Hey Jack Kerouac

I was running (really) late to work this morning so I got to listen to NPR's On Point on my drive in. Today's show was about the 50th anniversary of the publication of Jack Kerouac's On The Road. Host Tom Ashbrook spoke with guests Joyce Johnson and John Leland about the importance of the work, the relevance of the story today, etc. Most of the people who called in were older, having read the book as older teenagers or young adults when it was first published, or coming across the story later in life. The conversation seemed to focus at one point on how reluctant academia has been to embrace the novel, or the whole Beat scene in general, and when they do, how they tend to teach, say, Ginsberg over Kerouac. At one point the entire conversation became very nostalgic about, you know, the experience of reading a book back in the day versus today's mediated lifestyle, young folks spending hours and hours online, playing video games, and watching television.

I read On The Road when I was a junior in high school. The book became the subject of my term paper later that year. Maybe it's because I was 17, in high school, living on a military base overseas, but I'd have to say that whole experience was very mediated. I found much of the story to be fairly dark and grim, actually, but I remember being totally seduced by the very romantic notion of traveling west one day, just like Jack. So, sure, that experience became a thing in and of itself and it definitely resonated with my already itchy feet then and now, but reading that book was not all that different from the narrative experience of, say, following someone's travel blog. I almost called in to make this suggestion, that literature is media, too, but hardly lost on today's youngsters (hello, haven't you heard of Harry Potter?).

1 comment:

Neal Grigsby said...

This is especially true for On the Road, which Keroac wrote on a scroll. So are all those nostalgic for the codex version really pining for an inferior experience that was not what the author intended? And those who listen to an audiobook version of On the Road while actually out on the road are clearly deluded into thinking they're really "reading" a book, even though the Beat community was big on verbal performance?

No reading is unmediated, transparent, or natural.