Saturday, October 2, 2010

Dennis McNally: Jack Kerouac and the American Bohemian Tradition

Dennis McNally gave a talk "Jack Kerouac and the American Bohemian Tradition" to a capacity gathering in the theater of the Lowell Visitor Center on Market St. This was the 25th anniversary of the annual Lowell Celebrates Kerouac festivities.

Notes Sitting Listening

as an historian, McNally tries to "put phenomena in context"

~ artists as "antennas of of the human race"

~ in the 1950s "Communism" was just a code word for the modern world in general; in the 1950s there was "an overwhelming pressure to conform."

THE ALTERNATE VOICE - everyone that didn't fit into mainstream conceptions of normal American life.


  • anti-materialism
  • religious skepticism
  • individual value over the corporation/state
  • sexual freedom & sensuality
  • American Bohemian Tradition consistently demonstrates an attachment to African-American cultural breakthroughs (jazz in particular)

Bohemian life  = a "life protest" to counter the "soulless, flat corporate world."

(In the Q&A after the talk someone asked if there is a Bohemian culture today and McNally hesitated, shook his head, and basically said "it's hard to be a Bohemian in today's world.")

First mention of Buddhism in America? Thoreau in 1844 in the Transcendentalist magazine "The Dial," the translation of a Buddhist text at the request of Emerson. Kerouac very much into Thoreau.

Kerouac's great gift? His "naive defenselessness." Meaning, the beautiful wonder with which he saw the world. He investigated the soul and the idea of endless eternity, "the void," instead of distracting himself with the usual politics business stock market book review Literary Canon orthodoxy. He was already living in eternity while the culture around him grew sillier and more irrelevant.

Jack Kerouac's Grave, Edson Cemetery, Lowell, Ma
October 2, 2010 

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