Thursday, January 17, 2008

Beat Vent

Last night I heard famous academic Kevin Starr lecture on Jack Kerouac's connection to Catholicism. What follows are my ruminations on the spiritual path of Jack and other beats.

I, like many youths, went through a rather intense beat-reading period in my life. I read the first two of the Kerouac trilogy (On the Road, Dharma Bums, and Big Sur) dreamed of boxcar-ing, bus-ing, or bumming my way across the country, doing stimulants, having sex without recourse, and straight up digggging everything. I also went through a non-fiction phase, buying two books by acclaimed beat biographer Anne Charters among other books through which I sought to get a better idea of who these writers really were, even outside of their fictional avatars. Of course I know that I’m no expert or scholar on the beats, but I do feel that I have a coherent opinion regarding the general (to clump them together is a crime, I know) beat path to happiness.

This path to happiness was the general point of Starr's lecture, which turned out to be sponsored by a Catholic organization. Thankfully, there was little proselytizing. He mentioned Jack’s French Catholic background early and often and pointed to areas in the works where Jack mentions his spirituality, feels especially holy, or alludes to some kind of final happiness. Even though I know that Starr is by no means the first to make this connection, the argument is, in my non-expert opinion, a huge stretch.

The seeking for spiritual, all inclusive happiness is a foolish enterprise. Certainly even some corrupt Catholic clergymen know that immediate satisfaction and simpler pleasures have worth, even if they do not exactly display that acknowledgment prominently. Ginsberg recognized this fact, I think, as did Ferlinghetti—Neal Cassidy did not. And see who lived incredibly long lives: the beats who lived within the system while recognizing the spiritual and the infinite.

It is no different than someone seeking happiness, even contentment, in something singular, permanent, static—-it’s impossible, frustrating, and often fatal. There are few people who survive this pursuit so extensively, with intense, passionate, happiness-seeking more often than not destructive, turning into an all-or-nothing gamble (especially in a depressive alcoholic like Jack).

Christ is Buddha is the Great Mother is the inner, inner-thing. The journey to find it is itself dangerous but locate it, like facing God straight eye-to-eye, and you’ll end up a small pile of dust. Your bones disintegrate and your journey is over. Alas, Jack thought he saw God everywhere—-and his journey ended with as much grinding and crushing as is needed to turn bones to dust.

Further, Jack’s exultation of sin is subtle! It’s by extension. Things he digs, things he finds holy—-this is where he finds God. And more often than not these things are also often sinful. Alcohol/drug abuse, unrestricted sex with whatever gender, abandoning his child and wife, just to name a few examples. Moreover, these discoveries were often emotion-based and immediate, not discernibly tied to any of the traditionally austere and infinite Catholic versions of the path to happiness.