Kerouac, the Catholic conservative?

The American Conservative makes the case that beat novelist Jack Kerouac, while claimed by hippies and Occupiers, is at heart Kerouac Catholic and conservative:

“The Catholic Church is a weird church,” Jack later wrote to his friend and muse Neal Cassady. “Much mysticism is sown broadspread from its ritual mysteries till it extends into the very lives of its constituents and parishoners.” It is impossible to overstate the influence of Catholicism on all of Kerouac’s work, save perhaps those books written during his Buddhist period in the mid-to-late 1950s. The influence is so obvious and so pervasive, in fact, that Kerouac became justifiably incensed when Ted Berrigan of the Paris Review asked during a 1968 interview, “How come you never write about Jesus?” Kerouac’s reply: “I’ve never written about Jesus? … You’re an insane phony … All I write about is Jesus.”

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Berrigan ought to have known better. But casual readers can be forgiven for failing to grasp the religiosity in Kerouac’s writing. After all, his version of Christianity esteemed visions and personal experience over doctrine and dogma. He felt a special affinity for such offbeat souls as St. Francis of Assissi, St. Therese of Liseux (“The Little Flower”), and Thomas Merton, all of whom to some extent de-emphasized legalism in favor of a direct union with God. Beyond the confines of the Catholic Church, the influence of the painter and ecstatic poet William Blake loomed just as large and perhaps fueled Kerouac’s disregard for what he perceived to be restrictive sexual mores.

Read the full article here. The image comes from a granite pillar in Kerouac Park in the author's hometown of Lowell, Mass., and the text is one of Kerouac's meditations on Buddhist philosophy.

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William Marvel
5 years 4 months ago
The question of Kerouac's Catholicism certainly troubled Kerouac. For much of his life he kept his Catholicism simultaneously within arm's reach and at arm's length. But at the end he was buried in the Church, the funeral oration delivered by Father Spike Morissette, an Oblate priest in Lowell, Jack's home town, who early on had advised him on a writing career.
Whether Jack was a "conservative," whatever that has come to mean these days, is less likely. Despite the drugs, booze and bed-hoppng, deep down he yearned for the peaceful harbor of a wife and children and a quiet little home. So there's that. As he got older, he felt a growing scorn for the kind of Europeanized and leftist intellectualism that dominated what remained of the beat scene. His politics never veered as far to the right as his father's (Leo was a piece of work). And while it's true that Jack became a devoted reader of the National Review, which returned the favor by interviewing him, he was also an avid reader of Voltaire.
My guess is that like many thinking Catholics, Kerouac resists easy political categories. To try to understand him as either "conservative" or "liberal," I think, is to misread everything he wrote.
Amy Ho-Ohn
5 years 4 months ago
Somewhere in the last four decades mainstream opinion adopted the midleading heuristic that all undisciplined flakes are left-wing by definition, even McCarthyites like Kerouac.
Vince Killoran
5 years 4 months ago
I wouldn't put much trust in anything Kerouac said in 1968-drunk most of the time, living back with memere in Lowell, and denouncing anti-war protesters.

One of the best takes on the Beats and their apoltical nature is Hale's A NATION OF OUTSIDERS. It's fun to read Kerouac et al. in the same company as William F. Buckley. 

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