ROADMAP IN 1959: Jack Kerouac

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RonPrice
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ROADMAP IN 1959: Jack Kerouac

Post by RonPrice » Fri Jan 22, 2010 11:12 am

ROADMAP
IN 1959

In the 1950s and 1960s there were evolving etymologies for the word beat. In "The Origins of the Beat Generation," originally published in Playboy magazine in 1959, the year I joined the Bahá'í Faith, the beat poet Jack Kerouac wrote that the word beat originally meant poor, down and out, deadbeat, on the bum, sad and sleeping in subways. He further noted that the word had gained an extended meaning connoting people who "have a certain new gesture, or attitude.”(1) Kerouac suffused the label with positive connotations, a move he later extended into giving "beat" a religious significance. The Beats were for a time, in this evolving etymology, saints in the making who were walking the Earth doing good deeds in the name of sanctitude, holiness and the beatific. There was certainly an element of this in the Bahá'í ethos of the Ten Year Crusade of 1953-1963.

Kerouac had at one stage claimed that "beat" was the second religiousness in Western Civilization that the historian Oswald Spengler had prophesized in his Decline of the West in 1918.(2) But, by 1965, he had changed this view of the beats, the beatniks, the counter-culture and, in fact, strongly denounced its entire ethos. By the mid-soaring sixties he had come to see that generation of dissent and dissenters as the very opposite of Spengler’s second-religiousness. He called it “a soaring hysteria.”(3) -Ron Price with thanks to (1) Jack Kerouac, "The Origins of the Beat Generation," in Don Allen, ed., Good Blonde and Others Grey Fox Press, San Francisco, 1994, p. 61; (2) ibid., p.66 and (3) Ann Charters, ed., Jack Kerouac: Selected Letters 1957-1969, Penguin Books, NY, 1999, p. 464.

Your notion of Beat as a Spenglerian
second coming ended in a very bitter
disappointment—millennialbeliever
whose apocalypse just never arrived.
You denied all political---collectivist
implications for the beats & beatniks.

You had used the term back in 1951 to
describe guys who ran around the land
and country in cars looking for jobs and
girlfriends, kicks and fun.You remained
an on-again off-again beat.....throughout
your life, flirting with many religions but
always infusing them with a dose of your
Catholicism to which you ultimately went
back for its order, tenderness and piety as
you put in in one of your many letters.....

The word "beat" had extended to cover
all of America by the end of the sixties
and most of the world..youngsters used
your On the Road as a search-roadmap.(1)
But you abdicated your status as King of
the Road as well as King of the Beats.(2)

(1) Jack Kerouac(1922-1969), On the Road, 1957.
(2) I thank Bent Sørensen for his: “An On & Off Beat: Kerouac's Beat Etymologies,” in philament: An Online Journal of Arts and Culture, April, 2004.

Ron Price
2 January 2010
married for 48 years, a teacher for 32, a student for 18, a writer and editor for 16, and a Baha'i for 56(in 2015).