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John Clellon Holmes (1926–1988)

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23+ obres 583 Membres 1 crítiques 2 preferits

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Obres de John Clellon Holmes

Obres associades

The Portable Beat Reader (Viking Portable Library) (1992) — Col·laborador — 1,463 exemplars
The Man with the Golden Arm: 50th Anniversary Critical Edition (1999) — Col·laborador — 433 exemplars
The Portable Sixties Reader (2002) — Col·laborador — 329 exemplars
The Cool School: Writing from America's Hip Underground (2013) — Col·laborador — 80 exemplars


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After finding and reading this book, I’m quite surprised at how unknown it is. It’s certainly got a different feel than ‘On the Road’ or ‘Howl’, but it deserves to be right up there with those early expressions of the Beat generation, and indeed, it was the very first novel that coined the term and described its early lifestyle. Written Roman à clef, you’ll find Keroauc (in the form of Pasternak in the novel), Ginsberg (Stofsky), Neal Cassady (Hart), J.C. Holmes himself (Hobbes), and others in their circle, so if like me you’re fascinated by these guys, you will probably find the book very enjoyable.

The beats were disaffected by the war and the horrors of what people could do to one another, and were searching for different ways to live life, to ramble and to experience it to the full, to defy convention, embrace irrationality, stay up late in Jazz clubs, and experiment with drugs. They were for the most part well-read intellectuals as well, quoting Dostoevsky, Melville, and others. In the novel, we see Kerouac with a smoldering stare at parties (and can just picture it), talking about his writing, craving new experiences, and chasing women. The scene of him and Cassady cruising along and rapping the dashboard to a jazz beat stands out, as does the description of Cassady wanting to ‘just go’ (hence the name of the book). We also see the bubbly and intellectual Ginsberg craving higher knowledge, seeing visions, finding enlightenment in street beggars, trying his very hardest to practice universal love after reading Blake, and being openly gay even as his father equates it with pedophilia and tells him to sublimate.

They’re far from saints, however, and the wider circle they’re in even less so. Some get strung out on drugs and live in filth, others commit robberies including shoplifting, not paying for gas, and breaking into people’s houses. One of them happily tears radio aerials off of cars one by one as he walks down the street, including his friend’s right in front of her. Cassady leeches off his girlfriend and while high tries to justify stealing cars, explaining to Holmes that because of marijuana he sees that everything is perfect and everything is true, which Holmes rejects (“there were some things, and some ideas, that were seriously false.”)

The genius of the book is that Holmes does not idealize any of it. He recognizes something culturally important is happening, and chronicles it. He is at the all-night parties, drinking and smoking marijuana (“tea”), but there is always a part of him that’s aloof to it all, and he sees how self-destructive and dangerous some of their behavior is. He writes with great honesty, even when it means showing himself in an unflattering light, as others recognized how he held back emotionally, he awkwardly managed his emotions as he and his wife experimented with an (semi-)open marriage, and he seemed to be “living an instant behind everyone else.” The phone conversation in which Ginsberg tells him he projects a false front, secretly judging others, but then later tells him he loves him now because he’s finally opening up, is fantastic. Ginsberg comes across as the real hero of the book, but who can’t identify with Holmes, who is not quite as cool as the others?

Holmes sometimes tries to do too much in his writing, a fault in many a young writer, but he never loses his overall sense of balance, and demonstrates real insights into behavior of the group, as well as their pretensions and inner conflicts. The ending that has him parting from his friends in a squalid little bar and then taking a night ferry across the river is excellent. He is more sober than Kerouac in two senses of the word – less intoxicated in his writing (or better put, not intoxicated in his writing :-), and also in his reflection of what’s happening. Kerouac is immersed in it, living it, and while I will always love and admire his writing, the perspective of Holmes is just as interesting. This book will certainly transport you to 1948-49 New York and the beginnings of the counterculture movement, and deserves more readers. Perhaps Kerouac put it best after reading the novel in February 1951, and before beginning to write ‘On the Road’ a month later: “You did the honest thing, the big thing, the good thing.” Indeed.

Just this quote:
“Hobbes hovered alone by a wall, dizzy from the drinking and the marijuana, and snagged in the senseless return of an old inferiority, cherishing a fond sadness as though he had perceived in all the chaos a deep vein of desperation which everyone else refused to notice. ‘Out of what rage and loneliness do we come together?’ he thought drunkenly, certain some obscure wisdom lurked in the question. ‘Don’t you ever ask yourselves why?’ And he fancied, through his dizziness, that he was speaking aloud.”
… (més)
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gbill | May 1, 2016 |


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