[essay fragments by Gary J. Karman]
"Whadya Say We Get Jack Off the Road?"
"... if History's interesting now that America has near destroyed the human compassionate world still surviving as in fragments of bewildering conversation between these two dead souls."
- Allen Ginsberg, "The Great Rememberer"
Jack Kerouac is America's greatest novelist. "Dharma Bums" stands as one of the greatest examples of modern sacred writing ever written in the English language. "Visions of Cody", although at times hard to read, is an amazing account of two friends struggling to understand cookie-cutter American society and its infinite and enraging paradoxes and hypocricies. That said, let's now explore the problems with Kerouac and the fuzzy task of interpreting spontaneous prose; which is to say, let's criticize the criticisms of work that was never meant to be criticized, but to be felt in the bowels of the soul.
"Art lies in the consciousness of doing the thing, in the attention to the happening, in the sacramentalization of everyday reality, the God-worship in the present conversation, no matter what" (Ginsberg). The "IT" that Jack wrote about is the very IT that is his writing. Jack made a sacrament of everything in life, to the point that he proposed to Neil Cassady that they "be bums together", which, in the Beat ethic, is to say, "Let's become priests." The bum, the jazzman, the lunatic - these were the prophets of the Beat universe. "Kerouac's rejection of middle-class values has led to a search for values of his own...he has identified himself with all outsiders...the Negro, the jazz musician, the hipster, the homosexual, even the dope addict and the bum. He has sympathy for all these outcasts and a great affinity for them..." (Jones). Jack was a master of being in the moment and of relating this infinite, all-important moment to a world of readers caught up in commerce and the mundane motions of life. Current thought on this ecstatic moment almost always leads to discussion of "On the Road", which is quite frankly one of Jack's worst novels. Its story has amazing power and its characters are baffling and mysteriously reckless, but "On the Road" does not encapsulate Jack's deep understanding of the moment. Cody's rant in the jazz club about "IT" is one of Jack's most lucidly engaging passages in any novel, but the value of "On the Road" lies just there - in passages of mad truth, but not in the novel as a whole. So let's get Jack the heck off the road.
"Dharma Bums", "Subterraneans", "Vanity of Dulouz", and "The Scriptures of the Golden Eternity" are novels that contain the true genius of Jack. The sacredness of brewing and drinking tea, the fragility and gravity of a sick and hopeless love affair, the wisdom of a mountain, and the elusiveness of true friend-ship are some of the simple things that make these novels truly great literature. All of Jack's work is scripture of a sort, and focusing on "On the Road" is a tragic and disrespectful misstep. To fully respect an artist, one must embrace the whole of his work so as to see the evolution and full scope of the artist's vision. With Jack, we see a man infuriated with, but not stuck on, the sting and poison of an elitist society obsessed with vacuous trends and the pursuit of vain ideals. To continue, we must understand Jack's spirituality and the Beat applications of dharma.
"Subterraneans" is full of another kind of desperation...
Making it with a girl was just another frantic attempt of the beat soul trying to free itself from its self-made prison of rage, nihilism, and chemical dependancy. In classic addictive form, Jack shows himself trying to escape from himself abd his chemical demons by trying to possess and become beauty by making a young tragic woman his newest drug. These affairs usually end the same way as a dope-fiend's life - alone in an alley, soaked in vomit and blood, and still searching through the pain for one last fix. Jack's true liberation came in the form of male friendships, which were often not wothout sexual undertones.
Gary Snyder, the Japhy Ryder of "Dharma Bums", was another soul-friend to Jack. Of course, this relationship was cut off by Gary's going to the East to become a Zen disciple; there was, however, enough time for Gary and Jack to cement a meaningful friendship. The cosmic event that sealed their spirits together was their unforgettable mountain climb, which is beautifully chronicled in the opening section of "Dharma Bums." When Gary told Jack that you "can't fall off a mountain", he was really saying that "you can never lose a friend once the two spirits are melded." You can't fall off the rock that is true, eternal friendship - so why was Jack so lonely much of the time? With the answer to this, we clearly come to see the meaning of "beat."
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
me here in da gutter
no mo' money
but me still got pomes....
Running Commentary on Creationism vs. Evolutionism;
Dialogue on Genetic Research and Human Cloning:
- FEB'01 / SEPT '01 -
Evolutionism and creationism are both extremely engaging and panaceic religions. Both systems of thought require tremendous leaps of faith, so why does the current culture see science as an end without a means? Science requires blind acceptance of certain precepts as the basis of all arguments, just as religion. So let us be clear that creationism and evolutionism are equally faith-based propositions.
[mail comments to: email@example.com]
ESSAY OF THE MONTH CLUB -
ORIGINALLY POSTED JAN 2001
Gary J. Karman
"The In and Out of Dracula"
Bram Stoker's Dracula is highly acclaimed and has received many different interpretations which deal with complex symbolisms and metaphors. These interpretations often require a great deal of knowledge in psychology, political science, anthropology, and other non-literary disciplines. These interpretations may be valid, as they are related to the disciplines on which their arguments are based, but the true power of the novel is due to a very simple theme that lies beneath the other, more convoluted interpretations. This theme is the universal concept of identity: us versus them. This criticism sets aside outside disciplines and focuses on the literary motif of identity. John Allen Stevenson gives an in-depth criticism of this work based mostly on anthropological ideas, but he states that Dracula is a representation of "fears that are more universal than a specific focus on the Victorian background would allow" (141). He brings up the concept of "universal" ideas but fails to pursue them on a universal scale. The truly universal theme involves the perception that Dracula is a monster. But Dracula is not a monster - he is simply a persecuted outsider.
In this interpretation, it is important to seperate the actions of the characters from what those actions represent in relation to the theme of identity. Count Dracula is shown to be a vampire - a monster who engages in horrific, violent acts, but these acts of violence are merely Stoker's vehicle for presenting the difference between the Count and the other characters. His vampirish actions are not to be taken literally. "Dracula" is not a work of fantasy - it is primarily a realistic novel with one fantastic character. Every other character in the novel is presented in a realistic fashion. Given this, Dracula's vampirish behavior becomes simply a manifestation of a difference that separates him from the other characters. In addition to his actions, much has previously been made of Dracula's physical appearance. However, as Stevenson so aptly puts it, Dracula's physical appearance is only "a convenient metaphor to describe the undeniable human tendency to separate 'us' from 'them' " (140).
Who, then, is the "us" of the novel? Richard Wasson points out that the group who pursues Dracula represents a cross-section of the English materialist society (26). The fact that the group contains a doctor, an aristocrat, and a lawyer is very significant because it defines the "us" of the novel. All the journal entries, that make up the bulk of the novel, are written by characters who, as a whole, represent the English society. The only major character in the novel who never has his point of view shown through a journal, or any other means, is Dracula. This structural procedure defines him as an outsider. We know Dracula only through the eyes of English society--wea re not allowed to understand him as an individual.
Jules Zanger reinforces the idea of Dracula as an outsider by making a strong case that Dracula represents Jews, who were persecuted because they were moving to England in large numbers in the late nineteenth century. Zanger is correct in seeing Dracula as a persecuted outsider, but the metaphor of Dracula as a Jew goes beyond the theme of the novel. He could be any outsider that the English percieved as a threat; they would drive out anyone they felt uncomfortable with.
English society's expulsion of the outsider is due to the anxieties that English people had about themselves. "The decay of British global influence...the increasing unrest in British colonies and possessions, the growing domestic uneasiness over the morality of imperialism--all combined to erode Victorian confidence in the ineveitability of British progress and hegemony" (Arata 622). Given that anxieties and insecurities are present within a group, it is natural that the group will react violently against an outside party that exposes those insecurities. Dracula is the outsider that exposes English society's insecurities, and he is expelled because of it.
The big question now becomes, how does Dracula expose English insecurities? Why do they percieve him as a threat? The answer is that society does not understand Dracula because of the basic difference that is represented by his being a vampire. The difference is magified by the condescending attitude England had toward other countries during her imperialistic days. Dracula is a foreigner, so right away the English place on him all their notions of "barbaric" peoples and countries. This is evidenced very strongly in the first few pages of the novel through the words of Johnathan Harker.
The opening of the novel is crammed with evidence of English attitudes of superiority; the rest of the novel plays out the theme establishe in this opening. Johnathan Harker's journal says he "should have arrived [in Vienna] at 6:46, but train was an hour late" (Stoker 1). This may not seem terribly incriminating, but he goes on to complain illogically about the trains. "It seems to me that the further East you go the more unpunctual are the trains. What ought they be in China?" (2). This proves that he is not complaining about a particular place, but about foreign lands in general. China has nothing to do with Eastern Europe, but Johnathan lumps them together because both are foreign to him.
Johnathan mentally draws lines between himself, as a representative of the West, specifically England, and the land he is entering. He gawks at his strange surroundings rather than trying to understand them. The most blatant instance of superiority occurs when he says that "The strangest figures we saw were the Slovaks, who are more barbarian than the rest" (3). He talks about peculiar customs and dress, but he makes no attempt to understand why the people are the way they are. (But why should he? After all, everything he sees is barbaric--why should a sophisticated Englishman take what he sees in Eastern Europe seriously?) He says, "The impression I had was that we were leaving the West and entering the East. . . among the traditions of Turkish rule" and that Count Dracula's home was in "one of the wildest and least known portions of Europe" (1). The Count's homeland may not have been well-known by the English, but certainly it was well known by people that lived closer to it, and that had lesser attitudes of cultural superiority than the English. Johnathan's critique of the Count's "uncivilized" country continues when he says "there are no maps of this country as yet to compare with our own Ordinance Survey maps" (1). Perhaps the locals know their own country well enough that they don't need detailed maps to find their way. Perhaps it is a shortcoming of Johnathan's that he is used to relying on maps rather than guides or drivers. It is as if he doesn't trust that the locals will get him to where he needs to go. (After all, they can't be very intelligent--they're barbarians!)
Johnathan also finds the Count's castle very peculiar. The household is not arranged as the English household would be, which he sees as a fault. He says that "There are certainly odd deficiencies in the house" (19). Differences in another's manners cannot justifiably be named a fault, but Johnathan does name the household's peculiarities as "deficiencies." It is very intersting to note that all the while Johnathan is pointing out faults in the Count and his home, he is inadvertantly proving the sophistication of the Count.
There is a great deal of evidence in the opening of the novel that refutes Johnathan's perceptions of teh Count and his homeland. Dracula is a very civilized man, even though Johnathan does not realize it. Dracula's courteous welcome letter to Johnathan introduces us to his civil and polite manner. Dracula receives Johnathan at his castle very civilly as wee, and Johnathan is comforted by Dracula's pleasantness. "The light and warmth and the Count's courteous welcome seemes to have dissipated all my doubts and fears" (16). Dracula's library too, holds clues to hisd degree of sophistication and interest in England. "In the library I found, to my great delight, a vast number of English books . . . of the most varied kind--history, geography, politics, political economy, botnay, geology, law--all relating to England and English life and cutoms and manners" (19). Dracula says to Johnathan that through the books he "has come to know your great England; and to know her is to love her" (20). Dracula admires and respects England, but when he moves there he is expelled because of English prejudices. He certainly has no trouble appreciating a culture foreign to himself--a polar opposite from the English feelings toward him. Given this, Dracula is a more sympathetic, understanding character than any of the others. The prejudices of society are manifested by Dracula being a vampire, but the act of "vamping" contains an interesting statement. Vamping creates vampires. Dracula is rejected by society because he is different, so he attempts to make others like him so he is not alone.
Society ultimately triumphs over the outsider, expelling him and killing him. There are two striking symbolisms at the end of the novel which relate to the theme of identity. After a long struggle, society manages to chase away the outsider. This is not the worst of what society does, however. Not only do they not accept the outsider, they refuse to acknowledge his existence. Society was safe once Dracula left, but the pursuit and slaying of him represents society's wish to remove him entirely from their minds. The killing of Dracula is not literal--he is only dead to society because they refuse to acknowledge his right to be different. Thus, Dracula is the victim of this story, not the ones society felt he victimized.
Arata, Stephen D. "The Occidental Tourist: Dracula and the Anxiety of Reverse Colonization." Victorian Studies 33.4 (Sum. 1990) : 621-45.
Stevenson, John Allen. "A Vampire in the Mirror: The Sexuality of Dracula." PMLA 103 (1988) : 139-49.
Stoker, Bram. Dracula. 1897. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1992.
Wasson, Richard. "The Politics of Dracula." English Literature in Transition 9 (1966) : 24-27.
Zanger, Jules. "A Sympathetic Vibration: Dracula and the Jews." English Literature in Transition 34 (1991) : 33-44.
DIALECTICS BY GJK AND DDR (from JAN01)
G: Marijuana should be legalized.
G: Pot is no more harmful than alcohol, and alcohol is legal. When alcohol was banned, crime skyrocketed. If pot were legal, there would be less theft and fewer people crowding the jails.
D: What evidence do you have to substantiate the claim that it is no more harmful than alcohol?
G: It has been documented that pot is not physically addictive. Also, pot does less to harm motor skills and reasoning than alcohol, and people are calmer rather than agitated. People don't get high and start fights,
but drunk people do.
D: Studies show that long-term use of marijuana is very detrimental to the brain.
G: Long-term use of alcohol is very detrimental to the brain and liver, and it's not good for your heart either.
D: Maybe alcohol should be criminalized.
G: That didn't work! Prohibition brought about the rise of the mafia and the biggest crime wave in the history of the country.
D: The fact is that lots of things, used in excess, are bad for you, like sugar, caffeine, fatty foods, and tobacco. Why legalize something else that is harmful? Maybe people should have more self-control.
G: Self-control is good, not government control. Example -
should the government have the right to make you wear a seat belt?
D: It doesn't matter if they should - they do. That law already exists. If I choose not to obey it, I am willing to accept the consequences of getting caught. So, if people want to smoke pot, let them, at their own risk.
G: But I'm talking about changing laws. Wouldn't you like to see the seat belt laws repealed?
D: No, because there are people dumb enough to not buckle up their children.
G: My analogy is not to say people should give pot to their children. Let's limit this to adults.
D: If people want to smoke pot, fine. I see no reason why it should be legal.
G: 80% of county jail prisoners are in for minor drug violations - most of them for possession of small amounts of marijuana. This is a tremendous burden on taxpayers and jail capacity. Murderers get parolled after 3 years to make room for more, otherwise law-abiding citizens to be held because they got caught with a little bit of pot. That's crazy.
D: So, why not limit penalties to fines, community service, and drug classes?
G: So you would agree with decriminalization?
D: To a point. Law enforcement should be able to check up on a person for up to one year. Conviction for selling large amounts might call for jail time.
G: But people shouldn't go to jail for minor possession?
G: Fair enough.