On the Road Part 2

In the late 1940s, when the world was recovering from the Second World War, waves of young men came home with their perspectives forever changed by what they’d seen of loss, evil and chaos.

Many of them had also seen the larger world beyond…and their borders shifted outward.

Jack Kerouac did not serve in the war, but he served in the Merchant Marines and on ships; he also worked on the railroad.

These days in our country showed us moving gradually from subsistence days to times when we could think beyond our families and farms. The Great Depression was a close event that tossed a lot of core values aside. A sense of rootlessness set in for some. Greenwich Village and New York City became a hub of new ideas.

Kerouac himself was something of a machine in terms of facts, ideas and memory. Indeed, Gerald Nicosia’s biography of him is titled “Memory Babe,” and he called himself “the Great Rememberer.”

Now these memory feats offer a sound basis for understanding the kind of mind we’re dealing with in “On the Road.” Kerouac created baseball leagues in his mind that played games and even a world series; he had stats and data on all nine teams.

So when we consider “On the Road” as a work in progress for several years, we can see it was a work he may very well have held in his mind, intact, for a long time. Word by word.

When he sat down at the typewriter in spring 1951 and completed the scroll of “On the Road,” it was a unique moment in literature: It was a performance.

The novel that resulted represents a clear glimpse at creation in its immediacy. Few authors have done anything like this — except perhaps the French poet Rimbaud, who wrote as he experienced the mental storms that gave us “A Season in Hell.”

These are moments of spark and genius.

AHEAD: Enough introduction already … Just what is the book about, anyway?

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