"I have a book up there, confessions of ex communists who quit when they recognized its totalitarian beastliness, The God That Failed the title (including one dull O awfully dull account of André Gide’s that old postmortem bore) - all I have, for reading - and become depressed by the thought of a world (O what a world is this, that friendships cancel enmity of the heart, people fighting for something to fight, everywhere) a world of GPU’s and spies and dictators and purges and midnight murders and marijuana revolutions with guns and gangs in the desert - suddenly, just by tuning in on America via the lookout radio listening to the other boys in the bull session, I hear football scores, talk of so-and-so “Bo Pelligrini! - what a bruiser!! I don’t talk to anybody from Maryland” - and the jokes and the laconic stay, I realize, “America is as free as that wild wind, out there, still free, free as when there was no name to that border to call it Canada and on Friday nights when Canadian Fishermen come in old cars on the old road beyond the lake tarn” (that I can see, the little lights of Friday night, thinking then immediately of their hats and gear and flies and lines) “on Friday nights it was the nameless Indian came, the Skagit, and a few log forts were up there, and down here a ways, and winds blew on free feet and free antlers, and still do, on free radio waves, on free wild youngtalk of America on the radio, college boys, fearless free boys, a million miles from Siberia this is and Amerikay is a good old country yet-“
For the whole blighted darkness-woe of thinking about Russias and plots to assassinate whole peoples’ souls, is lifted just by hearing “My God, the score is 26-0 already - they couldn’t gain anything thru the line” - “Just like the All Stars” - “Hey Ed when you comin down off your lookout?” - “He’s goin steady, he’ll be wantin to go home straight” - “We might take a look at Glacier National Park” - “We’re going home thru the Badlands of North Dakota” - “You mean the Black Hills” - “I don’t talk to anybody from Syracuse” - “Anybody know a good bedtime story?” - “Hey it’s eight thirty, we better knock off- How 33 ten-seven until tomorrow morning. Good night” - “Ho! How 32 ten-seven till tomorrow morning- Sleep tight” - “Did you say you had Honkgonk on your portable radio?” - “Sure, listen, hingya hingya hingya” - “That does it, good night” -
And I know that America is too vast with people too vast to ever be degraded to the level of a slave nation, and I can go hitch hiking down that road and on into the remaining years of my life knowing that outside of a couple of fights in bars started by drunks I’ll have not a hair of my head (and I need a haircut) harmed by Totalitarian cruelty-
Indian scalp say this, and prophesy:
"From these walls, laughter will run over the world, infecting with courage the bent laborious peon of antiquity."
Jack Kerouac, Desolation Angels, I:15 (1965)
Although it’s one of my favourite Kerouac books (more creative, though less accessible, than On The Road or even Dharma Bums) I haven’t read it in a few years and didn’t realise there was a passing, indirect reference to my thesis subject Arthur Koestler (I like Ks and misogynists who have penetrating insights into the human condition). Actually I never read The God That Failed, which Koestler contributed one of the essays to, because it was at least five years outside my timeframe and the library copy was missing. But I read enough about what was in it, and Koestler’s story as recounted in his novels and autobiography - propaganda for the increasingly virulent anti-Communist attitude in the west, but also a genuine psychological exposé of a totalitarian ideology.
It’s not surprising that a book which was so much part of the cultural and political zeitgeist ended up with Kerouac in his fire-lookout cabin on a Washington State mountain. It’s also not surprising, reading these thoughts, that he voted for Eisenhower (or so he is supposed to have said). It may seem a little odd to posit sports fanaticism as a countervailing tradition to totalitarian dictatorships, but I’d imagine it would have a lot of resonance with many conservatives today (not Republicans, necessarily, just conservatives - with a small c, perhaps). You could probably find a New York Times op-ed on the subject, even. Kerouac’s genius was to romanticise in a hectic, muddy way the underbelly of American capitalism - the bums, the petty crooks, the marginal workers - while portraying his journey as an artistic flight from suburban, respectable conservatism.