The Voice Is All: The Lonely Victory of Jack Kerouac

The Voice Is All: The Lonely Victory of Jack Kerouac

Joyce Johnson

Language: English

Pages: 512

ISBN: 0670025100

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

A groundbreaking portrait of Kerouac as a young artist—from the award-winning author of Minor Characters

In The Voice is All, Joyce Johnson, author of her classic memoir, Door Wide Open, about her relationship with Jack Kerouac, brilliantly peels away layers of the Kerouac legend to show how, caught between two cultures and two languages, he forged a voice to contain his dualities.  Looking more deeply than previous biographers into how Kerouac’s French Canadian background enriched his prose and gave him a unique outsider’s vision of America, she  tracks his development from boyhood through the phenomenal breakthroughs of 1951 that resulted in the composition of On the Road, followed by Visions of Cody. By illuminating Kerouac’s early choice to sacrifice everything to his work, The Voice Is All deals with him on his own terms and puts the tragic contradictions of his nature and his complex relationships into perspective.





















would believe that a premonition about the oncoming catastrophe in the Pacific had been responsible for his days of unaccountable depression. Yet once he sat at his old desk staring at the headlines, he felt a stir of excitement. If some tremendous change in America had occurred, he wanted to take its measure right away. He put on his overcoat and went out bareheaded into the freezing cold, “looking for the War” in the streets of Pawtucketville. At a diner, he listened to some mill workers fresh

where there were men who howled “like coyotes” and had to be wrapped in wet sheets. Surrounded by what seemed like the suffering of mankind and identifying with Raskolnikov, the “schizoid,” “Hamlet-­like” intellectual who had destroyed his life with one gratuitous act in Crime and Punishment, Jack wrote to Sebastian that “Dostoevsky was one of ourselves.” “You are not a Slav,” Sammy responded sternly on May 26. “It is beyond the capacity of your Breton soul to understand him.” Sebastian saw

possibilities” of what Spengler had called “the All-­Soul.” As he wrote, Sebastian’s voice took on more and more urgency, as if he were making a last-­ditch attempt to liberate Jack from the Western prison of the ego by passing along the vision he now embraced. He had grown pessimistic about Russia’s future, but was convinced that in America “a primitive man, crude, raw, unfinished—​­superb—​­is shaping in the heart 9780670025107_VoiceIsAll_TX.indd 137 2/23/12 11:02 AM 21123 138 |  The Voice

his self-­image, this feeling of being ashamed to be alive, was at the root of the shyness he never conquered, which he would try to overcome with alcohol.) With his memories and insights, Jack built up a powerful indictment of his mother. In the end, though, it offered him no deliverance, since he was as incapable of bringing himself to judge Gabe as he was to let go of the intercessor she had created for him. One of the saddest and most revealing lines Jack ever wrote was this: “I bow . . . ​to

mourning the loss of Lucien and “wonderful, perverse Kammerer,” twice drafting suicide notes in his journal. With Lucien gone—​­ and being kept incommunicado—­ the relationship between Jack and Allen quickly deepened. Writing to Allen in September, Jack hailed him as a kindred spirit, seeking identity in the midst of “sprawling, nameless reality.” The two of them were different from Lucien, Jack theorized, because Lucien hated his own “human­ kindness.” The last they heard from Lucien for the

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