Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Content and Form


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.

10 comments :

  1. This book is sitting on my shelf, between Roy Keane's autobiography and Milan Kundera's 'The Unbearable Lightness of Being'. I may now need to run through its pages, if only to let it breathe.

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  2. That book is also on my 'to read' list.

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  3. One of those books we assume we've read, but haven't necessarily. I think there's a copy in Ro's room.

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  4. Halfway through. No more insights. Boring self-indulgent juvenilia. May have to dig out Crime and Punishment.

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  5. Barney recently decided he ought to read it. I don't think he was hugely impressed. I think I read some of it when I was at art college but the desire to look intellectually adequate in the eyes of a gangling, hairy student wasn't quite enough of a motive to finish it.

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  6. I'm obviously to young to have ever heard of this and too dim to know what you're talking about. I once read Zen the an and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance though.

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  7. I know that first 'to' should be 'too' and one shouldn't end a sentance with a preposition but I didn't read what I was writing - sorry!

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  8. Mig - I am having this vision of you looking cool, On The Road tucked nonchalantly under your arm ... Nope, doesn't work. Can't see Barney that way either.
    Zig, I'll be happy to explain On The Road to you if you'll explain ZAAMM to me. Deal?

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  9. I'm not Zenophobic but I could always mend my BSA Bantam, whilst the Lambretta was a real pain.
    As for Kerouac I think I'll pass on that, I still have Wolf & the Bodies to do.

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  10. Now, on page 209 "... man, the road must eventually lead to the whole world. Ain't nowhere else it can go - right?"
    Deep, or what? (What, probably.)

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