A Lost Art?

The plot is a road trip, the characters are ordinary folks looking to have some fun. In the end, it’s the quality of the prose that makes “On the Road” by Jack Kerouac such an extraordinary novel.

I read “On the Road” again recently with adult eyes. I mourned a little inside, I must say, reading through paragraph after paragraph of wild narrative. When have I read anything like that lately? When have I written anything like that? Not in a long time for either.

This novel is a large, hairy, flaming ball that roars past. The writing is out of control. Absent are the carefully crafted phrases that pass for writing these days … it seems all writers today are so worried about the critique they’re afraid to say anything at all.

I’ve never studied so-called creative writing but understand that it’s taught through “workshops” in which students sit around in a table and along with the instructor criticize each other’s work. It sounds horrid … a process for institutionalizing mediocrity.

Of course the entire writing apparatus is at fault here. Truly groundbreaking was work done by brave writers, especially those working early in the 20th century… who did literature before it was considered a career.

Now an academic machine exists to try to reproduce those glory days of Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Wolfe. The publishers, meanwhile, want page-turners, gossip and trash.

As I spend more time with writing and writers, I come to appreciate Hunter Thompson and Bukowski, Artaud and Rimbaud, more than ever … they had guts.

But, I digress.

Kerouac’s “On the Road” is written with energy and a pace that exhausts. Yet, there is a musicality to it, each phrase winds like a jazz improvisation … those are Kerouac’s ideas, not mine.

Indeed, there are passages in the book when he captures jazz performances in an uncluttered, authentic way … unstudied sketches that would be impossible today, when everyone is tripping over their own feet trying to be “artful.”

For these many gifts, “On the Road” is a precious book … for readers, for writers and for a long time.

TOMORROW: Figuratively Speaking Friday
2008-05-22 13:41:03 GMT

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