Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Pace of Prose

        Kerouac's prose is a spirited, persistent creature. In On the Road, it takes flight. Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarity, the novel's two premiere characters, are the two major conveyors of Kerouac's prose. Themselves being spirited, persistent creatures, they gambol around 1940s America on a peripatecic, city-hopping peregrination that splits them between New York, Des Moines, Denver, San Francisco, Cheyenne, Davenport, Shelton, Gothenburg and so on. Their journey is nonstop or at least seemingly nonstop - the prose indicates no loss of momentum but rather tailspins from one thought to the next, one day to the next, one city to the next. Sal, for example, narrates frantically, clumping together adjectives and verbiage ("a great big tough truckdriver with popping eyes and a hoarse raspy voice who just slammed and kicked at everything"), mashing together imagery ("He fell back a moment; we saw a whale's spout in the air; he struggled back to a sitting position"), and expressing a personal urgency in terse, staccato statements ("I had to go") (Kerouac 13, 26, 52).

         Dean Moriarity, Kerouac's second Muse, buzzes with similar zest. His dialogue is the novel's most exhilarating and bewildering:

  "So now in this exact minute I must dress, put on my pants, go back to life, that is to outside life, streets and what not, as we agreed, it is now one-fifteen and time's running, running" (39).

      This lengthy statement is only one-half of Dean's response to a very simple "What time is it?" type of question. It's a sweatbreaker of a quote, containing an urgency and quickness that, remarkably, outpaces even Sal's white-hot narrative style. Themes of time, of time ticking, of needing to go onward and outward are marked in this quote, as they are in practically every Moriarty quip. Sal writes of Dean's frenetic rhetoric:
"Fury spat out of his eyes when he told of things he hated; great glows of joy replaced this when he suddenly got happy; every muscle twitched to live and go" (105).

      Sal's own rhetoric and mannerisms seem to be dictated by a similar freneticism. During the early stages of his travels, Sal himself experienced physical convulsions. On route to Denver, he recalls "tingling with kicks at the thought of what lay ahead of me" (27). Evidently, Sal and Dean are verbally and physically cousins-german, travellers and writers with matching voices and posturings. Therefore, so as not to drone on and on about Sal and Dean's similarities, I will simply conclude that the two characters are foils, who reflect not only each other but also the master authorial force of Kerouac, the source from which Sal and Dean derive their thrice-reflected prose.

      What can be deduced from all this foiling and reappropriating of persons and prose is a lesson in storytelling, more specifically, in how storytellers impart a unique, very personal imputation on their stories. As such, storytellers recreate as they create. To adduce, I will provide a personal tale of a very garrulous, imaginitive, storytelling friend.

     His name was Brad, and he told lies as often as stories. His favorite story, and his favorite lie, was of his Uncle's travels beyond the Atlantic. Now, Brad's Uncle was a CIA agent who was on assignment in Pakistan and also in France and Italy, and, not to forget Syria, he escaped an IED there, by mere inches.

     This Uncle Agent story was of course fantastical, and almost an outright lie (It turned out Brad' Uncle Agent did have involvement with federal enforcement of some sort, but there was very little espionage in his time with the Bureau). But, nonetheless, this story possessed genuine elements. Chiefly, it possessed the genuine admiration of an adoring nephew who glorified his uncle's standing, so much so that he imputed his own personal desires, wishes, idolizations of an undercover Uncle Agent into an otherwise disingenuious story.  In short, Brad created a story by recreating his Uncle and his travels, thereby investing himself and his interests into his characters.

     So too does Kerouac invest himself in his characters. He recreates as he creates. His own journey with Neal Cassady is reflected in the journey of Sal and Dean (Kerouac). And, very clearly, his prose is reflected in the prose of Sal and Dean. By process of this recreation, a story is reborn, transported from experience to fiction. In turn, a whole new journey is conveyed to a whole new band of travellers (the readers). And, in the end, one fine lesson about travelling and storytelling: The journey is the story one makes of it.

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