Jack Kerouac

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All our best men are laughed at in this nightmare land.

Jack Kerouac (12 March 192221 October 1969), born Jean-Louis Lebris de Kérouac, was an American novelist, poet and artist. He was a central figure among Beat Generation writers.

Maybe that's what life is... a wink of the eye and winking stars.
See also:
On the Road (1957)
The Dharma Bums (1958)
Maggie Cassidy (1959)

Quotes[edit]

I want to fish as deep down as possible into my own subconscious in the belief that once that far down, everyone will understand because they are the same that far down.
Who knows, my God, but that the universe is not one vast sea of compassion actually, the veritable holy honey, beneath all this show of personality and cruelty?
All is well, practice kindness, heaven is nigh.
The fact that everybody in the world dreams every night ties all mankind together.
  • Maybe that's what life is... a wink of the eye and winking stars.
    • Letter to Alan Harrington (23 April 1949) published in Kerouac: Selected Letters: Volume 1 1940-1956 (1996)
  • All of life is a foreign country.
    • Letter to John Clellon Holmes (24 June 1949), published in The Beat Vision: A Primary Sourcebook (1987) edited by Arthur Knight and Kit Knight, page 93.
  • I want to work in revelations, not just spin silly tales for money. I want to fish as deep down as possible into my own subconscious in the belief that once that far down, everyone will understand because they are the same that far down.
    • Letter to Ed White (5 July 1950) as published in The Missouri Review, Vol. XVII, No. 3, 1994, page 137, and also quoted in Jack Kerouac: Angelheaded Hipster (1996) by Steve Turner, p. 117
  • I hope it is true that a man can die and yet not only live in others but give them life, and not only life but that great consciousness of life.
  • Accept loss forever
    • "Belief & Technique For Modern Prose: List of Essentials" in a letter to Don Allen (1958); published in Heaven & Other Poems (1977)
  • Believe in the holy contour of life
    • "Belief & Technique For Modern Prose: List of Essentials" in a letter to Don Allen (1958); published in Heaven & Other Poems (1977)
  • We should be wondering tonight, "Is there a world?" But I could go and talk on 5, 10, 20 minutes about is there a world, because there is really no world, cause sometimes I'm walkin' on the ground and I see right through the ground. And there is no world. And you'll find out.
    • "Is There A Beat Generation?" forum at Hunter College, New York, New York (8 November 1958)
  • Who knows, my God, but that the universe is not one vast sea of compassion actually, the veritable holy honey, beneath all this show of personality and cruelty?
    • "The Origins of the Beat Generation" in Playboy (June 1959)
  • John Clellon Holmes … and I were sitting around trying to think up the meaning of the Lost Generation and the subsequent Existentialism and I said, 'You know, this is really a beat generation' and he leapt up and said 'That's it, that's right!'
    • "The Origins of the Beat Generation" in Playboy (June 1959), explaining the origins of the term the "Beat Generation".
  • I went one afternoon to the church of my childhood and had a vision of what I must have really meant with "Beat"… the vision of the word Beat as being to mean beatific... People began to call themselves beatniks, beats, jazzniks, bopniks, bugniks and finally I was called the "avatar" of all this.
    • "The Origins of the Beat Generation" in Playboy (June 1959)
  • Members of the generation that came of age after World War II-Korean War who join in a relaxation of social and sexual tensions, and who espouse anti-regimentation, mystic-disaffiliation, and material-simplicity values, supposedly as a result of cold-war disillusionment. Coined by Jack Kerouac.
    • Definition of "Beat Generation" offered to Random House publishers in 1959, after being asked him if there was anything he'd like to add to the definition they were preparing for the American College Dictionary: "Certain members of the generation that came of age after World War II who affect detachment from moral and social forms and responsibilities, supposedly the result of disillusionment. Coined by Jack Kerouac." The Random House definition eventually published read: "members of the generation that came of age after World War II who, supposedly as a result of disillusionment stemming from the Cold War, espoused forms of mysticism and the relaxation of social and sexual inhibitions."
  • It is not my fault that certain so-called bohemian elements have found in my writings something to hang their peculiar beatnik theories on.
    • The New York Journal-American (8 Dec 1960)
  • My manners, abominable at times, can be sweet. As I grew older I became a drunk. Why? Because I like ecstasy of the mind. I'm a wretch. But I love, love.
    • Satori in Paris (1966)
The house stood, and other men lived in it and were sheltered well in it...
  • You can't fight City Hall. It keeps changing its name.
    • "After Me, The Deluge" in The Chicago Tribune (28 September 1969)
  • All our best men are laughed at in this nightmare land.
    • Pomes All Sizes (1992)
The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones that never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes "Awww!"
  • As early pioneers in the knowing, that when you lose your reason, you attain highest perfect knowing.
    • Book of Blues (1995)
  • So long and take it easy, because if you start taking things seriously, it is the end of you.
    • Atop an Underwood: Early Stories and Other Writings (1999)
  • The fact that everybody in the world dreams every night ties all mankind together.
    • Book of Dreams (1961) Foreword
    • Variant: All human beings are also dream beings. Dreaming ties all mankind together.
      • As quoted or misquoted in Night and Day (1989) by Jack Maguire, p. 221; Maguire does not cite his source, so this widely quoted variant may be an erroneous paraphrase of this published statement, or a direct quote from some other statement.
  • The tree looks like a dog, barking at heaven.
    • Book of Haikus (2003)
  • Everything belongs to me because I am poor.
    • Visions Of Cody (1973) and The Beginning Of Bop (1959)
  • All you do is head straight for the grave, a face just covers a skull awhile. Stretch that skull-cover and smile.
    • Visions Of Cody (1973)
  • "What are you trying to do, Kerouac?" I'd ask myself in my sleepingbag at night, "trying to deny reality with all this Buddha stuff, ya jerk?" … "Poor detailed immaculate incarnate fool, and you call yourself Self … Take off your coat and crash wits." And I realized that all this Buddhism was a STRAIN at telling the untellable emptiness yet that nothing was truer, a perfect paradox.
    • Meditation in the Woods (1958)

The Town and the City (1950)[edit]

  • He saw that all the struggles of life were incessant, laborious, painful, that nothing was done quickly, without labor, that it had to undergo a thousand fondlings, revisings, moldings, addings, removings, graftings, tearings, correctings, smoothings, rebuildings, reconsiderings, nailings, tackings, chippings, hammerings, hoistings, connectings — all the poor fumbling uncertain incompletions of human endeavor. They went on forever and were forever incomplete, far from perfect, refined, or smooth, full of terrible memories of failure and fears of failure, yet, in the way of things, somehow noble, complete, and shining in the end. This he could sense even from the old house they lived in, with its solidly built walls and floors that held together like rock: some man, possibly an angry pessimistic man, had built the house long ago, but the house stood, and his anger and pessimism and irritable labourious sweats were forgotten; the house stood, and other men lived in it and were sheltered well in it.

On the Road (1957)[edit]

These are a few samples from this work, for more see the page for On the Road
Whither goest thou, America, in thy shiny car in the night?
  • They danced down the streets like dingledodies, and I shambled after as I've been doing all my life after people who interest me, because the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes "Awww!"
    • Part One, Ch. 1
  • So I rushed past the pretty girls, and the prettiest girls in the world live in Des Moines.
    • Part One, Ch. 3
  • Whither goest thou, America, in thy shiny car in the night?
    • Part Two, Ch. 3
I had nothing to offer anybody except my own confusion.
  • The one thing that we yearn for in our living days, that makes us sigh and groan and undergo sweet nauseas of all kinds, is the remembrance of some lost bliss that was probably experienced in the womb and can only be reproduced (though we hate to admit it) in death.
    • Part Two, Ch. 4
  • I like too many things and get all confused and hung-up running from one falling star to another till I drop. This is the night, what it does to you. I had nothing to offer anybody except my own confusion.
    • Part Two, Ch. 4
  • "What is that feeling when you're driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? — it's the too-huge world vaulting us, and it's good-bye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies."
    • Part Two, Ch. 8
  • "It was sad to see his tall figure receding in the dark as we drove away, just like the other figures in New York and New Orleans: they stand uncertainly underneth inmense skies, and everything about them is drowned. Where go? what do? what for? — sleep."
    • Part Two, Ch. 8
What's heaven? What's earth? All in the mind.
  • At one point the driver said, "For God's sakes, you're rocking the boat back there." Actually we were; the car was swaying as Dean and I both swayed to the rhythm and the IT of our final excited joy in talking and living to the blank tranced end of all innumerable riotous angelic particulars that had been lurking in our souls all our lives.
    • Part Three, Ch. 5
  • In 1942 I was the star in one of the filthiest dramas of all time. I was a seaman, and went to the Imperial Café on Scollay Square in Boston to drink; I drank sixty glasses of beer and retired to the toilet, where I wrapped myself around the toilet bowl and went to sleep. During the night at least a hundred seamen and assorted civilians came in and cast their sentient debouchements on me till I was unrecognizably caked. What difference does it make after all? — anonymity in the world of men is better than fame in heaven, for what's heaven? what's earth? All in the mind.
    • Part Three, Ch. 11
  • So in America when the sun goes down and I sit on the old broken-down river pier watching the long, long skies over New Jersey and sense all that raw land that rolls in one unbelievable huge bulge over to the West Coast, and all that road going, all the people dreaming in the immensity of it, and in Iowa I know by now the children must be crying in the land where they let the children cry, and tonight the stars'll be out, and don't you know that God is Pooh Bear? the evening star must be drooping and shedding her sparkler dims on the prairie, which is just before the coming of complete night that blesses the earth, darkens all rivers, cups the peaks and folds the final shore in, and nobody, nobody knows what's going to happen to anybody besides the forlorn rags of growing old, I think of Dean Moriarty, I even think of Old Dean Moriarty the father we never found, I think of Dean Moriarty.
    • Part Five

The Dharma Bums (1958)[edit]

Now you understand the Oriental passion for tea
I felt like lying down by the side of the trail and remembering it all. The woods do that to you...
I saw that my life was a vast glowing empty page and I could do anything I wanted.
  • "Now you understand the Oriental passion for tea," said Japhy. "Remember that book I told you about; the first sip is joy, the second is gladness, the third is serenity, the fourth is madness, the fifth is ecstasy."
  • Pretty girls make graves.
  • Colleges being nothing but grooming schools for the middleclass non-identity which usually finds its perfect expression on the outskirts of the campus in rows of well-to-do houses with lawns and television sets in each living room with everybody looking at the same thing and thinking the same thing at the same time while the Japhies of the world go prowling in the wilderness...
  • I felt like lying down by the side of the trail and remembering it all. The woods do that to you, they always look familiar, long lost, like the face of a long-dead relative, like an old dream, like a piece of forgotten song drifting across the water, most of all like golden eternities of past childhood or past manhood and all the living and the dying and the heartbreak that went on a million years ago and the clouds as they pass overhead seem to testify (by their own lonesome familiarity) to this feeling. Ecstacy, even, I felt, with flashes of sudden remembrance, and feeling sweaty and drowsy I felt like sleeping and dreaming in the grass.
  • Sociability is just a big smile, and a big smile is nothing but teeth.
  • I saw that my life was a vast glowing empty page and I could do anything I wanted.
  • Trouble with you is you don't do plenty night zazen especially when it's cold out, that's best, besides you should get married and have halfbreed babies, manuscripts, homespun blankets and mother's milk on your happy ragged mat floor like this one. Get yourself a hut house not too far from town, live cheap, go ball in the bars once in awhile, write and rumble in the hills and learn how to saw boards and talk to grandmas you damn fool, carry loads of wood for them, clap your hands at shrines, get supernatural favors, take flower-arrangement lessons and grow chrysanthemums by the door, and get married for krissakes, get a friendly smart sensitive human-being gal who don't give a shit for martinis every night and all that dumb white shit in the kitchen.
  • Then I added "Blah," with a little grin, because I knew that shack and that mountain would understand what that meant, and turned and went on down the trail back to this world.
    If you have ice cream I will give you some.
    If you have no ice cream I will take it away from you.
    (It is an ice cream kōan [cone].)
  • This relates to “For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.” Matthew 25:29, King James Version

Lonesome Traveler (1960)[edit]

  • No man should go through life without once experiencing healthy, even bored solitude in the wilderness, finding himself depending solely on himself and thereby learning his true and hidden strength. Learning for instance, to eat when he's hungry and sleep when he's sleepy.
  • Thinking of the stars night after night I begin to realize "The stars are words" and all the innumerable worlds in the Milky Way are words, and so is this world too. And I realize that no matter where I am, whether in a little room full of thought, or in this endless universe of stars and mountains, it's all in my mind.
  • One night I realized that when you give people understanding and encouragement a funny little meek childish look abashes their eyes, no matter what they've been doing they weren't sure it was right — lambies all over the world.
  • The happiness consists in realizing that it is all a great strange dream.

Big Sur (1962)[edit]

Ah, life is a gate, a way, a path to Paradise anyway, why not live for fun and joy and love
  • Ah, life is a gate, a way, a path to Paradise anyway, why not live for fun and joy and love or some sort of girl by a fireside, why not go to your desire and LAUGH
  • Everything is the same, the fog says 'We are fog and we fly by dissolving like ephemera,' and the leaves say 'We are leaves and we jiggle in the wind, that's all, we come and go, grow and fall' — Even the paper bags in my garbage pit say 'We are mantransformed paper bags made out of wood pulp, we are kinda proud of being paper bags as long as that will be possible, but we'll be mush again with our sisters the leaves come rainy season' — The tree stumps say 'We are tree stumps torn out of the ground by men, sometimes by the wind, we have big tendrils full of earth that drink out of the earth' — Men say 'We are men, we pull out tree stumps, we make paper bags, we think wise thoughts, we make lunch, we look around, we make a great effort to realise everything is the same.'
  • I feel guilty for being a member of the human race.

Desolation Angels (1965)[edit]

I will die, and you will die, and we all will die, and even the stars will fade out one after another in time.
  • And I will die, and you will die, and we all will die, and even the stars will fade out one after another in time.
  • But O Sarina come with me to my bed of woes, let me love you gently in the night, long time, we got all night, till dawn, till Juliet's rising sun and Romeo's vial sink, till I have slaked my thirst of Samsara at your portal rosy petal lips and left saviour juice in your rosy flesh garden to melt and dry and ululate another baby for the void, come sweet Sarina in my naughty arms, be dirty in my clean milk, and I'll detest the defecate I leave in your milky empowered cyst-and-vulva chamber, your cloacan clara file-hool through which slowly drool the hall-gyzm, to castles in your hassel flesh and I'll protect you trembling thighs against my heart and kiss your lips and cheeks and Lair and love you everywhere and that'll be that...
There's your Karma ripe as peaches.
  • I could give you a list a mile long of the homosexuals in the arts but there's no point in making a big tzimis about a relatively harmless and cool state of affairs — Each man to his own tastes.
  • Everything is going to the beat — It's the beat generation, it be-at, it's the beat to keep, it's the beat of the heart, it's being beat and down in the world and like oldtime lowdown and like in ancient civilizations the slave boatmen rowing galleys to a beat and servants spinning pottery to a beat...

Visions of Cody (1960)[edit]

I accept lostness forever.
  • It no longer makes me cry and die and tear myself to see her go because everything goes away from me like that now — girls, visions, anything, just in the same way and forever and I accept lostness forever.
  • I'm writing this book because we're all going to die — In the loneliness of my life, my father dead, my brother dead, my mother far away, my sister and my wife far away, nothing here but my own tragic hands that once were guarded by a world, a sweet attention, that now are left to guide and disappear their own way into the common dark of all our death, sleeping in me raw bed, alone and stupid...
  • The mad road, lonely, leading around the bend into the openings of space towards the horizon Wasatch snows promised us in the vision of the West, spine heights at the world's end, coast of blue Pacific starry night — nobone halfbanana moons sloping in the tangled night sky, the torments of great formations in mist, the huddled invisible insect in the car racing onwards, illuminate. — The raw cut, the drag, the butte, the star, the draw, the sunflower in the grass — orangebutted west lands of Arcadia, forlorn sands of the isolate earth, dewy exposures to infinity in black space, home of the rattlesnake and the gopher the level of the world, low and flat: the charging restless mute unvoiced road keening in a seizure of tarpaulin power into the route.

Some of the Dharma (1997)[edit]

My witness is the empty sky.
  • A man who allows wild passion to arise within, himself burns his heart, then after burning adds the wind that thereto which ignites the fire again, or not, as the case may be.
  • Literature is no longer Necessary Teaching is left.
  • Mankind is like dogs, not gods — as long as you don't get mad they'll bite you — but stay mad and you'll never be bitten. Dogs don't respect humility and sorrow.
  • My witness is the empty sky.
  • One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.
    • Sometimes paraphrased as "Some day I will find… " or "Soon I will find... "


Misattributed[edit]

  • Here's to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They're not fond of rules, and they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them; disagree with them; glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can't do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.
    • Used in the Apple "Think Different" marketing campaign and sometimes attributed to Kerouac on the internet, perhaps because it evokes his famous quote from On the Road: "The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes "Awww!"" The original script was actuality written by Rob Siltanen with participation of Lee Clow. In "The Real Story Behind Apple's 'Think Different' Campaign" in Forbes (14 December 2011) Rob Siltanen states: "I wrote everything..." "I shared my scripts with Lee, and he thought they were good. He made a couple tweaks..."

Quotes about Kerouac[edit]

Kerouac understood long before I did. Life is a dream, he said. ~ William S. Burroughs
Alphabetized by author
I read On the Road in maybe 1959. It changed my life like it changed everyone else's. ~ Bob Dylan
If you tell certain people that you like Kerouac, they assume that’s all you read, like you don’t know anything else about literature. ~ Ben Gibbard
I grew up with Kerouac. If he hadn't wrote On The Road, the Doors would have never existed. ~ Ray Manzarek
Did you never let Jack Kerouac
Wash over you in waves? ~ Richard Thompson
He did more in one lifetime than most people do in ten. ~ Philip Whalen
  • Writers are, in a way, very powerful indeed. They write the script for the reality film. Kerouac opened a million coffee bars and sold a million pairs of Levis to both sexes. Woodstock rises from his pages. Now if writers could get together into a real tight union, we'd have the world right by the words. We could write our own universes, and they would be as real as a coffee bar or a pair of Levis or a prom in the Jazz Age. Writers could take over the reality studio. So they must not be allowed to find out that they can make it happen. Kerouac understood long before I did. Life is a dream, he said.
    • William S. Burroughs, in "Remembering Jack Kerouac" (1985), included in The Adding Machine : Selected Essays (1993), p. 180
  • That's not writing. It's typing.
    • Truman Capote, as quoted in New Republic (9 February 1959), also n Roger Ebert's Movie Home Companion (1986) by Roger Ebert, p. 283
  • I read On the Road in maybe 1959. It changed my life like it changed everyone else's.
    • Bob Dylan, as quoted Grasping for the Wind : The Search for Meaning in the 20th Century (2001) by John W. Whitehead
  • Someone handed me Mexico City Blues in St. Paul [Minnesota] in 1959 and it blew my mind. It was the first poetry that spoke my own language.
    • Bob Dylan, as quoted in Jack Kerouac (2007) by Alison Behnke, p. 100
  • I pulled On The Road off the shelf and found myself reading it between classes, and at that time in my life it was exactly what I craved, exactly what I needed to hear. I thought, “That’s the way, that’s the ideal life, that’s great. You get in a car and you drive and you see your friends and you end up in a city for a night and you go out drinking and you catch up and you share these really intense experiences. And then you’re on the road and you’re doing it again.” The romance of the road, particularly from Kerouac’s work, encapsulated how I wanted to live. I found a way to do it by being a musician, which is what I always wanted to be. The traveling and the being on tour and being away from home set a precedent for me where I thought, “Oh yeah, this is how it works.”
    But then in reading Big Sur, it’s the end of the road. You end up with a series of failed relationships and you end up being an alcoholic and in your late 30s, and not having any kind of real grip on the lives of the people around you. That’s the potential other end of the spectrum when you’re never tied to anybody or anything. I run the risk of losing touch with the people in my life that mean the most to me because I have made the decision to live like this.
  • If you tell certain people that you like Kerouac, they assume that’s all you read, like you don’t know anything else about literature. I recognize all the things that people dislike about the way he writes — his tone and the sentimentality of it all. But those books were there for me at a very important point in my life.
    • Ben Gibbard, in "The Meaning Of Life" in Paste magazine (10 April 2008)
  • Because of my age and what I do for a living and the amount of time that I’ve spent away from my family and loved ones, I’m starting to relate more to the late-period Kerouac stuff in the way that I once related to the fun and excitement of the early material. There’s a darkness inside of me that I’m only now starting to come to grips with and accept. And it’s starting to scare me.
    • Ben Gibbard, in "The Meaning Of Life" in Paste magazine (10 April 2008)
  • Once when Kerouac was high on psychedelics with Timothy Leary, he looked out the window and said, "Walking on water wasn't built in a day." Our goal was to save the planet and alter human consciousness. That will take a long time, if it happens at all.
    • Allen Ginsberg, as quoted in Talk to Her (2004) by Kristine McKenna, p. 75
  • You're not punk, and I'm telling everyone.
    Save your breath, I never was one.
    You don't know what I'm all about
    Like killing cops and reading Kerouac
  • Texas in the summer is cool
    We'll be on the road like Jack Kerouac, lookin' back
    Sam, you're ready, let's go anywhere
    Get the car packed and throw me the key
    Run away with me
  • Kerouac was "locked in the Cold War and the first Asian debacle" in "the gray, chill, militaristic silence, … the intellective void … the spiritual drabness.
  • The fifties were supposed to be a golden age when the pig had everything his way. That's what TV and the government wants us to believe: there was a time when no one made trouble. What about Kerouac, you assholes? What about Neal?
  • I notice that there's a long gap in your job history and it said for 22 years you went Kerouac on everyone's ass?
  • Did the tea-time of your soul
    Make you long for wilder days
    Did you never let Jack Kerouac
    Wash over you in waves?
  • We will write a postcard
    To our friends and family
    In free verse On the road with Kerouac
    Sheltered in his Bivouac
    On this road we'll never die...
  • He did more in one lifetime than most people do in ten.
    • Philip Whalen, as quoted in Talk to Her (2004) by Kristine McKenna, p. 75
  • And we know that everything is going to be okay. All we need is Kerouac and a glass of sweet tea.

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