There’s been a certain amount of recent debate, in the blogs I frequent, about literature, to use the word in its broadest, loosest sense. On my last visit to W@terstone’s (where I must admit that, unless I’m after something specific, I tend to select the books that are displayed horizontally rather than vertically) I picked up ‘On the Road’, which had somehow evaded me for fifty years.
It’s a rattling good read, and I can understand how it was viewed as experimental, even revolutionary, when it came out in 1957. Today, of course, it’s tame in those terms; and judged against the two criteria in the heading to this post, I thought it was failing on both counts. But then, on page 64 (the well-known test of an unknown book), the following sprang out at me:
“I suddenly began to realise that everyone in America is a natural-born thief.”
Form-wise, even within the subset called ‘style’, it’s a pretty bad sentence. You can’t ‘suddenly begin to realise’ anything, can you? And ‘natural-born’ is a sloppy cliché. But for its content, it’s a humdinger of a metaphor. Is that what the Dream boils down to?
I wonder if Kerouac meant it that way. I suspect he did, and that under the yarns, japes and badinage he had a deeper intent. I’ll finish the book, keeping an eye out for more evidence.