Sunday, August 19, 2007

The Scroll vs. The Book: On the Road

NY Times Book Review:
Writing is not usually thought of as excessively physical, which is why some writers feel the need to compensate by racing bulls or whatever, but feeding that 120-foot roll through the typewriter seems like a feat of strength. Most writers merely produce effete works on paper, you might say, but Kerouac went and wrestled with the tree itself...

Besides changing all the names (arguably necessary for legal reasons) and cutting or veiling the depictions of sex (very necessary in 1957), Kerouac altered the scroll to make it a novel mostly by garnishing it with sprigs and drizzles of literature. One of the most famous passages in the novel appears here — the ellipses are Kerouac’s — as “the only people that interest me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones that never yawn or say a commonplace thing ... but burn, burn, burn like roman candles across the night.” In the novel he inserts “mad to be saved,” while the roman candles become “fabulous” and they are “exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes ‘Awww!’ ” Concerned that he might not have sufficiently overegged the pudding, Kerouac then adds, “What did they call such young people in Goethe’s Germany?” None of this sort of eager-beaver poeticizing litters the scroll, which just keeps its head down and runs, and is all the more authentically literary thereby.

No comments: