Tuesday, December 7, 2010

On The Road Week 1

What is it about On The Road?
The characters, the travel, Sal’s emotions and reactions, the stream of images describing moments and larger swathes of time and place, all sounding like quotes I’ve read or seen in italics somewhere. Having read this book 35 years ago and not remembered anything at all, I had relied on the whole Beat reputation of the novel as a framework for my knowledge of it.
But one thing that struck me so vividly early in the book is Sal’s mention that he was born in 1926. Wow. This redefines the sensibility of the book hugely for me. So Sal was born in 1926, endured the Depression, was involved in some way in the Second World War, attended college and is now off discovering America in 1947.
How did this become the defining Beat chronicle anyway? A mid-50s anthem adopted by 60s poets and thinkers and “angel-headed hipsters.” This has made me think of that era in a whole new way.
Where do the notes and intervals and themes start that created this era between Bird and Miles? How often is society looking back and riffing on the previous decades in order to come up with a defining and transforming spirit of the times? For example, I have sometimes thought that the early 70s were more like the “60s” than the 60s themselves were. Quite a lot of the TV series Mad Men sort of shows this as well, in a reverse way – a very 50s-esque portrayal of the decade that also brought us Woodstock.
Or is it the other way around? Somehow in looking back, we categorize or sum up a decade in a manner that reduces it and excludes the influences that shaped it.
Anyway I am very interested to read on about these boys and their road, these Easy Riders, and looking for connections backward to the times that shaped them, and forward to those they influenced.


Hi Mandi, Franca, Erin and everyone! Yes it is great to be back reading and pondering as many have mentioned in other posts. The thing I was struck by regarding the Machine, is that they are externalizing their actions. They seem to have made an agreement to have these interminable talk sessions, wild and rambling and spontaneous, which is really a bit manic, but they don't say that they "like it" or "enjoy" or "are fascinated" or anything. No, they describe it as a machine, some other force that is driving them. And one which can be switched on or off.


Hi Lynn, yes a few people have written about the travel experience, or noted the male aura about the story. I did some travelling last year for the first time, really. And there were a few times when I thought, "What exactly am I doing? I feel the same here as at home." But in answer to your question, I think travelling is more than being absolutely astounded by a location or an experience. The value has to do with the whole fabric of what the trip contained, small moments, strangers' stories, etc.
I also did a very brief search for female travellers, and did not find a bounty of references. On The Road is told very much from a male perspective, as others in the club have pointed out. Is it bigotted of me to say that this is all part of an iconic American novel? The whole definition of America, and its still powerful engine? The men, the freedom, the casual sex, all the (white) boys together out on the road? When I tried to come up with a female equivalent in literature or pop culture, what came to mind was Thelma and Louise. I know there are various road trip movies, but that is the one that has stuck with me.

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