A Beat Aesthetic by iupon13


									?Kerouac's long autobiographical oeuvre, which the author himself called "the legend
of Duluoz," did not make me want to become a teacheror an English professor, or
educator, or even a Beat writer. Rather, his books spurred me, as they did so many
others, to travel across the United States, with eyes wide open to Something Else.

And when I studied in Germany, in the late 1970s, and hitchhiked throughout Europe,
I encountered fellow travelersGerman, French, and Scandinavian students who carried
their own cheap paperback editions, in English, of On the Road and The Dharma
Bums. I read through Kerouac into my early 20s but entertained no illusions about
copying a Beat lifestyle: even the hippie era looked long gone by 1980. Nevertheless,
Kerouac's books, unlike the mad poetry of Ginsberg and Corso and the terrifying
science fiction of Burroughs, remained simple pleasures. I read Running Shoes and
reread them for fun. This was surely "aesthetic reading," according to Louise M.
Rosenblatt. Yet as I edged, or plunged, into middle age, I wanted to see if the
experience of reading Kerouac still held the possibility of joy for US teenagers. So
many aspects of the Beat ethos had already been, at best, recycled and, too many of us
older folks, co-opted by the media, e.g., a Gap ad featuring Jack Kerouac wearing

When I had first shown my summer assignment letter to the school's principal, she
paused, raised her eyebrows, and said, "OK. You think Kerouac has merit?" I
responded by pointing to the book's improved reputation in scholarly circles. There
had been a late 1990s symposium on Kerouac at NYU, and a passage from the book
had been used on the previous spring's SAT. (When students first informed me of this
testing passage I told them I was uneasy: the spirits behind the story were all dying.)
The principal was less than impressed, and I knew she knew I had different motives
for teaching this book. In short, I wanted some adolescents to read an important but
untraditional and typically unacademic book, while they were still adolescents, at the
beginning of the millennium. So I promised her that I would develop a unit plan that
integrated sociology class lessons and that would include an exam, some historical
digging, much poetry, and short-story writing Womens Shoes around the photos of
Robert Frank's The Americans. I proposed to end our "unit" on Fifties America and
the Beats with a daylong read-aloud marathon of On the Road.

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