10 May 2006
Land of Oz
Dear Bernard, I realized tonight what a "gonzo" reporter Kerouac actually is. After all, what is The Dharma Bums but a travel book in which narrator & place are continually transposed, with either aspect absolutely crucial in evoking & defining the other? The genre didnt exist when he was writing, in fact he'd naturally call it a novel, as all his writing, though one should say that after Joyce & Proust the novel-of-life imparts a legacy of seriousness for the writer of fiction. The novels of life-as-lived, after Joyce & Proust, and Miller might be a prime example, allow their authors to seriously represent themselves, indeed to be fully present in their own analyses -- but as history, confession, topography, and not the pseudo science in that name. I'm half the book ahead of you in this re-reading (it's around 40 years?) so I've already escaped from the city with Ray (Kerouac), Japhy (Snyder), & Morley (John Montgomery) and climbed the Matterhorn in the High Sierras. And descended -- it's exhilerating!
When I say "travel", I include the journey or quest book that the genre has come to enthusiastically embrace. Inner journey parallels the outer. The "gonzo" slant subverts the public or conventional story -- it delivers the "secret" history. In The Dharma Bums the reader is given a key to the Beat Generation writers, mostly & importantly to Gary Snyder as the Zen Buddhist mountain climber Japhy Ryder. When I read Kerouac I'm also deciphering my beloved Beats, trusting the fiction as much as the ever-growing biography. In the 60s it was simultaneously biography. And we didnt appreciate how close we were to those characters & events. We were first generation readers, reading & emulating as we set out upon our lives.
The power of this book is seen in its basic situation; for instance, "I sat crosslegged in the sand and contemplated my life." Doesnt that grab you? Didnt it always? Isnt that what all art's about? Isnt that always where we were found?
16th May, 2006
Weymouth / England
Dear Kris, Of course the whole dharma bums biz "grabs me". And I think it always did. Only wish I'd been more of a Zen lunatic/hermit -- my persona of Abbot of Goldy Abbey reflects this. Anyway, I'm diverted from my currentreading of The Dharma Bums continually. I've a whole load of books I'm reading concurrently. I'm rereading Bones of the Master (an account of an old Ch'an Master's return to Inner Mongolia), and today George Crane's sequel to this just arrived -- Beyond the House of the False Lama (Travels with Monks, Nomads and Outlaws)-- falls into the groove of TDB nicely, as do the other two books that came -- The Three Way Tavern : Selected Poems of Ko Un , and Vegetable Roots Discourse from Robert Aitken. Hope these don't divert me too much, plus all the diet and macro books. I'll have to just sit and get on and read it. I'm only a few pages in. And you're already half-way through! The last time we read a book together was John Cowper Powys' Maiden Castle. I don't think either of us finished in the end. But this feels different. Is this our true calling?!
P.S. Japhy (Gary Snyder) has written the forward for Ko Un's book. Good that he's still out there doing it.
(to be continued)