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

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

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

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

Synopsis

Through careful analysis of Jack Kerouac's On the Road, Omar Swartz sets out to show that Kerouac's influence on American society is largely rhetorical. Kerouac's significance as a cultural icon can be best understood, Swartz asserts, in terms of traditional rhetorical practices and principles.

To Swartz, Kerouac is a rhetor who symbolically reconstructs his world and offers arguments and encouragements for others to follow. Swartz proposes that On the Road constitutes a "rhetorical vision", a reality-defining discourse suggesting alternative possibilities for growth and change. Embodied in this rhetorical vision are symbolically suited desires that have the power to transform images of self, society, and other.

To explain Kerouac's methods, Swartz adopts Ernest Bormann's "fantasy theme analysis", a method that critics can use to understand the cultural dimension of a text. Because rhetorical visions involve large, encompassing narratives, a fantasy theme analysis is a localized way to establish "meaning" in a text. Thus, fantasy theme analysis presents a rhetorical vision in an accessible manner. Swartz is the first critic to apply fantasy theme analysis to a Beat writer.

The rhetorical significance of On the Road demands elaboration for what it can suggest about the future. Kerouac's writing serves as a tool that empowers people to take control of their lives and to reject dominant forces that constrain their thoughts and their actions. This study of Kerouac, then, is a study of rhetorical transformation.

Celebrating the margins of experience and the intensity of life, Kerouac helped develop the commitment and attitude of a larger American culture that was beginning tostruggle with the tensions and contradictions of society. Through the aid of a focused narrative that graphically names and illustrates these tensions and contradictions, Swartz asserts, the reader of Kerouac's On the Road becomes

Excerpt

Jack Kerouac was a colorful figure who lived an intense and destructive life. The warmth of his fire, while it consumed him, cheers us by keeping the cold and the dark at bay. We are a nation of voyeurs--we like to watch (often from a safe distance) our idols, our heroes, and our messiahs live on the verge of an insanity and chaos that we ourselves are afraid to court.

This book argues that On the Road is a rhetorical document with persuasive significance in helping people to restructure their lives. The rhetorical significance of On the Road demands elaboration for what it can suggest about the future. Rhetoric, after all, is the study of potentialities, of changes, of futures. Kerouac's writing serves as a tool that empowers people to take control of their lives and to reject the dominant forces that constrain their thoughts and actions. Thus, the study of Kerouac is a study of rhetorical transformations.

In celebrating the margins of experience and the intensity of life, Kerouac helped develop the commitment and attitude of a larger American culture that was beginning to struggle with the tensions and contradictions of society. Through the aid of a focused narrative that graphically names and illustrates these tensions and contradictions, the reader of Kerouac's book becomes capable of responding to the larger, confusing culture in a strategic manner. Kerouac's rhetorical vision of an alternative social and cultural reality contributes to the identity of localized cultures within the United States.

Chapters 1 through 4 offer a rationale for this study, in which the relationships among Kerouac, rhetoric, and culture are highlighted. They provide biographical and historical context for readers unfamiliar with Kerouac, the "Beat Generation," or the cultural milieu of American society in the 1950s and 1960s.

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