I’ve added a site to the blogroll, calling it “All Things Allen Ginsberg” instead of its official web address allenginsberg.org. I should have added it long ago. Bad housekeeping. The site is a goldmine of information, literary and otherwise, not just about Ginsberg, which is its main focus of course, but also about the Beat Generation. This morning the site is using a photo I took in 1980 as the lead-in for its daily blog:
OK, so I’ve buried the lede: The big news yesterday on the Ginsberg site, and elsewhere, via this A.P. story, was the discovery of a long-lost 16,000-word, amphetamine-fueled, stream-of-consciousness letter that Neal Cassady wrote to Jack Kerouac in 1950. It’s being called the “holy grail” of Beat literature and “the most significant literary discovery of the twenty-first century” because, according to the auction house that is putting it up for sale (as part of an archive that it expects to sell for between $300,000 and $500,00), it was “the letter that inspired Jack Kerouac and the entire Beat Generation.”
Holy grail? Holy shit. Maybe it’s the holy snail. The story of its discovery, 60 or so years after it was lost, is more interesting to me than the letter itself. Kerouac once described it as “the greatest piece of writing I ever saw, better’n anybody in America, or at least enough to make Melville, Twain, Dreiser, Wolfe, I dunno who, spin in their graves.” I’d say he was, uhm, exaggerating?
The letter has the self-schooled literacy of the autodidact. Nothing wrong with that. But the notion that it was the greatest piece of writing that Kerouac ever saw probably says more about Kerouac and his reading than it does about Cassady and his writing. I have no patience for the letter’s overwrought, old-fashioned prose. (E.g.: “There are no unexplored paths in my mind and few that are not entangled in the weave of my misery mists. It is but gentle fog thru which I navigate and make friendly by constant intimate communion.”) The archaic style is a would-be writer’s idea of how to write. Cassady asks for “patience with my verbosity.” Sorry. Digression upon digression has no charm for me. And those paths strike me as “but the genteel fog of baloney in the musty mist.”