Jack Kerouac is the patron saint of every starry-eyed, born-too-late, wanderlusty hipster scribe who falls in love with the poetry and visionary power of their own inner voice. I may be old and crusty now, but I once fell under Kerouac’s spell and spilled my guts unedited into long rambling prose-poems on existential bliss and tantric Buddhist bebop. Then later I realized something: Kerouac’s Kerouac was very good. My Kerouac? Not so much. You gotta do your own thing. I grew out of Kerouac’s influence and didn’t take much of him with me. Then I realized that he wasn’t always good. That he’d made the mistake of every self-proclaimed genius and stopped letting people tell him “no.” He said so himself, in a 1968 Paris Review interview with Ted Berrigan in which he admitted that all his editors since the great Malcolm Cowley, “had instructions to leave my prose exactly as I wrote it.” Now I know this was part of his method, but sometimes the later Kerouac needed a good editor.
It is a delicate dance, between the inner voice and outer editor—whether that taskmaster is oneself or someone else—and the great attraction to Kerouac is his damn-it-all attitude toward tasks and masters. His improvisational prose is the point (I’m sure someone will tell me I missed it). Kerouac doesn’t just write about freedom, he writes freedom, and for most of us tight-assed worrywarts, his voice is healing balm for our writer’s inner excoriations. 1957′s On the Road is an incredible experiment in process as product (it’s not only a novel, it’s an art object)–a three-week burst of non-stop, uninhibited creativity, so legend has it, and unequaled in his lifetime. And yet despite his aversion to tidiness, Kerouac, like almost every writer, made lists; one in particular is thirty guidelines he called “Belief & Technique for Modern Prose.” I’ve excerpted what I think are ten highlights below, either because they seem profoundly beautiful or profoundly silly, but in a way that only Kerouac the holy fool could get away with. This is not “advice for writers.” It’s a catalog of states of being.
2. Submissive to everything, open, listening
3. Try never get drunk outside yr own house
6. Be crazy dumbsaint of the mind
11. Visionary tics shivering in the chest
13. Remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition
16. The jewel center of interest is the eye within the eye
19. Accept loss forever
24. No fear or shame in the dignity of yr experience, language & knowledge
27. In praise of Character in the Bleak inhuman Loneliness
29. You’re a Genius all the time
Head on over to Al Filreis’ UPenn pages to read the whole thing here:
Josh Jones is a writer and musician. He recently completed a dissertation on land, literature, and labor.