Posts Tagged ‘burroughs’

William Burroughs & Jack Kerouac

William Burroughs & Jack Kerouac

Kerouac aficionado that I am, I was excited about the release of his collaboration with William Burroughs, And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks. I got a chance to read it in the few minutes of downtime that I had over Christmas – it’s quite a fast read. It’s less “spiritual” than Kerouac’s other works, which may have something to do with the collaborative aspect of the novel (chapters alternate by author) or the subject matter (Lucien Carr’s murder of David Kammerer). In any case, there is a little gem of a discussion on art and the ideal society that I felt like sharing from a chapter written by Kerouac.

The radio was on to an afternoon soap opera, and a kindly old country doctor who had just helped a young couple out of a scrape was giving them advice about life, with an organ music background. “The thing that you must learn,” he was saying, “is that sometimes you have to do things in this life that you don’t quite like to do, but you have to do them all the same.”

Phillip was explaining about his theory. “I mean the circle of one’s spiritual life. You complete the cycle of experience, in an artistic sense, and by means of art, and that is your individual creative offering to the society.”

“You know,” reflected the country doctor, “I’ve been practicing here in Elmville for almost forty-five years now, and in all that time I’ve learned one thing about human beings.”

“Just how is such a society to be attained?” Cathcart wanted to know.

“I don’t know,” Phillip said. “This is the pre-ultimate society. Don’t ask me about the details.”

“Human beings,” said the country doctor, pausing to puff on his pipe,  “are essentially good. Now wait” – and he interrupted the young and bitter hero of the story – “I know what you’re going to say. But son, I’m an old man. I’ve lived a lot more than you have. You’re only starting out on the road of life, and you might listen to what I have to say. Maybe I’m just an old codger, but –”

“There are artists in the pre-ultimate society,” Phillip said, “who are contemporary models of the ultimate artist-citizen. I guess that as more and more people become artists, the nearer is realized the ultimate artistic society.”

While a lot of the Beat generations idolization of the “artist” is overly idealistic, I agree with the statement made here that the more people develop artistic lives, the closer we’ll be as a society to something closer to Utopia. Not that I believe that Utopia is totally possible, but one of the ways we, as people, can strive towards living better and living better together is to value the artistic element possessed by all of us. We are all capable of art, we are all capable of expressing ourselves artistically – an expression beyond language, beyond opinion. The more we indulge in such expression and the more we value such expression, the more the political differences between us become just that – political. Yes, art can make tremendous political statements on all ends of the spectrum, but making such statements artistically is a step towards a peaceful, non-violent society where all voices are valued.

Yes, I’m a huge idealist. I know.

This statement also relates to feelings that bother me when I read about photography on the internet and the ease of “getting into” photography; the sentiment “Everyone is a photographer these days” is somehow a pejorative, which I just don’t get. Yes! We are all photographers! We are all capable of capturing the world as we see it through the lens! What a wonderful thing! How does this devalue photography in any way to make it easily available to anyone? Shouldn’t we value each person’s artistic path and vision? Isn’t the photographic journey something to be shared, not some secret club where you are only allowed to touch a camera after you’ve learned the secret handshake?

I went to art school, which was certainly not an experience that I would describe as “happy,” but I do find myself lamenting the lack of joy in the art world. (Perhaps this is why I have kept myself on the fringes of it since graduation, rather than flinging myself in headlong.) Portrait photography, while often beautiful, is mostly focused on “real” photos which tend to be rather emotionally harsh. The only emotion I haven’t seen portrayed in months of following photo blogs regularly is joy. I’ve seen sorrow, I’ve seen confusion, I’ve seen nostalgia, I’ve seen pain – I have not seen joy.

When we as a society can express both our pains and our joys artistically, we’ll be that much closer to experiencing our pains and our joys together.


Read Full Post »

photo copyright Jerome Yulsman

photo copyright Jerome Yulsman

Speaking of serendipity and the Beats in my last post, I saw a headline on the publication of the “lost” Kerouac-Burroughs collaboration the front page of the Phoenix today. And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks is a two-narrator account of Lucien Carr’s murder of David Kammerer, unable to be published during Carr’s lifetime.

Word is that the book, as a piece of literature, isn’t really all that great. As a document of its time, however, it encapsulates the spirit and time of 1944 Greenwich Village. I’m looking forward to reading it on November 1, when it comes out. From the excerpt published in the Phoenix:

After, I sat in the front room with a towel and a glass of cold orangeade, and I asked Phillip where he had gone last night with Ramsay Allen. He told me that after they had left Dennison’s, they started out for the Empire State Building.

“Why the Empire State Building?” I asked.

“We were thinking of jumping off. I don’t clearly remember.”

“Jumping off, hey?” I said.

Read Full Post »