Jack Kerouac forged a voice that has come to be appreciated as a landmark literary invention in American letters. Its elements are ecstasy arising from misery (like Thomas Wolfe), catalogues of desire (think Whitman and Melville), and Kerouac’s very own technique of reaching rock bottom before emerging with a recreated world in his hands:
I was delirious . . . hurrying to a plank where all the angels dove off and flew into the holy void of uncreated emptiness, the potent and inconceivable radiancies shining in bright Mind Essence, innumerable lotus-lands falling open in the magic mothswarm of heaven . . . I felt sweet, swinging bliss, like a big shot of heroin in the mainline vein; like a gulp of wine late in the afternoon and it makes you shudder; my feet tingled. I thought I was going to die the very next moment. But I didn’t die, and walked four miles and picked up ten long butts and took them back to Marylou’s hotel room and poured their tobacco in my old pipe and lit up. I was too young to know what had happened.
His is a voice like no other: musical in the variations-on-a-theme style of Bebop virtuosi (Kerouac’s actual jazz writings, alone, would put him in that pantheon)..
Putting together, melding the rhythm of jazz and still being very exacting about meaning, getting the substance to agree with the style was/is truly remarkable. To just put words together to convey thoughts, every sentence like an equation is difficult enough.
ARE you responsible for your behavior if your brain “made you do it”?
Often we think not. For example, research now suggests that the brain’s frontal lobes, which are crucial for self-control, are not yet mature in adolescents. This finding has helped shape attitudes about whether young people are fully responsible for their actions. In 2005, when the Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty for juveniles was unconstitutional, its decision explicitly took into consideration that “parts of the brain involved in behavior control continue to mature through late adolescence.”
…A brain characteristic that was even weakly associated with violence led people to exonerate the protagonist more than a psychological factor that was strongly associated with violent acts. Moreover, the participants in our study were much more likely, given a protagonist with a brain characteristic, to view the behavior as “automatic” rather than “motivated,” and to view the behavior as unrelated to the protagonist’s character. The participants described the protagonists with brain characteristics in ways that suggested that the “true” person was not at the helm of himself. The behavior was caused, not intended.
In contrast, while psychologically damaging experiences like childhood abuse often elicited sympathy for the protagonist and sometimes even prompted considerable mitigation of blame, the participants still saw the protagonist’s behavior as intentional. The protagonist himself was twisted by his history of trauma; it wasn’t just his brain. Most participants felt that in such cases, personal character remained relevant in determining how the protagonist went on to act.
I wonder at people’s tendency to not be able to associate harm done from a distance – removed by actual geography or income or social status – and the effect that harm has on their lives. They certainly get being knocked own and their watch smart phone stolen. The latter can have devastating consequences – the victim feeling violated. They might feel unsafe for months or even years. Yet three states or a continent away, some very wealthy men in a room determine public policy, the way they think capitalism should be structured that can take way tens of thousands of dollars over their lifetime. Diminish their quality of life. Make their cities into urban dystopias and towns more toxic. Cause disease directly or through stress, and yet reward those same thieves in silk ties and white shirts by voting for policies that perpetuate the things they say they find most disturbing about modern life. This inability to make connections between cause and effect, or built in denial mechanisms, seems to complicate the ability to assign credit or blame, and see cause and effect.
kirk douglas as vincent van gogh on the set of Lust for Life,1956. The movie was based on a fictionalized novel about Van Gogh by Irving Stone. Overall a pretty good movie, though a little overwrought. “No one has called any of my pictures obscene ever but I have been constantly blamed for an even greater sin — the ugliness.” Vincent Van Gogh.
elizabeth taylor on the set of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, 1958. The movie was based on the play by Tennessee Williams. Taylor played Maggie the Cat. Lots of heated melodrama about death, inheritance, marriage, repressed homosexuality, family loyalty, addictions and delusions. Maggie ( Elizabeth Taylor): “Truth! Truth! Everybody keeps hollerin’ about the truth. Well, the truth is as dirty as lies.”