KEROUAC, Jean-Louis Lebris de ("Jack"), (1922-1969). Typescript scroll of the The Dharma Bums, comprising the first draft, from which the published novel derives, with occasional marginal and interlinear additions and revisions in pencil by Kerouac. Typed by Kerouac in Orlando, Florida, 1957, published 1958.
A continuous roll of wove (probably Teletype) paper, 61 ft., 3/8 in. in length x 8½ inches wide, created by Kerouac by neatly taping together 10 separate strips of paper so he could feed the scroll without interruption through his typewriter. The text single-spaced, without breaks or paragraphs. With occasional revisions: a few lines or phrases crossed out, a dozen or so words and some paragraph marks added, 12-15 names or words lined out and a substitute written above, but generally a remarkably clean typescript, showing almost no second thoughts or revision. The title "The Dharma Bums" boldly lettered by Kerouac in red watercolor at the beginning of the scroll. CONDITION: The paper lightly yellowed, cellophane tape used by Kerouac for section joins and for a few early marginal repairs now yellowed, two later tape repairs from the back, first inch or so at beginning and end of the scroll very slightly frayed, OTHERWISE IN EXCEPTIONALLY FINE ORIGINAL CONDITION.
THE SEQUEL TO "ON THE ROAD": DESCRIBING KEROUAC'S SPIRITUAL QUEST IN THE SIERRAS AND CASCADES AND THE BIRTH OF THE SAN FRANCISCO POETRY RENAISSANCE
The Dharma Bums, which Allen Ginsberg hailed as "an extraordinary mystic testament," was conceived as a sequel to On the Road (1957) and it remains one of Kerouac's most important and widely-read books, written at the peak of his creative powers. Its theme--the search for spiritual renewal from nature--is a familiar one in Western literature, and animates works like Shelley's "Mont Blanc" (1817), Thoreau's Walden (1854) and John Muir's My First Summer in the Sierras (1911). But, as the American naturalist and author John Burroughs wisely wrote, "it is the soul the poet interprets, not nature. There is nothing in nature but what the beholder supplies," he cautioned. "You commune with your own soul, not with woods or waters" (John Burroughs, "Nature and the Poets" in Pepacton, 1881, p.127). In the 61-foot-long, single-spaced scroll of The Dharma Bums, Kerouac captures in prose the rapidly shifting currents of his personal spiritual quest, in order to understand the most fundamental questions of human life, to deal with his increasing loneliness, and to confront his weaknesses--especially his alcoholism--and come to terms with his fear of death itself. The year-long quest takes Kerouac ("Ray Smith" in the novel) across the U.S. and Mexico, along many of the same highways hitchhiked in On the Road. And, with poet Gary Snyder ("Japhy Ryder") as a guide, Kerouac backpacks into the dense forests and rugged mountains of the California Sierras, seeking the spiritual insights that poets and mystics have often found in nature. Finally, at Snyder's urging, Kerouac spends a season entirely alone in an isolated fire lookout station on Desolation Peak, high in the Mt. Baker Wilderness. The Dharma Bums also contains Kerouac's account of what has been called "the central moment in West Coast Beat culture" (R. Solnit, in Beat Culture and the New America 1850-1965, ed.L Phillips, p.73), the now epochal reading in San Francisco, at which poets Kenneth Rexroth ("Reinhold Cacoethes"), Michael McClure ("Ike O'Shay"), Philip Whalen ("Warren Coughlin"), Philip Lamantia (Francis DePavia), Alan Ginsberg ("Alvah Goldbook") and Snyder read their works. The reading at the Gallery Six on Fillmore Street, October 7, 1955, when Ginsberg gave the first public performance of "Howl," is regarded as marking the creative coalescence of the San Francisco Poetry Renaissance.
"THE DHARMA BUMS" AS A SEQUEL TO "ON THE ROAD"
The Dharma Bums was written for the simple reason that Kerouac's publishers wanted another book like On the Road, which had attracted national attention, was ringing up strong sales and made The New York Times bestseller list in the late Fall. By the terms of their contract with Kerouac, Viking had the right of refusal on Jack's next novel On the Road, but declined Maggie Cassidy, Doctor Sax and Visions of Gerard. Malcolm Cowley, Viking's fiction consultant, recalled that eventually "somebody at Viking said, 'Why don't you just carry on what you were doing in On the Road?' And Jack sat down and did his Dharma Bums" (Gifford and Lee, Jack's Book: An Oral Biography, p.243). In its writing Jack drew on his prodigious memory and on his careful notebooks and journals. In late May, 1957, from Florida, Jack wrote to his agent, Sterling Lord, enthusiastically describing his new book: "I...am working furiously on a new narrative adventure...a picaresque account of how I discovered Buddha and what happened in my experiences, often hilarious, as an American Dharma Bum...It has all kinds of hitch hiking scenes, girls, new characters I've never written about (such as Gary Snyder who wanders in the mountains alone for months and comes down to, among other things, organize Tibetan yabyum orgies with the girls), railroads, wine, dialog, the story of the San Francisco poetry movement which began one drunken night, my meditations in the North Carolina woods, all written in a wild undisciplined way..." He added hopefully "we'll see how On the Road sells, from which it [The Dharma Bums] won't be too different except in style..." (Selected Letters, ed. A. Charters, 2, p.44). In John Clellon Holmes' recollection, Kerouac "wrote The Dharma Bums in three weeks, or maybe a month. They [Viking] wouldn't publish The Subterraneans. They wouldn't publish any of the other books that he'd written, so he wrote The Dharma Bums" (Gifford and Lee, p.244). But six months after his letter to Lord he told Ginsburg that "my in-progress work... is really bettern On the Road, if I can only stay sober enuf to finish it...I am bugged and sad and mad and writing a great novel The Dharma Bums, wow, wait'll they read that one!" (SL, 2, p.97). In January 1958 after finishing the scroll typescript, he began, as he had done with On the Road, to laboriously transcribe his single-spaced text into conventional 8 x by 11 inch pages, double-spaced, for his editors. Given the success of On the Road and his new literary reputation, Kerouac was able to rebuff most editorial changes. Cowley recalled that, "he had a terrible fight with Viking about the changes that his editor and the copy-editing department had made..." (Gifford and Lee, p.243). The the original scroll typescript--which uses the real names of Kerouac and his friends, so that it reads much like a personal diary--has never been exhibited, studied or compared to the text of the published book.
A WRITER'S PROGRESS
In 1955-56, when the events narrated in The Dharma Bums took place, Kerouac had published very little. His first book, The Town and the City, published in 1950, sold poorly and made little impression. Kerouac felt the need to find an entirely new, modern voice in which to record his powerful experiences on the road with Neal Cassady ("Dean Moriarty"), and, as an experiment, tried a radical compositional exercise. According to John Clellon Holmes' account, Kerouac had simply announced "I'm going to get me a roll of shelf paper, feed it into the typewriter, and just write it down as fast as I can, exactly as it happened, the hell with these phony architectures and worry about it later" (Holmes, Nothing to Declare, p.78). The results were profoundly exciting. As one scholar has observed, Kerouac "set out on a composition exercise and found unexpectedly that he had the book itself" (Tim Hunt, Kerouac's Crooked Road, pp.111-112). But the book met rejection by a succession of publishers, and it was fully six years before On the Road appeared in print. During this period of repeated rejection Kerouac continued to develop and to perfect his technique of "spontaneous prose," or "sketching," using it first to reshape much of the material in On the Road into a new book, Visions of Cody, then launching a series of autobiographical works which he called "the legend of Dulouz," comprising an extended chronicle of his own life. In 1952, he completed Doctor Sax (see preceding lot) and followed it with Maggie Cassidy, The Subterraneans and Tristessa. By dint of long practice, Kerouac had probably reached the peak of his powers as a writer by the late 1950s. And, although he was unaware of it, by 1956 he stood on the threshold of success and fame. Due to an energetic new agent, Sterling Lord, excerpts from On the Road and other works began to appear in literary magazines and later that same year Viking finally agreed to publish On the Road.
A TROUBLED ROAD: KEROUAC'S SPIRITUAL CRISIS
Kerouac's prolific writing during the early and mid-1950s is especially remarkable in light of the rootless turbulence of his life in these years. As Joyce Glassman has pointed out, in the six years from 1951 until publication of On the Road in 1957, Kerouac was a literary nomad who "suffered from the humiliation and chaos of homelessness" (Glassman, Introduction to Desolation Angels, p.xiii). Not long after he finished On the Road, his marriage to Joan Haverty had ended in a bitter separation. And, "fearful of being hounded by the police and being forced to abandon writing for menial jobs," he left New York. With little more than a sleeping bag and a rucksack with a supply of small pocket notebooks, he crossed and re-crossed the continent, hitch-hiking or riding freight trains between New York, Mexico City (William Burroughs' temporary home), San Francisco, and Rocky Mount, North Carolina (home of his sister). It is clear that Kerouac was also experiencing an increasing sense of isolation and estrangement from his closest friends. To deal with this isolation and depression Kerouac was increasingly reliant on alcohol. As the character Reinhold Cacoethes (poet Kenneth Rexroth) acidly observes about Ray Smith (Jack) in The Dharma Bums: "He's too drrronk all the time."
A BUDDHIST LIFELINE
In December 1953, Jack embraced Buddhism, which profoundly influenced his subsequent writings. "Kerouac's interest in Eastern philosophy anticipated that of general Western culture by a decade or more" (Amburn, Subterranean Kerouac, p.199). He enthusiastically read the Buddhist scriptures, finding in the credo "first thought, best thought" validation of his own spontaneous prose esthetic. Studying the lives of the itinerant Buddhist bhikkus (scholar/priests), he came gradually to see himself as a modern-day itinerant monk with a mission "to enlighten the world and wake it from its sad mistaken dream of rue and rage" (ibid., p.196). Kerouac assiduously practiced Buddhist meditation techniques (dhyana) and kept notes on his spiritual development. It is clear that he drew deep comfort and reassurance by adopting a Buddhist outlook that stressed detachment (something he already felt), a simple life (this too, he already had, by dint of his poverty) and the practice of benevolence and charity without hope of reward (a similar concept was part of his Christian upbringing). As he explains early in The Dharma Bums, he "believed in the reality of charity and kindness and humility and zeal and neutral tranquility and wisdom and ecstasy, and that I was an oldtime bhikku in modern clothes wandering the world...in order to turn the wheel of the True Meaning, or Dharma, and gain merit for myself as a future Buddha..." (The Dharma Bums, p.5, hereafter referred to as DB).
And in the end, Kerouac came to play a modest but important role in the spread of Buddhism in America. Allen Ginsberg recalled, "the first Buddhism I learned was from Jack, and maybe some of the deepest" (Gifford and Lee, p.215). When Ginsberg's Howl was published in 1956, Kerouac was one of the dedicatees, and Ginsberg termed him a "new Buddha of American prose." But in the end, a sense of connection to others would prove tragically illusive for Kerouac: "Through Buddhism," Glassman points out, "he could rationalize the void he had discovered within himself, but he could never really accept it."
A NEW MENTOR: GARY SNYDER
In the late 1940s Kerouac had fallen powerfully under the influence of the charismatic Neal Cassady who, as Dean Moriarty, became the main character in On the Road. But in 1955 Kerouac gravitated to a very different type of mentor: Gary Snyder (1930- ) a mountaineer, devout Buddhist and accomplished poet. Snyder, Jack wrote, "was a kid from eastern Oregon brought up in a log cabin deep in the woods," with a passionate love for the wilderness and a deep sense of its spiritual qualities. A graduate student at Berkeley, Snyder was studying Chinese and Japanese and writing his own haiku and poetry. To Kerouac, Snyder seemed "the number one Dharma bum of them all" (DB, p.9). The two became fast friends, shared haiku, tea, cheap wine, and, on one occasion, lovers (in the famous yabyum orgy at Ginsberg's cottage (DB, Chapter 5). Profoundly different in temperament, the two formed "the most uniquely trouble-free partnership of Kerouac's life" (Amburn, p.241).
Portrayed in The Dharma Bums as the "Zen lunatic" Japhy Ryder, Snyder plays a role strikingly similar to that of Dean Moriarty in On The Road. Cassady, whose manic presence is so central to On the Road, has a relatively insignificant role (as "Cody Pomeray") in The Dharma Bums. It is Snyder, with his enthusiastic, optimistic, deeply spiritual approach to nature who remains the pole star for Kerouac throughout the book, even after Snyder's departure for Japan. Often, in the solitude of his lookout cabin on Desolation Mountain, Kerouac evoked memories of his absent friend.
"RUCKSACK WANDERERS TO THE WILDERNESS
To Kerouac--an Easterner who had spent most of his life in cities--wilderness hiking and the solitude of the high peak areas that Snyder loved were unfamiliar, mysterious and threatening. Snyder was a willing guide and at his suggestion, he, Kerouac, and another friend drive into the Sierras to climb craggy Matterhorn Peak. Kerouac realizes that it will "do me a lot of good and get me away from drinking and maybe make me appreciate a whole new way of living" (DB, p.55). And he writes that: "walking in this country you could understand the perfect gems of haikus the Oriental poets had written...writing down what they saw without literary devices or fanciness of expression...We made up haikus as we climbed..." (DB, p.59). Kerouac lyrically describes the trail as having "a kind of immortal look to it, in the early afternoon now, the way the side of the grassy hill seemed to be clouded with ancient gold dust and the bugs flipped over rocks and the wind sighed in shimmering dances over the hot rocks, and the way the trail would suddenly come into a cool shady part with big trees, and here the light deeper" (DB, p.61). But, "there was something inexpressibly broken in my heart," and he muses that "the woods do that to you, they always look familiar, long lost, like the face of a long-dead relative, like an old dream, like a piece of a forgotten song drifting across the water, most of all like golden eternities of past childhood or past manhood and all the living and the dying and the heartbreak..." (DB, pp. 61-62). Awed by his first experience in the wilderness and inspired by Snyder's example, Kerouac vows to himself to begin a new life," following "the pure way."
In one of the book's most quoted passages, Snyder spells out his prophecy of a future Woodstock generation: "the whole world full of rucksack wanderers, Dharma bums refusing to subscribe to the general demand that they consume production and therefore have to work for the privilege of consuming, all that crap they didn't want anyway...I see a vision of a great rucksack revolution thousands or even millions of young Americans wandering around with rucksacks, going up to mountains to pray, making children laugh and old men glad, making young girls happy and old girls happier, all of 'em Zen lunatics who go about writing poems" (DB, pp.97-98).
SAMADHI IN THE CAROLINA PINES
Leaving California after the suicide of an acquaintance, Nathalie Jackson, Kerouac goes to live with his sister and her family in Rock Mount, North Carolina. For the next few months Kerouac spends hours at the typewriter and practices meditation in the pines near his sister's house. One night "pacing in the cold windy darkness" he experiences a profound catharsis: "I felt tremendously depressed and threw myself right on the ground and cried 'I'm gonna die!' because there was nothing else to do in the cold loneliness of this harsh inhospitable earth, and instantly the tender bliss of enlightenment was like milk in my eyelids and I was warm. And I knew that this was the truth...Believe that the world is an ethereal flower, and ye live. I knew this! I also knew that I was the worst bum in the world. The diamond light was in my eyes" (DB, pp.136-137).
His meditations and studies continue, and "one frosty night in the woods in the dead silence it seemed I almost heard the words said: 'Everything is all right forever and forever and forever.'" Overjoyed and deeply comforted--for a time--by this mantra, Kerouac "felt free and therefore I was free" (DB, pp.137-138). But Kerouac has worn out his welcome and his family is unable to understand his Buddhism. On one of his last nights in North Carolina, he experiences a hint of samadhi or samapatti, being "devoid of any sensation of I being myself, it was pure egolessness, just simply wild, ethereal activities devoid of any wrong predicates...devoid of effort, devoid of mistake. 'Everything's all right,' I thought," and with renewed optimism, "I saw that my life was a vast glowing empty page and I could do anything I wanted" (DB, pp.147-148). Not long afterwards, having been notified that he has been hired as a ranger in the Mt. Baker National Forest, he hitchhikes back to San Francisco.
In Chapters 24 to 30, Kerouac tells of his return to the Bay area and to Snyder's shack in the Mill Valley woods. He is hurt, though, when Snyder fails to appreciate his new revelations. Snyder confronts Kerouac about his drinking, and expresses strong doubts whether his friend can "gain enlightenment and manage to stay out in the mountains" (DB, p. 191). After Snyder's departure on a freighter for Japan, Kerouac hitchhikes north, passing through Seattle ("wet, immense, timbered, mountainous, cold, exhilarating, challenging") to take up his post as a lookout on Desolation Peak, in the Mt. Baker Wilderness. An old muleskinner escorts Jack to the solitary lookout post at 6500 ft. on Starvation Ridge: "a funny little peaked almost Chinese cabin among little pointy firs and boulders standing on a bald rock top surrounded by snowbanks and patches of wet grass with tiny flowers" (DB, p.231). Kerouac is awed by the spectacular beauty of his cloud-shrouded abode and resumes meditation, gazing across a void at a jagged nearby peak, Hozomeen. "And suddenly I realized I was truly alone and had nothing to do but feed myself and rest and amuse myself, and nobody could criticize" (DB, p. 235). The simple rituals of his day are deeply satisfying, and he feels "happier than in years and years, since childhood...(DB, p. 236). He describes moments when his character views himself with profound detachment: "'Poor Raymond boy, his day is so sorrowful and worried, his reasons are so ephemeral, it's such a haunted and pitiful thing to have to live!'" and, thinking of Milton's Paradise Lost, wonders "Are we fallen angels who didn't want to believe that nothing is nothing and so were born to lose our dear loved ones and dear friends one by one and finally our own life, to see it proved?" (DB, p.239).
But, as Kerouac wrote in Desolation Angels, "the trouble with Desolation, is, no characters" (DA, p.14) and he daydreams about his return to city life. He is both saddened and elated when he is summoned, by radio, to close the lookout cabin and hike back to civilization. "Now comes the sadness of coming back to cities...and there's all that humanity of bars and burlesque shows and gritty love, all upsidedown in the void God bless them" (DB, p.244).
The narrative ends with Jack's heading down the trail, back to the society he had separated himself from, 63 days before. But while Jack had recovered his health in his stint on the mountain, the fundamental, long-lasting changes in his life that he had hoped would result from the spiritual solitude of the mountains did not materialize, and he soon "resumed a life that was as self-absorbed as before" (Amburn, p.253), no more able to contend with his personal demons than he had been before Mt. Desolation. To Glassman, Kerouac's "deliberate confrontation with the void in the summer of 1956 was the act of a man who did not yet fully recognize how worn down he was, but who had not yet lost the courage or the freedom to go wherever his imagination led him. His stint as a fire lookout was to be one of Kerouac's last 'on the road' adventures; in 1957 his unwanted celebrity as the avatar of the Beat Generation; would end his anonymity forever" (Glassman, p. xvi).
Tragically, as Amburn writes, "though Kerouac's art was a transcendent creation and an enduring gift to the world, it did not afford him an opportunity to connect with people on the direct level where love and mutual help are transmitted" (Amburn, p.255). But The Dharma Bums, Kerouac's unflinchingly honest and lyrical account of his unsuccessful wilderness quest, remains one of the most compelling, engaging and humane of all his novels.
TEXT CHANGES IN THE SCROLL
Compared to the typescript of On the Road, Kerouac's authorial emendations in the typescript scroll of The Dharma Bums are relatively sparse, perhaps reflecting Jack's years of practice with spontaneous writing. But there are still numerous differences between the scroll and the published novel and some significant revisions and additions by Kerouac may be noted. In Chapter 6, describing the drive with Snyder and John Montgomery into the Sierras to climb Mount Matterhorn, Kerouac has deleted an entire passage, and later in the scroll, has made pencil notes indicating that two sections recording Kenneth Rexroth's critical comments on fellow poets should be brought together, as they have been in the published book. Kerouac has made slight changes to his description of his days on Mt. Desolation and modifications to the well-known passage in Chapter 33 that describing his meditative vision of the world upside-down, and man "a weird, vain bettle full of strange ideas." In a number of places we have observed a significant rearrangement of text segments between the scroll and the published book, perhaps introduced by Kerouac in the preparation of his page-form typescript. But an authoritative study of these tantalizing textual questions will await the scrutiny of scholars.
"SO LET US TALK OF ANGELS"
Upon publication, less than a year after On the Road, The Dharma Bums garnered a very respectable critical following. Allen Ginsberg, in a famous review in the Village Voice, strongly endorsed Kerouac's prose, which he termed "Spontaneous Bop Prosody" for its resemblance to modern jazz. Dharma Bums, Ginsberg wrote, was "an extraordinary mystic testament," a "record of various inner signposts on the road to understanding of the illusion of being." Kerouac, he observed, has "gone very far out in discovering (or remembering) the perfect patterns that his own mind makes, and trusting them, and seeing their importance-to rhythm, to imagery, to the very structure of the 'novel." "At last," the author of Howl exulted, "America has a new visionary poet. So let us talk of Angels" (Village Voice, 12 November 1958, pp. 3-5, in Deliberate Prose, pp.342-348).
Provenance: Jack Kerouac (1922-1969); Gabrielle Kerouac, his mother (d.1973) and Stella Sampas Kerouac, his wife; Stella Sampas Kerouac (d.1990); Anthony G. Sampatacacus, brother of the preceding (d.1999).