Kerouac vs. Camus

As a child, the world of the 1950s no longer existed, but you could find vestiges of it in the people, the cars, the buildings, small town way of life, the artifacts, a ghost of it was still there on the American landscape. but none of it exists now. How many of the older kids who went to search for America in the 60s and early 70s did it because of Kerouac or had gone to Morocco because of Camus.

I loved the World War II generation personified by Vonnegut, I love the beat generation, I was too young for the flower children and almost too young for the Disco generation. I hated that I was born too late. I have always hated my own era, the lack of nuance, the lack of soul, the mystery like a black and white film.

I’ve been re-thinking Kerouac and Camus.

To some degree Kerouac is also a French writer, his original manuscript for ‘On the Road’ was supposedly written in French. He certainly has some of the same French-Catholic ethos, and he is  claimed by Francophone Quebec rather proudly…

Contemporaries, I don’t know if they were aware of each other.

Both French expatriates, in a fashion, Camus from France to Algeria by way of generations, Kerouac from France to Quebec to Lowell Massachusetts.

Existentialists? Not to the degree of Sartre or Genet.

Neither Camus nor Kerouac favor the <<être-en-soi>> or the bad faith which comes by seeking to define oneself, nor  do they favor the Genet ‘liturgical drama’ view of coming of age or awareness…

In both Camus and Kerouac, we see a search for higher meaning, for Kerouac it was a metaphysical search for the inner meaning of his Catholic faith, with Camus it was more pointed illustration of social commentary in a near-expressionist style, possibly exposing the anomie which as impetus for social change.

Kerouac, essentially the Jackson Pollock of writers, words thrown at the typewriter on an endless scroll, like Pollock’s throwing of paint on the canvass, (albeit, we know, per L.G.), that he also carefully re-edited his work) yet Kerouac was not an expressionist in the sense of Pollock or Brecht. Kerouac is a narrator, his words almost like a camera, a collage or scrapbook of still shots. With Camus it more like a play.

When I think of both Kerouac and Camus, the word I think of is atmospheric, mindscape, radically different styles, yet part of the psychic underpinning of the beat generation and the flower children…

Sadly, now they are only ghosts, the current revival helps with the movies ‘On the Road’ and ‘Big Sur’.

I ask, again, as there is no good music (that has been allowed to become popular to be fair), the great poet, and virtually no great writers of Americana except for Lauren Groff. If there is we would have heard from them. Where are the writers who seek experience for inspiration? Who has the notebook to keep a scrawl of is it all done on soulless tablets? It’s so bad that some modern writers are actually causing a renewal of the typewriter. The old artists knew that the means of expression was as important to the work as the words themselves. If you are out there, please start writing, get it out there. Your generation needs you.


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