The View from on the Road: The Rhetorical Vision of Jack Kerouac

By Omar Swartz | Go to book overview

8
Conclusion: Kerouac and Liminality

The three visions of On the Road involve restless assertions of movement, as if stasis itself is a sign of mortality. Kerouac himself embraces the physical and spiritual notions of travel; the mention of his name conjures the image of both these constructs. Even the title of his novel suggests this quality. Indeed, the title offers a key to unlock what is, for this study, the "final" implications of the text, what I argue is the impetus behind Kerouac's fantasy themes and rhetorical vision.

In arriving at our final destination, it is especially important to remind readers that this stop is just a layover. As both Kerouac and Richard Rorty suggest in their respective writings, the important "meanings" in life, the lessons we learn through the exposure to different people and different lifestyles, are the travels, not the arrivals, the texts--in their ability to instill in us compassion and solidarity--not the interpretations. According to Rorty, it is the experience of a text that changes us, moves us to redefine our own private relationships with self and others. It is our involvement with texts, not the professionalized interpretations by theorists, that advances the cause of a more just and compassionate world. He specifically argues, "[W]hen you weigh the good and the bad the social novelists have done against the good and the bad the social theorists have done, you find yourself wishing that there had been more novels and fewer theories" ( 1991, 80). Nevertheless, critical readings are didactic--they move audiences toward particular readings and intellectual commitments that might otherwise be easily overlooked. Rorty provides precedence for such readings when he discusses Vladimir Nabokov and George Orwell. He argues that " [b]oth of them warn the liberal ironist intellectual against

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