You Don’t Know Jack

From The New York Times:

Kerouac_2 Why Kerouac Matters: The lessons of “On the Road” (They are not what you think) by John Leland.

What matters about “On the Road” is the book’s raw energy yoked to its sense of promise in “all that raw land,” the shove it offers to get out of one’s own chair and see what lies over the horizon. As Dean says on reaching San Francisco: “Wow! Made it! Just enough gas! Give me water! No more land! We can’t go any further ’cause there ain’t no more land!” And on heading back east: “Let’s go, let’s not stop — go now! Yes!” The book is a hymn to purposelessness, an antidote to what John Fowles once decried as our modern “addiction to finding a reason, a function, a quantifiable yield” in everything we do.

Above all, “On the Road” matters for its music: its plaintive, restless hum. In it, Kerouac perfected a melancholy optimism and a yearning for solace a thousand times richer and subtler than the mournful sap that drips down from so many contemporary American films and novels. It’s the lovely ache in the writing of Sherwood Anderson and Arthur Miller, in the cracked voices of Jeff Tweedy and Paul Westerberg. This is the great, lasting appeal of “On the Road,” the reason it will continue to matter to readers for another half-century and more. It’s the reason I’m glad I’ve got another copy, its pages already creased and its spine broken — and it’s the reason I won’t be giving this one away.

More here.