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The Path to Cultural Enlightenment: Writing, Literature and Music Finds the Miracle in Its Magic


57 Years of Jack Kerouac’s 1957 Novel On the Road Comes Home

Jack Kerouac On the Road on Books of the Southwest Path to Cultural Enlightenment

Originally published 5 September 2014

September 5, 1957

In the summer of 1957, 57 years ago this summer in California, just as Lawrence Clark Powell, a renowned Southwestern author, bibliophile, and head librarian at the University of California Los Angeles was putting out the first issue of this journal Books of the Southwest, there was a tidal wave (having arrived from the East Coast) building there along the coast in California.  Lawrence’s good friend, novelist Henry Miller was now living there nearby, having come from the cultured, war-torn, mores-liberated Paris through New York City, his boundary-breaking novels including Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn still banned in the U.S.  In San Francisco that June--the month of the first issue of BSW--both the City Lights bookstore manager and publisher who put out Allen Ginsberg’s Howl and Other Poems were arrested.  Ginsberg’s obscenity trial, whose vindication would lead to Miller getting published in the US, was two months later in August.  A little further up the coast Jack Kerouac, who would say that Henry Miller was his biggest influence, was alone on a mountain in nearby Washington writing Desolation Angels and waiting for his ground-breaking On the Road to be released, the moment in which the tidal wave would hit full swell.  Kerouac was about to disrupt the consciousness of America in a hard, radical and irreversible way, setting off immense criticism and rejection, an on-going personal and literary battle in a trajectory that would not only define a way of being for the Beat Generation, but also influence the Counterculture upheaval of the 60s and inform art and music from jazz to the beginnings of rock n’ roll on to Woodstock and back to San Francisco and Laurel Canyon, reverberating coast to coast.   While these historical facts and influences are well-known, On the Road’s arrival in the summer of 2014, here to this 57th year of Books of the Southwest that was quietly nearby at the beginning, shows that Kerouac’s personal and literary ordeal to write and create culminates back here in the same quiet, yet in a profound and unexpected way.    


From the literary view point, the ground-breaking influences over time leading to Kerouac’s work that play a pivotal role into how he was able to take writing further, the social post-war total loss-of-belief yet somehow hopeful zeitgeist of the times, Kerouac’s dogged adherence to a writing process of spontaneous prose incapsulating vitality into words that live and act upon us and change us as music does, his personal determination to capture something untouched about the extreme beauty and exuberance of being alive, as well as his devastating personal struggles, are an immensely important demonstration of a process of the necessary, excruciating battles to break free from thought’s constraints and out into fuller, richer, uninhibited awareness.  While this effort can be witnessed parallel both in his writing and in his life, it is also viewable as the cultural phenomenon emerging over time through writing and naturally in the alive and transportive form of music as a force finding its way to this greater awareness, coming to bear in our journey now.  

At each step, the confines of what can be known--and therefore lived--were/are being tried and removed and something unimaginably more all the while becoming possible.   The path of movement towards more untold freedom can be seen for America prominently since WWI, not dying out or becoming superficial, as it would appear, but transforming here. The aftermath of the extremes of the literature and music of the sixties and seventies make it appear that the cultural awakening was taken as far as it could go, with and without mind-enhancing drugs, and therefore appears that by the 80s and 90s the hopes and aims of those eras had dimmed and the surface of things became more prevalent, radically so much so that the path of Andy Warhol’s vision of a mass culture factory producing popular art out of humans--the machine creating the artist instead of the artist creating--seemed to be coming true.   Even Kerouac felt a failure and misuse in the outlooks and approaches of the following Hippie generation stating in a television interview, “You make yourself famous by ‘down with this, down with that, throw eggs at this, throw eggs at that' . . . take it with you.  I cannot use your abuse.  You may have it back” (What Happened to Jack Kerouac? Documentary 1985). He knew that what he had written about the beauty and suffering of existence was “pure” and that it was leading somewhere.  He wrote the drive of his writing was that, “There was something out there I needed to get to.”  He had discovered something of the magic in his words when he wrote in On the Road, “ . . . and all the people dreaming and the immensity of it . . .”  Where there was so much hope felt, he was not alone in feeling the path going in an opposing direction in the subsequent reactionary outlook in the 60s that was mainly against things--government, war, and religion.  In 1967, Joan Didion  described the loss and disorder of the end of the 60s in her essay “Slouching Towards Bethlehem,” her allusion to the disillusion in Yeats’ poem “The Second Coming” from 1919 about the upheaval in Europe caused by the emptiness and chaos of war, a void and emptiness she was feeling while visiting Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco.  However, from an artistic perspective still prominently felt generations later, the epitome and seemingly unsurpassable had been in the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and the Grateful Dead whose studied music given free rein touched upon something real, soulful and palpable with a vision and movement steadily carried on by the likes of George Harrison, Pink Floyd, and Crosby, Stills and Nash among many others.   There was a powerful, forceful undercurrent for intense creative exploration and uniting expression, a building dynamism and a breaking through into something very real.  Later, even mythologist Joseph Campbell attended a Grateful Dead concert in Oakland and said, essentially, this is it, stating: “Holy God!  Everyone just lost themselves in everybody else here!” (The Mythic Dimension 185).  About this revelation Campbell stated: 

wonderful innocence and the marvel of life when it recognizes itself in harmony with all the others.  Everyone is somehow or other at one with everybody else . . . this is the world’s only answer to the atom bomb.  The atom bomb is based on differentiation: I-and-not-that-guy-over-there.  Divisiveness is socially based.  It has nothing to do with nature at all.  It is a contrivance and here, suddenly, it fell apart (185).


Instead of marches against the bomb, here was a uniting force still on a path of exploration of freedom and unity, undaunted aspects of the American spirit powerfully moving on in art.  This concert was the expression of a necessary cultural ritual and common uniting participation in being one and in being alive that Campbell had seen through centuries of humanity but thought it was lacking in our time because Americans were no longer inspired by rituals or ceremonies or informed by a working mythology.  The society had indeed experienced Yeats’ line, “Things fall apart.”  In the 60s Jim Morrison had been intent on this expansion in the experience through music, this “breaking on through to the other side.” “Further” than this, then, it seems, is unimaginable.  Still, the writers and musicians were pointing the way and are a part of our way.  The journey is still on.  


It can now be seen that this literary and musical process has continued to alter the self and culture and, even due to what seems like personal and cultural chaos or even failures--this being an integral part of an all-important on-going process towards what America was first leading to--is also the path to enlightenment mirroring what is in plain language described in the Jed McKenna trilogy Spiritual Enlightenment:  The Damnedest Thing, Spiritually Incorrect Enlightenment and Spiritual Warfare.  In short, literature and music has over time been expressing, and finally, demonstrates the process of moving towards the one and only free and authentic way of being and creating.  This freedom can only be seen or known past the ego, when one takes the road for oneself, or, culturally speaking, when a culture like America has tried everything that does not work and still tirelessly burns its way towards freedom. McKenna shows that the struggle is not towards what is wrong, but instead towards what is true.  Instead of outward battles, the art was moving towards taking down the old limitations in human belief systems inside the place where it is strongest:  inside the socially constructed mind.  In operating in a natural way with the universe instead of out of the will-bound, limited ego, the limitations known personally and in artistic endeavor, in creation itself, only then can become unbounded and are capable of having that powerful uniting effect.   Without ego, the art can take on a life of its own and those who come into contact with it can participate, walls non-existent.  Even walls to eternity can disappear.  When it happens in this kind of writing, it alters a culture, as can be seen in the masterful innovations in this time in literature and music in taking down the rest of the boundaries.  Essentially, it alters awareness and therefore life.  This is evident in the history of the art of western civilization from jazz through rock n roll and especially becomes prevalent after the World Wars and Cold War steadily moving towards the west coast to what was being created in California’s music and literature.


In the unorthodox, no-holds-barred liberating, and ego-shattering Spiritual Enlightenment trilogy (2002, 2004, 2007), the pseudonym author, Jed McKenna, lays out the process by which, over a length of tumultuous time of ripping apart the constructs of his own life and existence and grinding relentlessly down to the essential and unwavering truths of being, he brutally fought his way through all social and mental belief systems, rejecting everything false or made up in his path, to become completely aware of an entirely different mode of being and operating that removes any divisions from himself and that of all being.  He describes this process as a “slow and agonizing process of self-annihilation” (The Damnedest Thing 140).  Going past Buddhism, Hinduism, and all world teachings and religions, McKenna clears the mental landscape to discover that once he has removed the constructed self, the universe has no divisions or opposition and instead, operates in such a way that “Nothing is random or chaotic, only fully perceived or not.  There is no disorder.”  He writes, “there is a flawless, perfect intelligence governing every detail of the dreamscape of being, from the smallest to the largest.  There is order, consistency, intelligence; there can be no violation or mistake” (Spiritual Warfare 15).  He finds that humans have encapsulated themselves so heavily by seemingly impenetrable thought systems that they miss out on the phenomenal and powerful natural state of being.  He describes humans as “spirits have a sub-human experience.”  McKenna writes, “There is no other freedom than to cast off egoic restraints and live in accord with what is” (Spiritual Warfare 85).   Beautifully, he states, “Nothing is wrong.”  He finds everything to be exactly right and operating in a perfect order.  Because this process dissolves everything humans think they know, it is important that McKenna assumes the pseudonym, as in this way there can be no rejection or “following”--one either discovers it for him or herself or one doesn’t--there isn’t any other way.   This forces that judgmental grip--like the one crushingly applied to Jack Kerouac’s writing and life--loose.  He writes, “Think for yourself and figure out what’s true.  That’s it.  Ask yourself what’s true until you know” (Spiritually Enlightenment:  The Damnedest Thing 271).   In the writing McKenna shows how a writing process he calls Spiritual Autolysis, beginning by writing one true thing and continuing writing until all constructs are gone, leads one through all fears of no self to find that there is no self or reality as one thinks one knows it.    The process takes the white-knuckled grip egos think they have over their lives and pries it loose to “relinquish the illusion of control” (Spiritually Enlightenment: The Damnedest Thing 133). He not only comes to accept death, but also shows it as a primary part of living completely necessary to comprehending the phenomenon and value of existence.  Importantly, he shows that as far as he has gone, there is nothingness--and no need to act like one is steering a life.  In fact, steering would interfere.  His arrival there to full realization of “what is,” after the arduous process, he simply calls the unadorned “done.”   At that point he is nothing and at the same time the same as the universe, part of the flow, the ocean of being, no one at all and everything all at once.  It is by no means easy to get there, attractive, or inviting.  He does not recommend ripping apart one’s life in this way unless one has to.  In this vein he suggests acceptance of “human adulthood,” growing up from childish ego-restraints, and that be the goal instead of the nothingness of enlightenment.


What McKenna writes about is a brutal process to get to the true state of being, free from ruling thoughts, opinions and judgments and human assumptions to find one’s rightful way of being.    The process becomes the ultimate ordeal because one begins to find that it includes taking apart everything he or she previously thought to be true.  As one takes apart the rigid structures heavily fortified in the ego, one also finds extreme pressure applied from all the people and demands in his or her life to continue to believe, perform and conform--to the breaking point.  It is at a breaking point when something can actually start to happen.  In a goal-oriented society (as opposed to transformative, change-oriented and one that is on a journey) pushing oneself to dismantle the self is deemed insane and absolutely counter-productive.  McKenna finds the opposite to be true.  He confronts deep “rational” depression in people who are struggling as a moment to discover what is true.  It is a harsh process that is not pretty, desirable or comfortable.  It is essentially an ultimate act of rebellion against one’s own ego in order to break free internally--where the real things are--and everything in the path must go.  It is also extremely rare for any human to break free from all that has been taught and against what he or she thinks is valuable or real and to finally begin to discover a natural order in the universe free from human will.  McKenna discusses this inner battle like the one in the Mahabharata in which Arjuna must take up arms against all that he has known, including what he never imagined he could take up arms against.  This inner battle is very much the grandest war because it is taking all outside forces and removing them.


The process McKenna describes is what can also be seen in the development in art, literature and music towards always pressing boundaries, pushing past barriers of assumptions, pulling down walls towards this unrealized ultimate breaking free from the constricting and limiting ideas and finally, moving in the direction of going past the idea of self to what can be known once beyond those rigid limitations of what we assume it means to be human or to be powerful, to be spiritual or to be alive.   It requires a devastating clearinghouse because it removes the remover.  In this way, works of art are part of synergy.  They push on in a movement towards what is true.    It is important to note in this transforming cultural consciousness that this dramatic change also, as it must within the self, begins with the devastating dissolution of ideals. In this way, the loss of the hopes of the 1960s begins to make sense.  This process can be seen in art, literature and music with an intensity especially becoming dramatic in the western world in the time since the devastation of World War I.   While in the history of humanity art and artist have continually operated outside the restrictions of social norms opening up new paths, a shift in consciousness occurred when the first world war in Europe revealed the unthinkable in a civilized society:  decimation of cities, homes, neighborhoods, families, lives, almost entire generations of young men slaughtered, the vigorous and full of life, even poets, the best and the brightest blown out of existence by blind human aggression.  The juxtaposition of societal reaction on each side of the Atlantic Ocean after the war is telling about where the art would go--the American side would turn towards embracing jazz, flappers, and women’s suffrage--the Roaring Twenties, in what seemed like a superficial way after a devastating war--while the expatriate writers in Paris, the “Lost Generation” would take on the void left by the devastation of war, further taking apart what was left in the mind.  While Europe was dealing with the actualities of the aftermath of war--destroyed cities, vulnerability and death and a subsequent feeling of the disbelief it left to existence, in America, the continent that had stayed aloof from actual bombing of the streets and had experienced vast financial growth, knew only to revel in its newly found material excess, a movement towards life, however vacant, the coping borrowed from the greatest of survivors:  black American musicians.  The literature needed to take it further, the music was helping bring it back.  


Similar to the personal devastation in the process that McKenna describes where the constructs of beliefs are dismantled, it was after the first World War that from a place of desolation and the loss of beliefs that existence was humbled and something of  possibility in consciousness laid bare.  In such devastation, the previous beliefs systems were no longer holding true. The ideals that had propped up thought and identity were loosened and a new void of nothingness opened.  It is no wonder, then, that in the 1920s American society approached the devastation in the way it did, removed in this way, and why not exploring the depths would be unappealing to writers who had seen the front line and bodies blown apart and now needing desperately to write something true.  It was an opportunity for new realization as they were facing the starkness of existence. The writing reflects a poignant recognition of harsher truth, a more essential existence and a internal requirement to rise to the occasion.  The reality of war and death was reshaping what it means to live, to create, and to write because it opened up an unexpected view of reality:  God, church and state were not going to rescue them.  Death became an element of life that gives value to what it is here and the devastation connects all that is.  While Vietnam and the threat of nuclear warfare in the Cold War would later bring it closer to home in America, it was not until in New York City in 2001 that destruction would alter the American comfort into something of an awakening of experience.  For the writers after World War I in Paris, this knowledge and insight was now a mandatory urge to go further--further in the mind and further in the process of writing.


It is well documented how writers such as Ernest Hemingway, who was wounded on the Italian front in WWI, found America’s being unaltered and undaunted by the actualities of war unattractive even irksome in the face of human devastation and slaughter. Being alive and writing took on a new focus.  Hemingway set out to write “one true thing” and developed his technique of taking out anything that could be removed.  The setting of Paris itself provided what was conducive to writing:  no judgements against what held importance or meaning, cafes that gave the feeling of being united to humanity, atmosphere that supported in a comforting fashion the life of the mind that now had to face finding a new way.  The lifestyle lent itself to writing and was not ruled by American imposed standards of morality or even judgements about work ethic.  It was a place for the freedom of exploration.  The writers were taking a step into an unknown darkness while American society turned towards what appeared to be frivolity.  The superficiality following the war and the realities of living as such was not a choice for those writers needing to be closer to living and writing the truth--to be at the heart of experience where one could feel what it truly meant to be alive--if it could mean anything at all.  Now outside the confines of the old belief systems, the place open and supportive to this exploration, the processes and act of writing itself took on new significance and changes were possible.  

Breaking free from the mental confines of religion and state, James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916) stretched the boundaries of the novel with its growth of consciousness that took a step for the individual human as the source of independence outside judging forces such as Joyce himself experienced in Ireland.  Hemingway explored existence in this cultural situation in The Sun Also Rises (1926) wherein the main character Jake Barnes is impotent because of the war, a metaphor of the human in the aftermath of the decimation of ideals and faced with the finding of how to go on.    He is unable to do anything about the state of things.  The image of the female, portrayed in Lady Brett Ashley, takes on the newly found freedom for women, especially in wealth and sexual mores, but the overarching concern is that there is no possibility for a uniting.  Therein is the new situation explored:  a human unable to do anything about the lack of grounding, especially felt in the lack of love and respect, a tormented situation, and a female with no internal foundation that could give substance to life.  It was a look beneath what was playing out in the superficial displays in culture and an effort to find substance in both the mind and in place and time.    Importantly, Hemingway was taking writing further by hitting very close to his own truths, this novel being a roman a clef.


In America, it was the black blues and jazz musicians that would offer a respite to the devastation.  According to Robert Lamm’s The Humanities in Western Culture:  A Search for Human Values, “By the turn of the century, African-American spirituals, ragtime, blues and jazz were established types or styles of music, none of which existed anywhere else in the Western Hemisphere” (527).  Not only was this developing primarily as American, the setting was one of extreme tension:  “There existed a strong conflict between white and black Americans in almost every area of life:  religion, folklore, music, art, dance, and social and political customs.”  Lamm explains:  “Jazz is a musical style that evolved out of three centuries of cultural and racial conflict, a clash between an inflexible dominant culture and a powerful and persistent subculture with its own age-old beliefs and customs.”  That in itself was a declaration of freedom.  It was also the beginning of American culture as we know it:  a focus on entertainment, but still a deriding of humanity.  In Only Yesterday:  An Informal History of the 1920s, author Frederick Lewis Allen writes, 

One of the striking characteristics of the era of Coolidge Prosperity was the unparalleled rapidity and unanimity with which millions of men and women turned their attention, their talk, and their emotional interest upon a series of tremendous trifles-a heavyweight boxing-match, a murder trial, a new automobile model, a transatlantic flight. 

While it seems like a turn towards the superficial, it was ideologically taking new freedoms.  The lack of importance or “substance” was of less importance than experiencing life.  Those who knew best how to express a depth to this were the blues and jazz musicians.  Even though important issues would come to the forefront, such as women’s rights and racial tension, it can be seen that they would progress but not be solved in society where structure, hierarchy and order have no “give.”  In music, however, strides were made where gender and skin color would prove to be of great unrecognized internal value.  Beneath the surface, music and literature was forging the way towards an inward freedom, equality and uniting.  What was seen as “superficial” was a cultural placeholder for what life could develop, always towards truth and freedom.  Like Kerouac, what they were dreaming was “pure” and headed in a direction demonstrated by McKenna as a movement towards a completely new way of being where hard-won freedom is a shift in consciousness itself.  The cultural process from blues to jazz to rock n roll was continually taking down boundaries by experimenting with freedom internally.


After Henry Miller had taken all the freedoms societally possible in his writing in Paris, the next step for Kerouac was to leave society and go on the road itself and to try new thinking and writing techniques that would mimic the effect of being on that journey.  As Paris had been conducive to the internal exploration, America’s wide-open highways into the Southwest and that indomitable sense of freedom now provided the opening and setting to take it further.  Like McKenna’s Spiritual Autolysis, Kerouac began to explore the pace and mind-set of writing free and unhindered by the rules of even self-judgement. 

What Roland Barthes called the “discursive text” On the Road is itself a demonstrable process, in what came before it, in it’s model, in its writing style, in its content, and also having been published in a much-edited version in 1957, many versions after the original scroll, the original vision of the process, of this road.  What is also viewable is the person during and after the creation.  He could not have known the impact his work would have nor did he have desire to take up arms against a culture--he had already gone further and it wouldn’t make sense to come back and fight those battles.   As usual, art was leading the way, not stopping to see who was against it.  He couldn’t know at that time what was beyond his personal struggle--he had taken it as far as he could and he knew it wasn’t in a war against something “wrong” but towards something true.   In his personal life, as the documentary What Happened to Kerouac? shows, he drank to mask the pain of what he couldn’t see yet.  He did it publicly, making it visible in a society that wanted him to stand for something.  Still refusing, he held steadfast to his road that there is more to be known.  Like Jimi Hendrix and others, Kerouac’s pain was on display, but his protests were inward, pushing further.    Taking all that he knew in writing technique and perspective, set into motion by the writers before him, and what he knew was a step further and finding a way to express it,  he took it to the point of self-annihilation.  The best and the brightest of the coming 60s would do the same--go to the extreme in lifestyle, music technique, literature, and drugs and still desperately sought what it would mean to go further.


Because McKenna lays out this process, the process of writing On the Road can be seen in this light.  Not only does travel loosen the grip constructs and structures have on one’s life, but the place of travel, into free, wide-open spaces where rules do not apply opens the experience to something untried.  As Howard Cunnell writes in his introductory article “Fast This Time:  Jack Kerouac and the Writing of On the Road” in the 2007 publication of the original scroll, On the Road is “far more spiritual quest than how-to-be-a-hipster manual” (3).  While Paris after the first World War had offered the remains of the center of cultured art and life along with the cultural license to push those boundaries to the ultimate limit later by Miller, this was a foray into “uncultured” and wild territory, the sense of freedom particular to the place, free from society’s rigorous, unrelenting, demanding opinions.  Furthermore, the road is not a destination-minded trip; even Kerouac says he won’t find what he’s looking for.  Cunnell writes, “The story is about work, ambition, and rejection, but it is also about transformation.  These are the years Kerouac transforms himself from a promising young novelist into the most successful experimental writer of his generation” (3).  The process itself is what is important.  Like trying to write something true in spiritual autolysis, Kerouac “writing most often late into the night . . . filled notebooks, journals, hundreds of manuscript pages, and letters, as well as conversations, with ideas for it.  In October of 1948 Kerouac wrote in his journal that his ideas for On the Road  ‘obsess me so much I can’t conceal them” (4).  "Beginning on the novel even before the trips, both Kerouac and the novel would be tested, broken, and changed by the subsequent transcontinental trips . . .” (5).  Another similarity with McKenna’s process is that Kerouac was trying hard to get at what is true.  Fiction could expand the boundaries, but Kerouac became less and less able to not let it be truth where the soul of character and being could be revealed.  Cunnell states, “What is being negotiated is the relationship between fiction and truth, where truth is understood by Kerouac to mean, ‘the way consciousness really digs everything that happens” (5).  Kerouac more and more needed to live and breathe it, to let the truth be alive.  Importantly, Cullen writes:

Excepting those writers, such as Melville, Dostoyevsky, and Joyce, who clearly influenced him, fiction, even and especially well-made European fiction, was linked in Kerouac’s imagination with both an aesthetic and political culture of self-censorship.  The old forms of fiction obscured meaning; stopped you getting at what was underneath.  On the Road is the beginning of a process in which Kerouac dismantles and then radically reapplies what he has learned as a fiction writer so that he can, as John Holmes writes, ‘free the whole range of his consciousness to the page’ (6).  

Even in his notes Kerouac’s contention with themes are similar to those slugged away at in Spiritual Warfare, those of “loss, uncertainty, and crowding mortality” (15).  While McKenna pushes the rest of the way through them, Kerouac was on the journey.  Cunnell explains that:

The running theme of the search for the father who is dead and the Father who is God gives us to understand that death, as Tom Clark has written, was ‘the ground base of understanding of life, the undertow that moved the deep currents in his work and is what Kerouac himself called . . . ‘that inescapable sorrowful depth that shines through.’

It is evident, then, why Kerouac could not agree to march against anything, he was taking a journey into the depths of human existence, the cartographer finding the way and experimenting with technique in order to clearly show where he was going.  Like McKenna, Kerouac even faces death head-on because it liberates life:

Long before his readings in Buddhism Kerouac was intuitively attempting to reconcile a worldview that saw his lived experience both as one made painfully meaningless by his hard-wired knowledge of mortality and as one to be celebrated in every detail and at every moment precisely because, as he writes in Visions of Cody, we are soon ‘all going to die.’ . . . This urgency pushes Kerouac to strip his writing of ‘made-up’ stories.  Life’s impermanence and the inevitability of suffering inform and motivate Kerouac’s heightened sensitivity and responsiveness to the phenomenal world.  What Allen Ginsberg called his ‘open heart’ and Kerouac himself described as being ‘submissive to everything, open, listening’ results in a body of fiction in which the representation of the magical nature of entrancing and life-affirming fleeting detail is the outstanding feature (17).

What Kerouac delivers is the beginning of the road to now, the process to discovering the true depth of life.  It is a process that would personally alter him  and his writing because “there is nothing to do but write the truth.  There is no other reason to write” (23).  The Southwest had become the place to finally explore it.  As Cunnell writes, “The quest is interior, but the lessons of the road, the apprehended magic of the American landscape described like a poem, are applied to illuminate and amplify the spiritual journey” (25).

Like McKenna, “Kerouac does not hide the cost of the road either to those who will head for it or to those for whom, in Carolyn Cassady’s words, a different kind of ‘responsibility mapped the course.’”  Cunnell states, 

What is electrifying about the novel is the idea that God, self-realization, and a transforming freedom are out there, through the window where you sit confined at school or at work, maybe where the city ends or just over that next hill.  This makes the heart thump and the blood beat in your ears.  A religious seeker and a writer of dreams and visions, Kerouac is a source in that sense, if you are fixed on seeking answers, and once that kind of light goes on in your house it’s likely to stay on and you’ll always be looking” (25-26).

According to even the Dalai Lama, there is no instant illumination.  As time has told, there has been a long, arduous development towards human freedom and a better knowledge of what it means to be a part of the universe.  From this perspective, the process is everything.  Cunnell continues,

Kerouac underscores the significance of the process of authentication itself--the journey rather than its end--thus demonstrating that that which would be deemed most authentic is actually a becoming rather than a being.  The publication of the scroll manuscript contributes to this significance of an ongoing process of becoming by showing us as readers that there can be no authentic On the Road, only our perpetual movement between the different versions or ‘incarnations’ of the narrative (70).  

Kerouac was determined to show the road.  This is the process that would continue to arrive here and now.


From black musicians coping with centuries of suffering and degradation to women trying to gain strength and significance, artists have imagined new freedoms and thereby created new worlds.  While music and literature have taken a path toward a shift in consciousness, McKenna’s work is the most American expression of freedom there is:  breaking on through to the other side and finding that where we are now can be immense.  The place where he arrives, indeed from an old world view, is nothingness; it does not translate here.  His is not a view concerned with cultural change; it doesn’t need to be.  Nor was Kerouac concerned with the wars around him.  He was seeing something else about existence itself.  He envisioned taking the road.  The creation process is alike both in writing and in life.   There is no way around the very hard ordeal of becoming, but beautifully, all things are becoming.    In examining this breaking free, the process of transformation towards ultimate truths can be seen as coming together all along, making the way past society’s beliefs and refusals to change, and continually into a new territory where the path of existence is explored for an unrestricted way of being that opens unfathomed possibilities.  Beautifully, music and literature demonstrate the cultural process of the way.  It also demonstrates how to see the radiance when bringing it back.  This is not merely a change in a way of thinking but a rigorous transformation from an ego-bound way of being and creating into a participation in all that is.  Joseph Campbell describes the difference that occurs when one reaches this depth of being as perception changing from seeing the world as projecting what we want to consume, or profit from, want success or fear failure with, to a letting the immensity of all things reveal unimaginable depth of radiance and beauty that can only be seen and experienced in esthetic arrest (A Joseph Campbell Companion 252-253).  Kerouac was exploring the process of writing that was going into new territory and would ultimately show America on a path to a completely new kind of freedom.  Art works this way in process, in becoming, because it is akin to the universe itself:  “a harmony parallel to nature.”  And that is how to find the miracle in the magic.

September 5, 2014
Works Cited
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