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Norman Podhoretz and Jack Kerouac

January 24, 1987

I will always be indebted to Norman Podhoretz for the unrelenting iconoclasm of his book, "Breaking Ranks." But it must be said that his once refreshing voice now seems little more than a neo-conservative drone.

Consider his recent criticism of Jack Kerouac. After six years of Reaganism haven't we heard enough in defense of the American way of life in general and middle-class values in particular? In attacking Kerouac and the tradition he represents, Podhoretz, in effect, pleads for that conformity of mind and spirit that he so admirably takes to task in "Breaking Ranks."

Podhoretz points out that Kerouac was the champion of the junkie, the hooker, the "madman," and it is possible that his novels over-idealize the social outcast. Certainly it is true that there is no more inherent virtue in a junkie than a yuppie. But would Orwell have believed that most yuppies and preppies are more "alive" than most junkies and hookers? The fact is that most yuppies, like most junkies, exist--they do not live .

Kerouac protested the state of mere existence among the middle classes--a noble endeavor. He also opposed the fatuities of the counterculture during the '60s--also a noble endeavor. What this country needs right now is a voice spitting forth the vision of a new, responsible Bohemianism; what we need is an encouragement to the pursuit of alternative life styles and attitudes, above all, individualism.

What we don't need is Nobo-Daddy Norman Podhoretz raising the specter of lives "ruined" by the Beat philosophy, as though the tradition of Whitman, Wolfe and Kerouac (faintly echoed by Bruce Springsteen?) amounted to nothing more than a death wish.

As for Kerouac, the writer: the quality of his output was uneven but I have always believed the author of "The Subterraneans" to be the most innovative prose stylist America has produced in the last 30 years.



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