Saturday, December 8, 2018

Jack Kerouac on this date in 1964

James Joyce

On this date -- December 8 -- in 1964, Jack Kerouac wrote a letter to his friend, John Clellon Holmes. Jack was living in St. Petersburg at the time. He addressed Holmes in the greeting as "Dear John Boyo."

We can glean several important points from the letter.

1. Jack had been reading about James Joyce and was feeling motivated to return to his writing.
I've just finished reading the life of James Joyce and feel it's worthwhile after all to study and struggle through life and suffer and shit and sweat, while people laugh at you, rich or poor, famous or not-famous, and come to the margin of the sea at the end of life and say: "I've got my life work done, annaliviaplurabelle is the belle of all belles forever." Yowsah, John, it made me feel like getting back to my work.... 
But now, in the peace of this, my new Florida study, I'm starting to churn for new work, to add to that long shelf Duluoz Legend, fill in the gap thar between Maggie Cassidy and On the Road and don't think for one minute that I feel inferior to James Joyce because my lifework arrangement is in installments that are eventually going to number in the twenties and that are cast as "narratives in time" rather than as universal and linguistic mellings in 2 long "poems" like ULYSSES and FINNEGANS WAKE. No sir, I got my lil old bangtail way, to arrive at the same sea margin satisfied. (p. 439)
(Jack Kerouac: Selected Letters 1957-1969 edited by Ann Charters, Penguin Books, 1999)

In case you didn't know (I didn't), Anna Livia Plurabelle is a character in Finnegans Wake. I've never successfully made my way through an entire Joyce work, and never even gave FW a spin. "Sea margin" is a nautical technical term about engine power needed to reach a certain speed given the wind, wave, and other factors. Jack may have been using that term as a metaphor for getting things right and reaching your ultimate destination successfully.

2. Kerouac's book, Desolation Angels, was making progress toward publication.
As you know, I guess, "Desolation Angels" is going into galleys now at Coward-McCann's. Twice as long as when you [illeg.] read it (another novel added on to it, the sequel.) I think I told you all this. (p. 439)
We could say a lot here about DA, but I will save that for another post.

3. Jack spent some time in jail.
I've been drunk, John, drunk on Scotch and beer chasers. Enough, now I'm through with that and going back to my private philologies. I went to jail on Thanksgiving night for putting a bun on in honor of the pilgrims. The cops saw me piss in the street. First time in jail. Okay, so I ain't spending no more money on the businesses of St. Petersburg but staying home to work on my private philologies. (p. 440)

I think it's worth noting that here, as in other letters, Jack acknowledges that he has a drinking problem and wants to remedy it.  It's too bad he wasn't able to do it -- the Kerouac canon might be much larger than it already is. By the way, philology is the study of literary texts (I had to look that one up).

4. Jack wanted his address kept secret (this was a postscript).
Keep my address secret--I'm too happy to be back with my books! J.

There are three reasons I can think of for Jack desiring such privacy. One is that he was sorely tired of the hassles caused by fans and the media seeking him out. Two is that he needed privacy in order to read and write (see #1 above). Three is that he liked to keep his whereabouts unknown from ex-wife Joan Haverty, in case she wanted to modify Jack's child support payments for their daughter, Jan (born in 1952). Reasons one and two I can understand, but number three is not okay in my book. You make a child, you support that child. Period.

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