Friday, June 14, 2013

Gimme Jack, With All The Trimmings: How Money Made A Turkey Of Kerouac.


According to the Allen Ginsberg blog, a collection of 59 letters and postcards sent by Jack Kerouac to his friend Ed White are going on sale in New York for an asking price of $1.25 million. The seller is book dealer Glenn Horovitz which handles literary artefacts by Ezra Pound and Sylvia Plath too, among others.

Maybe somebody with more knowledge about these things than Suffolk Punch can tell us where Glenn Horovitz got hold of the letters in the first place. From the White family? From the Kerouac estate? Surely the latter must have had some involvement in the sale, since the copyright on the writing is theirs. Right?

And if it was the Kerouac estate, have any preconditions been set on the sale? Will the letters, in their original form, simply disappear from view once whoever is rich enough to afford them gets his/her mitts on them? I believe the writing of any great author (or even any minor author) must be preserved for history, and in some kind of controlled way it should be accessible to scholars and admirers of the work. Archiving, in other words; not flogging off to some rich person to be used as an indicator of his social standing.

And although I’m not particularly elitist – I don’t think I am anyway – I don’t believe in using great writing as a business acquisition either. I hate what they’ve done to the On the Road manuscript. It’s treated like a prize turkey instead of a precious literary artefact. It's a three-legged boy in a Victorian sideshow, hauled out so people can stare at it for an entrance fee. And half of them probably haven't read it. You may laugh, but to my mind that’s an insult to Jack and the spirit of the novel. Whoever owned it previously should be committed.

I say we should have a central archive of Kerouac’s writing; that all this stuff should be brought back and placed securely together, maybe in a university. The commodification of the Beats, which has been encouraged by the respective Estates, is wrong, and counter-productive too. It contributes to the view of them, which exists beyond the fiercely devoted world of their admirers, as circus freaks; as fundamentally not serious. And whatever you think of his abilities, nobody was more serious than Kerouac.

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