Saturday, March 27, 2021

Review of Is Baseball Holy? Jack Kerouac and the National Pastime


We reviewed Gregory Stephenson's The ragged promised land: Jack Kerouac's America back on November 16 HERE. Now comes his latest foray into Kerouac, Is Baseball Holy? Jack Kerouac and the National Pastime (2021, Ober-Limbo Verlag).

Stephenson's book is an extended essay, 39 numbered pages in length, 5+ of which are taken up by endnotes. He begins with a reference to the text for the film, Pull My Daisy, in which "'Peter the saint'" asks of "'the bishop,'" "'Is baseball holy?'" Stephenson then provides a synthesis of authors who have opined on the religious/spiritual nature of baseball. Until I read this synthesis I had no idea so many authors have written about the holiness of the national pastime, from its expression of the stages of the foundational Christian narrative to its mystical proportions. Stephenson's thesis appears on p. 12:
Baseball was for him [Kerouac], as I hope to show, a "sacred space" - a solace and a sanctuary, a source of insight and inspiration, a lost Eden and a promise of Paradise.
He then supports his thesis with examples from Kerouac's works. He rightfully avoids going into an in-depth description of Kerouac's self-invented fantasy baseball league, leaving that to Isaac Gerwitz in Kerouac at Bat: Fantasy Sports and the King of the Beats. Kerouac has an epiphany watching New York Giants outfielder Bobby Thomson hit a "'miraculous homerun,'" and writing in his 1951 journal, "'There was . . . the sudden realization that winning is possible on earth'" (p. 17).

Stephenson proceeds to outline baseball references and their messages from a number of well-known Kerouac works, including On The Road, Doctor Sax, Maggie Cassidy, Desolation Angels, and Old Angel Midnight. I'll leave it to readers to discern those messages for themselves. Stephenson then suggests that Kerouac was the originator of the American baseball haiku and presents the following two with analysis:
Empty baseball field -
A robin,
Hops along the bench

How cold!
- late September
baseball -
the crickets

Stephenson goes on to analyze some short pieces that Kerouac wrote for Esquire and Escapade magazines in 1958 and 1959. At the end he summarizes nicely:
Played under open skies, on lush spring and summer grass remote from ever-running, rushing time and with outfields extending into infinity, baseball must have seemed to him [Kerouac] both the evocation of an unfallen world and a hint of heaven." (p. 33)

With my eyes now opened to the holy aspects of baseball and Kerouac's understanding of same, I'm motivated to go back and re-read a bunch of Jack's descriptions pointed out by Stephenson.

I think readers of The Daily Beat would dig this cool little book.

To get your own copy, click HERE.

No comments: