Hit the Road, Jack!
One of the first authors I read when I was a child was Jack London. Like most kids, I started with “White Fang” and “The Call of the Wild”, although my favorite books as an adult are now “Martin Eden” and autobiographical work “The Road”. London had a rich and intense life as a writer and adventurer. He’s the one who gave birth to my interest in American literature and history, in particular the Gold Rush and frontier life. He’s the one who turned my wish to visit San Francisco and California into an obsession. But as I grew up, the more I learned about him, the more I became fascinated by his personnal life. Indeed, every genius has a dark side. London lived life to the fullest, meaning he got lost into excessive behaviors: he put his life in danger many times (thus getting raw material for his books), was a hard smoker and drinker, and also did drugs. The extreme situations London described in his works were very much inspired by his thirst for excess. And now that I think about it, Jack London, in his own way, might be the reason I started reading other unconventional and sometimes controversial authors such as Bret Easton Ellis and Jack Kerouac.
I can’t say I am particularly appealed to the “bad guy type” or to people with a so-called debauched lifestyle. However, I admire people who are living – or lived – a kind of life that is completely different from mine. A life on the edge made of fever, impulse, transgression, never-ending roving, breaking the rules, and crossing the line of fear and conventionalism.
Maybe Jack London is an early precursor of the “Beat Generation”, in the end. Maybe he paved the way for Jack Kerouac to start a literary and artistic movement that still fascinates and inspires the youth today. A movement fueled by adventure and exhilaration.
That’s what I thought as I was wandering through the exhibition dedicated to Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” in Paris.
The exhibition introduces Kerouac’s main influences and inspirations, how and when he started traveling, how the author struggled to submit “On the Road” to the publishers, how his manuscript was received and how the book made it to the big screen. The main item presented to the public being, of course, a piece of the original 120-foot scroll of tracing paper that Kerouac used to type his manuscript*.
Some say he was not a first-rate author. And that’s true, he was not! What makes him brilliant though is that his writing is inhabited, driven by his soul and his deep physical and emotional experiences. He didn’t care about social and writing conventions; he didn’t follow literary and narrative rules. Rather than plot, structure and consistency, he favored rhythm, honesty and spontaneity. He was a man of landscapes, a man of immediacy, and he had an amazing eye for detail. He lived the moment, which is why he wrote his main masterpiece so quickly (only 3 weeks), high on caffeine, on that famous scroll.
I love Kerouac. He lived the life that he chose to live. He was searching for something intangible, almost spiritual. He tried to make sense out of life and wasn’t afraid of anything. These features do not apply to Kerouac only. I’m fond of other authors such as Twain, Steinbeck or Melville because they possess the same qualities and rendered the process of being on an initiatic journey so magnificently. And because for them – whether in their books or in their lives – individuality and friendship mattered equally in that quest for self-discovery.
Some extraordinary people are just like that: they manage to alienate themselves from the quirks of modern society; they choose the intense, brutal path over the safe one while taking the risk of suffering from physical affliction and intellectual saturation as they get older (what Kerouac painfully expressed in “Big Sur”).
But although London and Kerouac paid the price for burning so intensely, they both traveled life like they traveled the world: with an untied mind, body and spirit. People like this, in my opinion, are the real artists of this world.
* The picture of the scroll was not taken in Paris but I find the perspective really amazing!
“Sur la route de Jack Kerouac” / “On the Road of Jack Kerouac” (May 23rd-August 19th) – Musée des Lettres et Manuscrits – 222, boulevard Saint-Germain, 75007 Paris, France – http://www.museedeslettres.fr/
Now on screen: “On the Road”, by Walter Salles.
To be released (stay tuned!): “Big Sur”, by Michael Polish: http://www.imdb.fr/title/tt1462411/