s book, the words ‘on the road’ are chanted like a mantra and their repetition keeps you moving through the text, along the asphalt from East to West.

2. Narrative progression is also maintained by giving us titbits of what is going to come later in the novel…p.182 for example “I was on the verge of entering that great buzzing valley of the world, the San Joaquin, where I was destined to meet and love a wonderful woman and go through the craziest adventures of all before I got back home.” Events that are about to be recounted are introduced, pushing the narrative on for the reader.

3. Kerouac’s fragmented style of writing, his personal shorthand allows the reader to complete the sentences. For example when re-typing the following words by Kerouac: “The counterman- -it was three A.M.- -heard us talk about money and offered to give us the hamburgers free. I notice I had added the word 'for' free to the end of the sentence and then had to delete my addition. This has happened on more than one occasion. And there is, of course, the possibility that I haven’t caught all my additions and have left some extra words inbedded in Kerouac’s text.

An interesting point was raised by Sarah Kent in an e-mail to me when she questioned whether there was any room for female readers in Kerouac’s head:

Kent:“My point was a sort of timesaving hunch or guess that the girl in the [Kenneth] Goldsmith story was well out of it after one piece of writing and a class because there's no girl in his head and there's no room for a girl in his head and he writes and he types because he doesn't want a reply and that reading needs at least a car to get into and go but he's not stopping for her to get in.”

The dynamic nature of the blog as a medium allows for passengers like yourself and Jannie Sue “Funster” to come along for the ride. In Jack’s words: “Sure hop on, ’s’room for everybody.” The blog certainly allows room for everybody but unlike hitchhikers, the driver can’t decide who he wants to pick up or motor on past.
Overall, I’m finding it a most interesting/stimulating engagement and a worthwhile one and I will try and formalise my thoughts at the end, when I reach page 408 on March 22 2009.

Thank you for your interest and your comments which are very much appreciated.

Your friend,