Academic journal article Journal of Beat Studies

Pilgrims to Elsewhere: Reflections on Writings

Academic journal article Journal of Beat Studies

Pilgrims to Elsewhere: Reflections on Writings

Article excerpt

Pilgrims to Elsewhere: Reflections on Writings by Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, Bob Kaufman and Others. Gregory Stephenson Afterward by Bent Sorensen. (Roskilde: EyeCorner Press, 2013).

Well known in the area of Beat studies, Gregory Stephenson, author of The Daybreak Boys: Essays on the Literature of the Beat Generation (1990), has compiled another collection of essays ranging from some of the core Beat writers he addressed in his earlier collection, such as Ginsberg, Kerouac, and Corso, to late nineteenthand early twentieth-century writers James S. Lee and Fitz Hugh Ludlow, who Stephenson suggests we consider Beat predecessors. At sixty-seven years of age, Stephenson has assembled his recent writings on the Beats in Pilgrims to Elsewhere, a slim 111-page volume made up of fourteen chapters and an afterward by Bent Sorensen (publisher of EyeCorner Press). Pilgrims contains five close readings, a set of explanatory notes for readers of The Dharma Bums, three book reviews, a substantial essay on the work of Bob Kaufman, three brief cultural studies essays on Kerouac and Corso, as well notes on Ken Nordine and James S. Lee. What ties these disparate essays together, according to Stephenson, is a certain "disposition of spirit" shared by these writers; a sense of "being in exile on the earth ... even as they share a desire to discover ... a spiritual home" ("Preface" n.p.). Stephenson echoes here the concluding paragraph of his introduction to The Daybreak Boys: "The enduring value of these works lies in their particular pertinence to the central issues of human existence, their probing of human identity, and their quest for sacred vision" (15).

The content of Pilgrims to Elsewhere is anchored by the first three essays-a close reading of Ginsberg's "Supermarket in California," the Kaufman overview, and a close reading of Kerouac's Old Angel Midnight, the latter of which is one of six chapters on Kerouac in the volume, including two brief close readings of On the Road, a review of Isaac Gewirtz's Kerouac at Bat: Fantasy Sports and the King of the Beats, the above-mentioned explanatory notes, and a short cultural studies look at Kerouac and Harpo Marx. The first of these close readings explores the motif of rivers in On the Road. Stephenson sees the "river image as a potent, central symbol enriching and uniting [Kerouac's] narrative" (48), one which suggests "a larger, deeper scheme of things within which the lives of the novel's characters take place" (49); rivers "evoke a mystic or metaphysical sense of our place in history and eternity and thus act to underpin one of the novel's deepest truths, the sense of life's wonder and mystery, the sense of the infinite" (49). The second brief essay, which is partly a close reading and partly a cultural studies analysis, centers on Sal's night in Cheyenne, Wyoming, a place where, Stephenson suggests, the novel's "thematic strands ... of anticipation and disappointment, ideals and realities, purpose and weakness, and knowledge of human duality and of the sorrow inherent in existence" first intersect (50). It is in Cheyenne that Sal experiences an emotion that will reoccur throughout the novel: "watching figures recede into the vastness behind him or away from him, feeling as they vanish from view an implacable sense of loneliness and loss"; here he learns the "inevitable forlomness of the human condition" (52-53). The latter half of this essay provides explanatory notes gleaned from the Cheyenne Genealogical and Historical Society for "the deeply devoted reader of On the Road'''-facts and figures from radio station call letters and street names, to a brief history of chili con came, a dish Sal indulges in during his night in Cheyenne.

The most fully realized of the Kerouac essays is "Earwitness Testimony: Sound and Sense, Word and Void in Jack Kerouac's Old Angel Midnight," which, interestingly, is the only essay in the collection that cites previous Beat scholarship. …

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