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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg: The Letters

A murder trial brought them together and launched a friendship that endured even as each became icons of their generation. A remarkable, newly published collection of 200 letters—two-thirds have never been published before—begins in 1944 when Allen Ginsberg was still an undergraduate at Columbia University and Jack Kerouac, four years his senior, was experimenting with writing and breaking into the New York literary scene. The last letter was written just six years before Kerouac’s death in 1969. As Janet Maslin writes in today's New York Times, “The free-spirited energy of their early communications can be seen slowly ossifying into the discourse of eminences too busy being famous to be friends.” Flavorwire has posted a tantalizing sampling of letters and photos from the book:
“Realize, Allen, that if all the world were green, there would be no such thing as the color green. Similarly, men cannot know what it is to be together without otherwise knowing what it is to be apart. If all the world were love, then, how could love exist? This is why we turn away from each other on moments of great happiness and closeness. How can we know happiness and closeness without contrasting them, like lights?”
Kerouac to Ginsberg, September 1948

“The point is that all thought is inexistence and unreality, the only reality is green, love. Don’t you see that it is just the whole point of life not to be self conscious? That it must all be green? All love? Would the world then seem incomprehensible? That is an error. The world would seem incomprehensible to the rational faculty which keeps trying to keep us from the living in green, which fragments and makes every thing seem ambiguous and mysterious and many colors. The world and we are green. We are inexistent until we make an absolute decision to close the circle of individual thought entirely and begin to exist in god with absolute unqualified and unconscious understanding of green, love and nothing but love, until a car, money, people, work, things are love, motion is love, thought is love, sex is love. Everything is love. That is what the phrase ‘God is Love’ means.”
Ginsberg to Kerouac, October 1948
Related LOA works: Jack Kerouac: Road Novels 1957-1960; American Religious Poems; An Anthology by Harold Bloom

1 comment:

  1. “It's literary legend," Jenna Russell reported in the 'The Boston Globe' a while back, "how Jack Kerouac wrote his breakthrough novel _On the Road_ in a three-week frenzy of creativity in spring 1951, typing the story without paragraphs or page breaks onto a 119-foot scroll of nearly translucent paper.”

    That “nearly translucent” buzzed me through the doors of my memory bank and provided all I really need to remember about Kerouac’s unlikely, timely masterpiece.

    Over fifty years ago I was sitting in a blazingly bright all night restaurant on the southwest side of Chicago. It was either the The Beacon or The Wheel, two favorite haunts. My copy of _On the Road_ sat next to a piece of apple pie and ice cream. I somehow remember today these staples of American life were Kerouac's favorite forms of secular communion. The pie was dished up by a tired waitress with a frilly handkerchief in her breast pocket. She called me “hon.” She asked me what I was reading. I stammered my answer then and I stammer it now.

    But what remains clear is that for a long moment during those Nighthawk nights at the equally well-named Beacon or The Wheel, life understood through this book seemed to turn “nearly translucent.”

    Then the military draft got me and the moment was lost for two years and a lot more after that.


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