Friday, November 9, 2007

Beatific Soul: Jack Kerouac On The Road

Last night's viewing of the exhibition Beatific Soul: Jack Kerouac On The Road at the New York Public Library was like discovering the Holy Grail for anybody even remotely interested in the works & influences of Jack Kerouac. The exhibit is housed on the first floor of the museum (click on the links in the previous sentence for dates & times) in the Gottesman Hall, just next to the library's gift shop. Inside the cavernous hall are, enclosed in glass cases, dozens of written journal entries, correspondence, various drafts & outlines for novels, essays, photos, unpublished short stories, drawings & paintings and even fantasy baseball rosters all by Kerouac and/or his friends. There's even a CD player on the wall where you can listen to Kerouac's favorite classical music works, which he'd listen to while writing. There are photos of fellow Beats Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, Herbert Huncke, Gary Snyder and Neil Cassidy, plus various bri-a-brac like Kerouac's first typewriter as well as a kind of Zen Buddist-like scroll with a haiku composed by Kerouac & Snyder. You'll also see (despite the dim light) photos of the various residences Kerouac, Ginsberg & the others stayed in during the 50s & 60s.

But it was The Scroll that really held the attention of the guests.

Begun in April, 1951, Kerouac began writing the work that would make him famous (or infamous, at least when it was finally published six years later after several revisions), the Beat classic On The Road. Kerouac composed the first draft on his typewriter using 12 ten foot long rolls of architectural tracing paper, forming one long continous scroll so as not to disturb the author's train of thought. Afterwards, and after many excisions & additions, Kerouac would transfer the text of the scroll onto standard sheets of paper so it could be submitted in manuscript form to publishers.
To actually see & read this amazing example of Kerouac's creative process is something else! You can "get" the sense of spontaneous thought Kerouac projected as he wrote without stopping to pause for a moment. (Corrections, such as spelling & paragraph breaks, were made after he completed the scroll.) As a testament to the creative imagination of an artist, the Original Scroll is required viewing.

(Those unable to view the Scroll at the library but want to see it are encouraged to seek out a copy of On The Road: The Original Scroll, edited by Howard Cunnell, which Viking published this past September. The library carries three copies of it. Recommended.)
The exhibit is broken up into eight sections ("On The Road:The Scroll & Its Successors"; "Fiction, Poetry & Prose"; "Confession, Reflection & Judgement") and is well worth the time.

Oh, I managed to run into Bill Morgan & his wife Jean at the exhibit. Mr. Morgan will be giving a talk on Beat poet Gregory Corso tomorrow (Saturday, November 10) at 2:00 pm in the library's Meeting Room. Professor Regina Weinreich from the School of Visual Arts, who spoke here last month on William S. Burroughs, also attented. Unfortunately, the man responsible for putting together this great exhibition, Dr. Isaac Gewirtz, was nowhere to be seen. I managed to pick up a copy of his Beatific Soul companion book in the gift shop with the hops of getting him to sign it AND offer my personal congratulations, but no luck. I did get a glimpse of Beat figure & jazz musician David Amram, as well as meeting Beat scholars like William Gargan & Gordon Ball. (Jean Morgan tried to find John Tyrell, author of the Beat retrospective Naked Angels -also carried by us- for me to meet, but to no avail.)

The Morgans both expressed their appreciation with their reception here last May when Bill spoke about Allen Ginsberg & are looking forward to coming to the library on Saturday. (Bill's biography of Ginsberg from last year, I Celebrate Myself: The Somewhat Private Life of Allen Ginsberg, is now in paperback. Also, Bill co-edited the just-released You'll Be Okay: My Life With Jack Kerouac, a posthumouslypublished memoir by Edie Parker Kerouac, the author's first wife. Need I add Greenwich Library has copies of these too?)

Aside from not seeing Dr. Gewirtz again, my one real regret about last night is that I wish I had been allowwed to take pictures (the hall's dim lighting not withstanding)! Oh well....


Carl said...

Ed- Sounds very interesting. I liked the part about using a continuous roll of paper so he didn't break his train of thought. So basically he's using the streaming consciousness used by James Joyce in Ulysseys?


Margaret said...

That scroll sounds cool. Glad you had a good time. Congratulations again on your successful series of programs about the Beats.

Anonymous said...


It reminds me of the Jackson Pollock exhibit at MOMA years back. There was a soundtrack from all of his favorite jazz records, which they made into a CD (the library owns or owned). Seeing the scroll is a historic event in itself. I am going to make it down there. So glad you got to go to the opening. See you at your Beat program this afternoon.

Curt Worden said...

Did you know that Big Sur was written on a scroll?

To all those who love Jack Kerouac - New Documentary
One Fast Move or I'm Gone: Kerouac's Big Sur.

Lachlan Jobbins said...

Sounds like a wonderful exhibition, Ed. I've just finished reading 'Beatific Soul', and it really shone a whole new light on Kerouac's creative process. Made me want to hop the first plane to New York. As you say, the scroll is the Holy Grail of Beat writing.

Thanks for the vicarious preview! Lachlan

Rabbi Lars Shalom said...