Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Huffington Post gets it wrong about Jack

This article about Tiger Woods (about whom I care not a penny farthing) claims that Jack Kerouac was a Buddhist. I was forced to sign up as a user of this insipid blog in order to correct the record. Jack did not consider himself a Buddhist. He studied Buddhism. He wrote about it. But he considered himself a Catholic.

That's my understanding from the ton of reading I've done. Anyone disagree?


Tessa said...

Of course you are right! There are so many false stories about Jack on the internet...blogs articles makes me queasy.

Jonny Ross said...

In fairness to the writer of the article, she does say Jack "practiced Buddhism," "at least for a period of his life." Though it's definitely one of the biggest misconceptions about Jack...just look at all those facebook and myspace tribute pages claiming he was Buddhist, that he was a "beatnik" (gasp!), etc.

In the introduction to Desolation Angels, Joyce Johnson (who made Jack shorty after he returned from his cabin stay that ends Dharma Bums -- and opens Angels) makes an interesting observation about Jack's immersion in Buddhism, about how, in the end, he used it as justification for his nihilism, his way of skirting responsibility for his kid. Not the happiest thought, but it gives context to the despair and sense of religious longing that in large part shapes the book. I think it was after that (after On the Road was published, around) that Jack put Buddhism aside, so to speak, and "returned" to his Catholic roots. In books like Visions of Gerald and of course Dharma Bums Jack freely borrows on Buddhist ideas and image as fuel for his writing. By Big Sur he had lost all that, and was relying to a greater extent (this becomes even clearer when read in conjunction with his later letters) on his feelings of parania, bitterness and alcoholism to generate prose and inform his narratives.

Michael Ratcliffe said...

I think you're partially right, Rick. Kerouac was considerably influenced by Buddhism and Buddhist principles. "Mexico City Blues" is suffused with Buddhism and Buddhist references, as are many of his other poems. From my reading of Kerouac's works, and writings about Kerouac, I think he realized that Buddhism had much in common with the more mystical side of Catholicism. Perhaps he could be described as a buddhist Catholic.

Francis said...

I think he may have considered himself a Buddhist at one point in his life, or at least he participated in Buddhist practices such as meditation and mindfullness.

Towards the end he most definitely said that he was a Catholic. And I suspect that even when he was exploring Buddhism he still saw himself as Catholic. They are not necessarily mutually exclusive. When he came down from fire watchching and had that very famous photo taken, he was wearing a cross but it was airbrushed out.

I think when Paul Reps (who complied Zen Flesh Zen Bones)met JK and said he was more zen flesh than zen bones. Or it might have been Alan Watts referencing (as it is called these days) Reps' book.

Rick Dale, author of The Beat Handbook said...

Thanks for all the elucidating comments. In fact, the article does say Jack "practiced Buddhism." I either misread it (or the author has changed the text since I read it originally). Indeed, given what it says, I may have been too harsh. Mea culpa.