Monday, June 11, 2012

Jack Kerouac did NOT write On The Road in 3 weeks!

Click here for yet another example of inaccuracy when reporting about Jack Kerouac's writing of On The Road. As I detailed in my December 9, 2008 post, and mentioned again on November 1, 2010, Jack had been working on the novel for years before his famous 3-week frenzied typing spree in April 1951.

Note that, in the above review for The Age based on the film's airing at the Sydney Film Festival, reviewer Garry Maddox says Kerouac "wrote" On The Road in 3 weeks, which is just not so. Yes, he typed up an entire version in 3 weeks (which was subject to heavy editing/multiple drafts afterwards, by the way), but he surely didn't "write" it in 3 weeks. He was thinking about it and writing portions of it as early as 1947.

This is not to take anything away from Jack's amazing burst of creation during those 3 weeks in April 1951. What an accomplishment! That particular literary artifact is worth millions of dollars today.

But Jack didn't "write" On The Road in 3 weeks. To say that he did undermines the immensity of the actual work that he put into the novel over a period of years.

Garry, let's stop perpetuating myths about it. I've left you feedback via the comment feature at The Age website. I hope you get it.


Gerald Nicosia said...

Rick, I tend to agree with you here. In the famous Northport interview that Jack did at Stan Twardowitcz's studio in 1964, he compared himself to painters who would think about a painting for six months or a year, and then execute it in a day or so. I wish I had the text of that interview in front of me, so that I could give you the exact quote, but I'm giving you the gist of it. So I would have to consider all those years of earlier drafts as the "contemplation of the painting" that finally allowed him to get it down in 3 weeks in April 1951. In that 3-week burst, he certainly broke through to a new style, less adjective-cluttered (as compared to THE TOWN AND THE CITY)--much more direct and letter-like, which he got from Neal's letters. Also, Jack just typed some of Neal's letters verbatim into the text (the one about Neal's broken thumb I remember distinctly), and Jack also typed passages from his own nickel notebooks into the text of ON THE ROAD. Finally, and this is very significant, Jack did go back and revise, and often made these startling little one-line, poetic, haiku-like additions that changed the whole tone and tenor of the book. Instead of just a naturalistic chronicle, a la Zola or Frank Norris or Dreiser, it became this kind of narrative prose-poem, more akin to Hafiz or Omar Khayyam than the American naturalist writers. A few years ago, I was teaching ON THE ROAD to a class at Columbia College in Chicago, and we opened the original published version side by side with the published roll, and again and again those little one-liner haiku-like poetic takes were not present in the roll version--they'd been added later. Again, I wish I had some notes here to give you exact quotes, but I remember one while the boys are driving across Nebraska, I think, on their way back East, and Jack says something like "The moon rose like an arrow over the plains." The roll version is actually much funnier --Cowley took out a lot of the jokes for some reason-- but without those little poetic appreciations it's not the ON THE ROAD so many generations have loved. So I would ahve to agree with you, the book was not written in three weeks.

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

Gerry, thanks for your input on this (especially since you agree with me!).