Abaixo, segue transcrição de matéria que saiu no NY Times, traduzida do UOL:
Motoko Rich e Melena Ryzik
Entre os livros mais vendidos nos Estados Unidos em 1957 estão Peyton Place (“A Caldeira do Diabo”, em português), de Grace Metalious, e On the Road (Pé na Estrada), de Jack Kerouac.
Ambos foram marcos culturais: Peyton Place como um precursor da moderna novela de televisão e On the Road como conclamação à Geração Beat e, mais tarde, como a bíblia underground das décadas de 1960 e 1970. Hoje em dia Peyton Place é visto pela maioria dos especialistas como uma mera curiosidade histórica, mas On the Road, que comemora os 50 anos da sua publicação, ainda conta com uma vida vibrante nos currículos dos cursos de inglês nas faculdades e nas listas de leitura de verão das escolas de segundo grau, bem como nas mochilas dos jovens viajantes.
“É um livro que envelheceu de uma forma legal”, afirma Martin Sorensen, gerente da livraria Kepler’s Books and Magazines em Menlo Park, na Califórnia. “Um número ‘notável’ de cópias ainda é vendido todos os anos na loja. Certamente mais do que a média para um livro de 50 anos de idade”.
O autobiográfico On the Road, um fluxo de consciência, segue Sal Paradise (um personagem baseado em Kerouac) e Dean Moriarty (baseado em Neal Cassady, amigo de Kerouac) enquanto eles ziguezagueiam pelos Estados Unidos, bebendo, ouvindo jazz e paquerando.
A editora Viking está lançando uma edição de 50 anos de aniversário do livro na próxima quinta-feira (o original foi lançado em 5 de setembro de 1957) e está publicando, pela primeira vez em formato de livro, a versão original que Kerouac datilografou em um pergaminho de 36 metros de comprimento, juntamente com uma análise feita por John Leland, um repórter do New York Times, intitulada “Why Kerouac Matters: The Lessons of ‘On the Road’ (They’re Not What You Think) [“Por Que Kerouac Tem Importância: As Lições de ‘Pé na Estrada’ (Elas Não São Aquilo que Você Pensa)”]. A editora Library of America incluirá On the Road em uma coletânea de “romances pé na estrada” de Kerouac que será publicada no mês que vem. E a Biblioteca Pública de Nova York prestará homenagem ao autor em novembro com uma mostra do pergaminho original e outros materiais do arquivo Kerouac.
Embora grande parte desse material atraia principalmente os aficionados da Geração Beat, On the Road continua tendo uma ampla importância cultural, especialmente para os jovens. Devido em parte às tarefas escolares, cerca de 100 mil cópias do livro são vendidas anualmente em várias edições em brochura, segundo a Viking. E embora a sua era como a bússola padrão da contracultura possa ter terminado (é difícil continuar sendo um militante da contracultura quando se é exibido em propagandas da Gap, como ocorreu com a imagem de Kerouac na década de 1990), o livro durou muito mais do que vários outros clássicos do cult.
Parte do motivo para que o livro mantenha-se firme e forte é o fato dos artistas populares continuarem a citá-lo (a produção de uma nova versão cinematográfica, dirigida por Walter Salles, que fez Diários de Motocicleta [The Motorcycle Diaries, EUA, 2004], deverá ter início no começo do ano que vem). Todo mundo, de Bob Dylan aos Beastie Boys, foi inspirado por Kerouac. Mais recentemente, o Hold Steady, um grupo de indie rock, citou On the Road no seu álbum Boys and Girls in America.
“Com a sua imagem de bad boy e a ética de trabalho irrestrita, Kerouac é como a versão rock and roll de um escritor”, afirma Joe Landry, 31, o vocalista da banda Antecedents, de Portland, no Oregon. Assim como diversos outros grupos, o Antecendents aponta Kerouac como uma das suas influências na webpage da banda no MySpace.
Erick Barnum, gerente da livraria Northshire Bookstore em Manchester Center, no Estado de Vermont, diz que sempre mantém seis exemplares do livro à mão, um número bem superior ao de outros livros tão antigos. “Esse é um livro que a livraria precisa ter nas prateleiras, ou então alguém vai gritar: ‘Como é que vocês não têm On the Road , de Kerouac?'”, diz ele.
Mas ter o livro disponível pode ser difícil: entre os membros do universos dos livros, On the Road é conhecido por ser um alvo freqüente de furtos, afirma Robert Contant, um dos proprietários da livraria Saint Mark’s Bookshop, em Nova York. Contant, que diz ter vendido 36 exemplares do livro desde março – um número que “a maioria dos escritores contemporâneos invejaria” – mantém os livros de Kerouac guardados em uma caixa perto do balcão de informações, de forma que eles possam ser monitorados pelos funcionários. “O livro tem um grande valor nas ruas devido à imagem marginal”, diz ele. “E para os jovens que vêm para Nova York existe uma idéia romântica a respeito da era beatnik”.
Penny Vlagopoulos, uma aluna de pós-graduação da Universidade Columbia (universidade na qual Kerouac estudou), que dá aulas sobre o livro lá e na Universidade de Nova York, diz: “Ainda acho que esse romance é um rito de passagem. Toda essa idéia da liberdade da estrada aberta ainda está bastante viva para os jovens”.
Michael Heslop, 30, diz ter lido On the Road pela primeira vez como aluno do último ano do segundo grau e que relê o livro de dois em dois anos. Em 2004, ele abriu o Kafe Kerouac, um café, loja de discos, livraria e espaço de apresentações artísticas em Columbus, no Estado de Ohio. “Eu queria que o nome do estabelecimento fosse o de um escritor norte-americano que eu admirasse”, conta Heslop. “Jack Kerouac parecia ser a essência do café independente underground, mais do que Hemingway ou Mark Twain”. (Ele também serve uma curiosa bebida Kerouac, à base de avelã, menta e leite. “É difícil batizar café preto puro com o nome de alguém”, diz Heslop.)
Em verdadeiro estilo beat, o Kafe Kerouac organiza sessões de leitura de poesias e de apresentação de músicos, e atrai uma multidão de universitários. Nina Hernandez, 23, uma funcionária do café, leu “On the Road” pela primeira vez um ano atrás. “Gosto do fato de ele não ter se norteado por regras. Ele simplesmente colocou todas as convenções de lado e escreveu aquilo que estava pensando”, diz ela.
Mas Hernandez, estudante de engenharia industrial, também diz que nunca tinha ouvido falar de Kerouac até ter começado a trabalhar no café. E, ela observa, o livro tem as suas falhas: “Às vezes eu o acho um pouco prolixo“.
Nos meios acadêmicos, On the Road tem uma reputação mista. “Não creio que o livro seja levado a sério pela maioria dos acadêmicos e críticos literários”, afirma Bill Savage, professor do departamento de inglês da Universidade Northwestern, na qual dá aulas sobre On the Road há duas décadas. “Mesmo assim, os meus alunos sentem uma conexão bastante pessoal com o livro. Os estudantes de graduação são capazes de fato de se identificar com ele porque vivem em um mundo muito marcado pelas mídias, no qual há a Internet, o telefone celular e o iPod. Existem tantas maneiras pelas quais o indivíduo não está de fato no lugar em que se encontra, e Kerouac diz respeito a estar no local exato em que se está”.
Porém, alguns alunos rejeitam o livro, taxando-o de ultrapassado. Ann Douglas, uma acadêmica beat que dá aulas sobre o livro há mais de 25 anos na Universidade Columbia, reconhece que os alunos não o aceitam como um “evangelho”. “Eles o criticam sob diversos ângulos diferentes, descobrindo, por exemplo, que o autor é condescendente com os mexicanos e as mulheres“.
Mas Douglas diz que o seu seminário sobre o movimento Beat conta com um número de candidatos seis vezes maior que o de vagas, e que o livro ainda tem um forte impacto, em parte porque ela dá aos seus alunos a tarefa de escrever um ensaio autobiográfico com o estilo espontâneo que Kerouac tornou famoso.
“Invariavelmente, os alunos criam os melhores textos de suas carreiras”, diz ela. “É uma conclamação para deixar de lado o temor quanto ao que as outras pessoas dirão e o que a família espera, e encontrar uma voz que seja realmente aquela do aluno”.
Na livraria City Lights Books, um marco literário de São Francisco (ela vende mil cópias de “On the Road” por ano), Lawrence Ferlinghetti, o poeta beat, editor e co-fundador do estabelecimento, demonstra espanto com o sucesso contínuo do livro.
Ferlinghetti, 88, contrasta o trabalho de Kerouac com Look Homeward, Angel, de Thomas Wolfe, que, segundo ele, “é o tipo de livro que você lê quando tem 18 anos e acha maravilhoso, mas quando o relê aos 35 ou 50 anos, fica embaraçado devido ao estilo exageradamente romântico e a exuberância floreada”.
Mas, tendo lido On the Road quando o livro foi lançado e ele tinha pouco mais de 30 anos, e o relido no mês passado, Ferlinghetti afirma: “Pode-se dizer que On the Road ainda tem a mesma mágica”.
A seguir, outra matéria sobre o clássico, tirada daqui.
America’s first king of the road
Fifty years ago Jack Kerouac‘s dazzling novel On the Road became the blueprint for the Beat generation and shaped America’s youth culture for decades. It influenced scores of artists, musicians and film-makers, but how does it resonate with young people today?
Sunday August 5, 2007
On Wednesday 5 September 1957, the New York Times published a lengthy review of On the Road, the second novel by the 35-year-old Jack Kerouac. The reviewer, Gilbert Millstein, called it ‘the most beautifully executed, the clearest and the most important utterance yet made by the generation Kerouac himself named years ago as “beat”, and whose principal avatar he is’.
In Minor Characters, her illuminating memoir of life among the Beat writers, Joyce Johnson, who was with Kerouac on that day in New York, captures the seismic resonance of that single review. She had gone with Kerouac to buy an early edition of the newspaper from an all-night newsstand in midtown Manhattan. In a nearby bar, she had watched him read Millstein’s article, shaking his head ‘as if he couldn’t figure out why he wasn’t happier than he was’.
Afterwards, they had walked back to Johnson’s apartment on the Upper West Side where, as she memorably put it: ‘Jack lay down obscure for the last time in his life. The ringing phone woke him next morning and he was famous.’ Overnight, the Beat generation had gone overground, and the man who did most to define it suddenly found that his book was now defining him. It would continue to do so for the rest of his short life, and for many decades afterwards.
‘Challenging the complacency and prosperity of postwar America hadn’t been Kerouac’s intent when he wrote his novel,’ his first biographer, Ann Charters, later wrote, ‘but he had created a book that heralded a change of consciousness in the country.’ In the few years following its publication, On the Road became a major bestseller. It also, as Kerouac’s friend and fellow Beat writer, William Burroughs, witheringly wrote, ‘sold a trillion Levi’s, a million espresso coffee machines, and also sent countless kids on the road’. Unwittingly, and to his increasing horror, Kerouac had written a zeitgeist book, one that would help determine the course of what would come to be known as youth culture over the following two decades.
‘It changed my life like it changed everyone else’s,’ Bob Dylan would say many years later. Tom Waits, too, acknowledged its influence, hymning Jack and Neal in a song, and calling the Beats ‘father figures’. At least two great American photographers were influenced by Kerouac: Robert Frank, who became his close friend – Kerouac wrote the introduction to The Americans – and Stephen Shore, who set out on an American road trip in the Seventies with Kerouac’s book as a guide. It would be hard to imagine Hunter S Thompson’s deranged Seventies road novel, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, had On the Road not laid down the template – likewise films such as Easy Rider, Paris, Texas, even Thelma and Louise.
Remarkably, On the Road was actually written in 1951 when, so the story goes, Kerouac typed the words over three uninterrupted weeks on to a 120ft scroll of teletype paper, fuelled by Benzedrine and strong coffee. The novel recounts, in a breathless and impressionistic style, his travels to and fro across America, often in the company of his friend and prime influence, Neal Cassady, renamed Dean Moriarty in the book.
In the six years it took for On the Road to be published, American culture changed dramatically: Elvis Presley altered the course of popular music; James Dean and Marlon Brando emerged as a new breed of brooding teenage icon; the painter Jackson Pollock came and went, his action paintings and the intense way he lived some kind of precursor to the ‘nowness’ that the Beats strived for in both art and life.
‘The Beat literary movement came at exactly the right time,’ William Burroughs wrote later, ‘and said something that millions of people all over the world were waiting to hear… The alienation, the restlessness, the dissatisfaction were already there waiting when Kerouac pointed out the road.’
Though undoubtedly ambitious, Kerouac was utterly unprepared for the fame, notoriety and controversy that followed On the Road. He was hurt by the many negative reviews of the book, and by the parodies of the Beat generation that suddenly started appearing on mainstream televison chat shows. In interviews from the time, he is palpably ill at ease, sometimes inebriated. In the most recent biography of the writer, Kerouac: His Life and Work, Paul Mather writes: ‘The obscurity that Kerouac by turn loved and loathed had vanished. He began drinking.’
Twelve years later, Kerouac was dead. The physical cause was cirrhosis of the liver, brought on by years of alcohol abuse. Many of those who knew him intimately, though, suspected that he also died of disillusionment.
‘He was just so sensitive,’ says Neal Cassady’s widow Carolyn, who had a long affair with Kerouac. ‘Everything hurt him deeply. He had the thin skin of the artist as well as the guilt that his Catholic upbringing had instilled in him. In the end, he was just so depressed about how he was being misrepresented, how his great and beautiful book was being blamed for all the excesses of the Sixties. He just couldn’t take it.’
Had Kerouac lived on into old age, he would have been even more appalled at the ways in which his legacy is currently being misrepresented. Two years ago, a range of Jack Kerouac clothing was launched in America. Later this year, the BBC will mark the 50th anniversary of the publication of On the Road by sending the comedian, presenter and self-styled dandy, Russell Brand, and his Radio 2 co-presenter, Matt Morgan, on a road trip.
Thankfully, the anniversary will also be marked in a more reverent manner by the book’s publishers, Penguin, who on 5 September will publish On the Road: The Original Scroll, the full, uncensored text that Kerouac famously wrote in those three frantic weeks. The cast of characters – Allen Ginsberg, Burroughs, the Cassadys – are no longer hidden behind Kerouac’s often wonderful pseudonyms, and that famous opening line, ‘I first met Dean not long after my wife and I had split up,’ now reads, ‘I first met Neal not long after my father died.’
Many of the sex scenes, straight and gay, removed at his publishers’ insistence, have been reinstated too, though they are tame by today’s standards. The attraction that Ginsberg felt for Neal Cassady, briefly reciprocated, is now acknowledged in the first few pages, though in an almost offhand manner: ‘I was in the same room. I heard them across the darkness and mused and said to myself, “Hmm, now there’s something started but don’t want anything to do with it.”‘
Fifty years on, the book is being turned into a Hollywood film, scripted by Roman Coppola, son of Francis Ford, and directed by Walter Salles who made The Motorcyle Diaries, the story of Che Guevara‘s road trip across South America. Kirsten Dunst will star as Carolyn Cassady.
Nearly 40 years after his premature death, then, Kerouac lives on – though in some odd and often contradictory ways. As is the case with Guevara, his legacy is contested, his cultural meaning blurred. At the Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado, for instance, where the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics is housed, they will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of On the Road with a three-day Kerouac festival. The last remnants of the Beat generation, or at least those fit enough to travel, will be in attendance.
One of the organisers, Junior Burke, chair of writing at Naropa, recently described On the Road as ‘one of the truly defining works of American fiction’, comparing it to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, but adding: ‘Instead of two guys on a raft on the Mississippi, it’s two guys in a Hudson Hornet on the highways of America. I think it’s something that young people still relate to.’
For many young people in America, though, the name Jack Kerouac means nothing at all. In an age where youth culture is increasingly defined by consumerism, where the road trip has been replaced by the gap year, and where it is considered radical to be cool but not cool to be radical, whither Jack Kerouac and his beatific vision?
‘It struck me when I was in Thailand last year that no one is even pretending to be beat any more,’ says the young British novelist Hari Kunzru. ‘You’d quite often see white guys with dreadlocks pulling wheelie cases down Khao San Road. The great adventure that was travelling overland in the Sixties and Seventies has become a middle-class ritual. The notion that you would throw yourself at the mercy of the road, and by doing so, gain some self-knowledge or even maturity, is long gone.’
Carolyn Cassady, the last surviving member of Kerouac’s closeknit coterie of friends and fellow Beats, now 84 and exiled in deepest Berkshire, is even more scathing about Noughties youth. ‘It’s all about money and surface now, the clothes you wear, the things you buy, and no one is the slightest bit ashamed of being superficial. I often thank God that Jack and Neal did not live long enough to see what has become of their vision’.
When I was a teenager, though, On the Road was the bible for any aspiring bohemian, a book that was passed on from one generation to the next almost as a talismanic text. I was given a battered copy by an older friend and, even before I read it, knew that it carried within its pages some deep, abiding truth about youth, freedom and self-determination. On the Road instilled in me a belief that, in order to find oneself, one had to throw caution to the wind and travel long distances with no real goal and very little money.
A few years later, I passed the same copy on to my younger brother, and was incensed when he passed it on to a friend who left it on a bus. I can see the irony now but back then I felt that something bigger than just a battered paperback had been lost. It was in this word-of-mouth way that On the Road, even long after its initial publication, became one of those rare novels that was often read by people who do not read novels as a rule. It may be that this is still the case, but I doubt it. Harry Potter is today’s zeitgeist book. The Beats and their wild adventures seem light years away.
And yet, for all that, On the Road continues to be read. What was once a zeitgeist book, though, and one that defined a transformative moment in postwar culture, has become a historical artefact. It may even be the case that today’s teenagers read On the Road in much the same way that my generation read Laurie Lee‘s picaresque rites-of-passage novel As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning – as a glimpse into an already distant past when things seemed simpler.
When I asked my 20-year-old niece, Lucy, if she had read it, she nodded. ‘I liked parts of it,’ she said, ‘but it seemed so old-fashioned.’ Did she connect with it in any way? ‘I suppose it does make you feel like you had missed out on something.’ This, she added, was a familiar feeling among her generation. What was that something, though? ‘Oh, some kind of meaning. It’s set in a time when travelling across America and smoking weed or whatever meant something. It was a statement.’
Hari Kunzru, who ‘came to the book late and found it almost cringey in its emotional gushiness,’ agrees. ‘I was aware of its cultural weight in the canon of alternative literature before I read it, and even though I never had an intense love affair with it, there was no denying that the lives these guys lived was properly edgy in a way that my generation’s wasn’t. They were transgressing in a very real way and doing dangerous things at a time when the risks were high. To me, the lives were often more interesting than the writing.’
While living in New York, Kerouac met the varied bunch of characters and fledgling writers who would later become the Beat generation, the likes of Ginsberg, Burroughs, John Clellon Holmes, who is said to have coined the term, and, most significantly, Neal Cassady. Kerouac had grown up in a relatively stable family. Cassady, on the other hand, had been brought up by an alcoholic father, and sent to reform school several times in his teens for stealing cars.
To Ginsberg and Kerouac, Cassady was the real thing, an authentic free spirit at a time when authenticity – of experience, expression, vision – was all. ‘Neal was an energetic and instinctively brilliant, self-educated guy with a photographic memory,’ elaborates Carolyn Cassady. ‘But, because of his background, a lot of the more academic Beats didn’t like him, didn’t trust him. Both Jack and Allen were blown away by him, though, his restless energy, his love of life, the way he talked, the way he lived purely for the moment.’
Cassady epitomised the consciousness that Kerouac had christened ‘beat’ as early as 1948. The word had two connotations for Kerouac: ‘beat’ as in worn out by the conventions and constrictions of straight American society; and beat as in ‘beatific’ – blessed, holy, transcendent. The Beat writers had a shared vision that rejected many of the formal values of the accepted canon, and elevated energy, flow and engagement over reflection, refinement and detachment. In doing so, they also reflected the dissatisfactions of America’s postwar young.
Willam Burroughs, who was older and colder than the other Beats, saw the Beat generation as a media construct as much as an organic flowering of a shared transgressive vision: ‘Those arch-opportunists, they know a story when they see one, and the Beat movement was a story, and a big one.’ Following the crossover sucess of On The Road, Kerouac became the centre of that story, constantly referred to in the press as ‘king of the Beats’ and ‘spokesman for a generation’. And, though he was eager for literary recognition, he was also the most ill-suited candidate for this kind of canonisation, at least until the similarly elusive Bob Dylan came along a decade later. Dylan, though, managed to reinvent himself continually. Kerouac tried many times and failed.
In the end, Jack Kerouac outlived Neal Cassady by just over a year. Cassady, the man who had truly defined the essence of Beat, whose restlessness, amorality and manic energy had so inspired Kerouac to create his freeform, rhapsodic prose, was found dead by a railway track in Mexico in 1968. He had kept on moving, though, had even stamped his personality on another movement, Ken Kesey‘s LSD-fuelled Merry Pranksters, whose Day-Glo bus he piloted across America and had ended up in another zeitgeist book, Tom Wolfe‘s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.
Kerouac died in 1969 in St Petersburg, Florida. He had lived long enough to be blamed for the excesses of the Sixties generation, for whom he felt no empathy. According to Carolyn Cassady: ‘Jack was essentially conservative, patriotic even, but not in any heavy-handed way. He was old-fashioned. I never once heard him swear. People who write about him can never seem to get a hold of the consciousness of that time, which was restless and questing, but also oddly reserved and responsible. His intention was not freedom without responsibility, but freedom of expression in art.’
Which begs the inevitable question, does On the Road stand the test of time? Is it a great work of literature? Ann Charters thinks so, comparing it to both Huckleberry Finn and The Great Gatsby, as a novel that ‘explores the themes of personal freedom and challenges the promise of the American dream’. Likewise the American novelist, AM Homes, who wrote recently that ‘Kerouac was the man who allowed writers to enter the world of flow… his philosophy was about being in the current, open to possibility, allowing creativity to move through you, and you to be one with the process’.
Hari Kunzru disagrees. ‘On the Road is such a patchy book, like much Beat writing, in fact. The whole heart-on-the-sleeve romanticism is off-putting, even embarassing. Apart from some really brilliant descriptive passages, it just does not stand up. It’s become a different book now, a historical artefact rather than a living, breathing work of literature.’
When I re-read On the Road recently, it did indeed seem to me to be a different book from the one that I had so connected with as a teenager. The gush of emotionalism was apparent, and the narrative no longer held my attention in the same way. And yet there were moments of great descriptive prose about America, about jazz music, about the sheer joy of being young and alive, and about the fleeting freedom of the open road. More surprisingly, there was an undercurrent of great sadness and disillusionment that I had not picked up on, or chosen to overlook, first time around. It seemed, in its final part, to be an elegy for Kerouac and Cassady’s youth, for their friendship, which ends in a kind of betrayal, and for the fabled road of the title that had promised so much but, in the end, delivered so little.
Kerouac: On the record
1922 Born Jean-Louis Lebris de Kerouac in Lowell, Massachusetts to French-Canadian parents.
1939 Entered Columbia University on a football scholarship but dropped out in 1941.
1944 Arrested for helping Lucien Carr dispose of the body of David Kammerer, whom Carr had stabbed to death. Released on bail, put up by girlfriend Edie Parker after he agreed to marry her.
1950 Published first novel The Town and the City to respectable reviews but poor sales.
1951 Wrote On the Road
1957 Hailed as the voice of the Beat generation, after On the Road was finally published to ecstatic reviews.
1960s Moved to Florida to escape media attention and care for his mother. Wrote a series of lesser-known autobiographical novels.
1969 Died aged 47 from internal bleeding caused by cirrhosis of the liver.
They said ‘Someone handed me Mexico City Blues in 1959 and it blew my mind. It was the first poetry that spoke my language.’ (Bob Dylan)
‘That’s not writing, that’s typing.’ (Truman Capote)
He said ‘The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous Roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.’ (From On the Road)