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Jack Kerouac (1922-1969)
Old Angel Midnight by Jack Kerouac
Read by Clark Coolidge and Michael Gizzi, West Stockbridge, MA, 1994
1. Part 1
2. Part 2
3. Part 3
The following summary is adapted from Ann Charters' "Editor's Introduction" to the section of The Portable Jack Kerouac, opening the section Charters titles "The Modern Spontaneous Method." [One] of Kerouac's writing experiments continued for years, a project begun in 1952 that he considered his private dream-record, what the publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti called "the poetic raw material of the Kerouac saga, the substrata of his novels and a commentary upon them."
[You will be reading two pieces of dream-writing] from Book of Dreams, published by City Lights in 1961. Kerouac kept several sheets of paper and a pencil attached to a clipboard on a string tied to the headboard of his bed, so he could write down his dreams immediately after awakening. He typed up the selections for Ferlinghetti, and his friend Philip Whalen put them in order for publication....
[The third piece here is] from Old Angel Midnight, in which Kerouac, influenced by James Joyce's experiments in Finnegan's Wake (1939), pushed spontaneous prose to its ultimate expression. Kerouac told John Clellon Holmes that his work in progress was "an endless automatic writing piece which raves on and on with no direction and no story." He experimented with free association in this poem, attempting to write down "the sounds of the entire world ... now swimming thru the window." The San Francisco poet Michael McClure recognized that in Old Angel Midnight, Kerouac had achieved one of his most remarkable works:
Never [wrote McClure] before has inconsequentiality been raised to such a peak that it becomes a breakthrough.... Inconsequentiality becomes a skewing of the established values of the senses and imagination into strange and yet familiar, but elusive, tantalizing and remarkable, constructs of image and sound.... The politics of Old Angel Midnight is that it is a reply by Jack to heavily armored, socially approved literature, as it was then taught and admired in colleges.... Old Angel Midnight is contemporary with exploratory jazz and with the painting which sought to make spiritual autobiography utilizing the gestures of the artist and his materials.... Old Angel Midnight is struggling to be occupied by consciousness and nothingness, and not by social commands.
section from Old Angel Midnight
Boy, says Old Angel, this amazing nonsensical rave of yours wherein I spose you'd think you'd in some lighter time find hand be-almin ya for the likes of what ya devote yaself to, pah -- bum with a tail only means one thing, -- They know that in sauerkraut bars, god the chew chew & wall lips-And not only that but all them in describable paradises aye -- ah -- Angel m boy-Jack, the born with a tail bit is a deal that you never dream'd to redeem -- verify -- try to see as straight-you wont believe even in God but the devil worries you-you & Mrs Tourian -- great gaz-zuz & I'd as lief be scoured with a leaf rust as hear this poetizin horseshit everywhere I want to hear the sounds thru the window you promised me when the Midnight bell on 7th St did toll bing bong & Burroughs and Ginsberg were asleep & you lay on the couch in that timeless moment in the little red bulblight bus & saw drapes of eternity parting for your hand to begin & so's you could affect-and eeffect -- the total turningabout & deep revival of world robeflowing literature till it shd be something a man'd put his eyes on & continually read for the sake of reading & for the sake of the Tongue & not just these insipid stories writ in insipid aridities & paranoias bloomin & why yet the image-let's hear the Sound of the Universe, son, & no more part twaddle-And dont expect nothing from me, my middle name is Opprobrium, Old Angel Midnight Opprobrium, boy, O.A.M.O. --
Pirilee pirilee, tzwe tzwi tzwa, -- tack tick-birds & firewood. The dream is
already ended and we're already awake in the golden eternity.