Poached Hippos, Kerouac and Burroughs

by katiclops

And so, perhaps appropriately, perhaps not… we begin with the Beat of the Beats…


One of the things I have always loved about visiting other people’s houses are the bookshelves. I have a bit of a perverted fascination with them (don’t worry friends, the paranoia over what others may think of our literary choices is well-warranted!).  Why I “own” books has changed considerably over the years, but increasingly my level of attachment to them has diminished to almost nil. Instead I find they provide conversation fodder and party favours for those who come to supper-a way of continuing conversations and fostering off favourite authors to new friends…(the result often being a bit of a picked-over shelf of books I haven’t read yet, or aren’t worth lending-but at the moment I’m feeling stocked up!).

Last week after dining at a friends I was sent home with a collection of three novels.  The first one I have devoured is this guy. In short, it’s an unpublished Kerouac/Burroughs novel, written in 1945 and only recently published for the masses. Originally I assumed it would be a light breezy summer read, filled with typical clear, concise, detailed passages, describing minute daily details in plain language, interspersed with gems like:

I went into the bathroom.  The June sun was all over the room and when I turned on the cold jet it was like diving into a shady pond back in Pennslvania on a summer afternoon.

 It’s a story about a few friends and a murder-you don’t know who or when, and it’s loosely based on truth.  However (like other Beats I’ve read), the lingering after thoughts have certainly gotten under my skin. One of these, in part stems from:

Phillip had some philosophical idea he had evidently been developing in the course of the evening and now I was going to hear about it. He said, “I’ve figured out a whole philosophy on the idea of waste as evil and creation as good. So long as you are creating something it is good. The only sin is waste of your potentialities.”

It’s about the war, insomuch as it’s not about the war in the slightest. It’s about America in 1945. It’s about being unemployed, with everything and nothing to do. It’s about the bubble of NYC about sex and drinking and being young. I’ve been thinking a lot about the wars recently. As the Baby Boomers encroach on their sunsetting years and the policy problems embedded in that (health care, real estate costs, pensions) raise their ugly heads, I am increasingly viewing that whole generation as one last souvenir from the turmoil. A product of a massive disaster.  It’s crazy that sixty years later, so many of the problems we are facing today are so deeply entrenched in what happened in the fallout of the Wars.

A This American Life aficionado, lately I’ve been tearing through their archives, trying to use this time I have to add depth to my understanding about some major policy issues at stake.  Recently I listened to their episodes on healthcare (391 and 392)-the second episode of which spoke in depth about the insurance industry.  Massive worker shortages, caused by the men injured and away in the War, combined with huge increased demands for resources and products, in turn created a worker’s market of employment.   Industrialization (to a large extent a product of the war), required factory workers (which now encompassed a lot of women). Solution? Ladies have your children (hello Baby Boom!) and consumerism as we know it. Construction industries boomed, home ownership sky rocketed, our thirst for oil increased. Hello suburbia, goodbye environment (let alone to discuss the fallout of the actual fighting).

More and more of the beginnings of these problems (I feel) can be traced back to the euphoria and endless potential that drips from the Beats works.  The optimism and possibilities that stem from this era,`-perhaps the best time– in the twentieth century,” (Anatole Broyard, from When Kafka Was the Rage) are intoxicating: everyone was so happy to be alive.

(Photo c/o the lovely miss Jessa, most of the book was read here and you can read about what she was reading here.)

Years ago, back when the mill still had money and was running training sessions, my dad came home from work one day, energized and bright from a “Change Management” seminar.  He explained, as if he had had an epiphany that there are fundamental underlying differences in values for each generation.  Different motivations, he continued, different incentives that should be offered for each generational strata for worker.  This was probably in the late 90s, maybe even pre dot-com bust…I was beginning to get it, but not really.  Our generation, he explained, is motivated by money, by retirement…but you guys (he wagged his finger around the dinner table at us, his three daughters), will be more like the Boomers, your grandparents.  It’s going to be different for you guys. He continued, chomping away on dinner (likely some type of potato).  Here my memory fades out, but that idea has stuck with me. That my generation, the iGeneration (or Gen Why), not the millenials, but safely out of the Xers, we are going to have more in common with my grandparents.  More and more I am beginning to see this.

The polarity , the class breakdown…what we are seeing now is not unprecedented, but the banking crisis is actually mirrors many of the circumstances pertinent to the late 20s.  The current debt to GDP ratio in the States is not at a huge peak, but rather at the other end of an arc stemming back to the 1929. Facing a pretty abysmal job market, retooling of budgets to account and cushion pensions and the straining healthcare system, iGen is coming up against alot of things that my grandparents would have seen. Save for, (we can only hope not) another major war.

That being said: I love my grandparents and the life they built, not out of much but out of experiences-ice rinks and camping trips.  And I only wonder (if 1929 is to 2012…then 1939…) what is 2022 going to look like? We can only hope for the best. Like the beats, we should soak up as much life as possible in the present.

On a final note, this last quote resonated with me about writing, social change, and life in general…

“Go somewhere with him now. I’m afraid there would be a reaction and I wouldn’t accomplish anything.”

I went over the fireplace and banged my hand on the mantlepiece.

“So you want to wait. Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow-waiting till you’re dead. Do you know what I think? I think this whole Phillip complex is like the Christian heaven, an illusion born of a need, floating around in some nebulous misty Platonic nowhere, always just around the corner like prosperity, but never here and now.  You’re afraid to go away with him, you’re afraid to put it to a test because you know it won’t work.”

No more waiting.