A Musing: Desolation Angels


I am truly at a loss as to what to say about this book. It was difficult emotionally to read, despite little pockets of exuberance and beauty shining through. Kerouac writes about loneliness and despair — the deep, dark, it will drive you crazy if you think too much about it loneliness and despair of life — for over 400 pages, forcing the reader to think about it deeply, too. He writes presciently about American culture — we are living so much of the nightmare he foresaw, and it chills me to the bone. I’ve also come to the same conclusion about what the only way to be at peace in the world might be: A peaceful sorrow at home is the best I’ll ever be able to offer the world, in the end, and so I told my Desolation Angels goodbye. (409) That disturbs me, too.

Although it was hard to read, it was good to read, and I think it’s a Great Book. I fully expect at least 50% of the people who pick it up to abandon it unfinished in disgust. I want to steel myself, and read it again (and again). It’s strong medicine, but my oh my didn’t it put maya in its place.

“Sometimes during the night I’d look at my poor sleeping mother cruelly crucified there in the American night because of no-money, no-hope-of-money, no family, no nothing, just myself the stupid son of plans all of them compacted of eventual darkness. God how right Hemingway was when he said there was no remedy for life – and to think that negative little paper-shuffling prissies should write condescending obituaries about a man who told the truth, nay who drew breath in pain to tell a tale like that! … No remedy but in my mind I raise a fist to High Heaven promising that I shall bull whip the first bastard who makes fun of human hopelessness anyway – I know it’s ridiculous to pray to my father that hunk of dung in a grave yet I pray to him anyway, what else shall I do? sneer? shuffle paper on a desk and burp rationality? Ah thank God for all the Rationalists the worms and vermin got. Thank God for all the hate mongering political pamphleteers with no left or right to yell about in the Grave of Space. I say that we shall all be reborn with the Only One, and that’s what makes me go on, and my mother too. She has her rosary in the bus, don’t deny her that, that’s her way of stating the fact. If there can’t be love among men let there be love at least between men and God. Human courage is an opiate but opiates are human too. If God is an opiate so am I. Thefore eat me. Eat the night, the long desolate American between Sanford and Shlamford and Blamford and Crapford, eat the hematodes that hang parasitically from dreary southern trees, eat the blood in the ground, the dead Indians, the dead pioneers, the dead Fords and Pontiacs, the dead Mississippis, the dead arms of forlorn hopelessness washing underneath – Who are men, that they can insult men? Who are these people who wear pants and dresses and sneer? What am I talking about? I’m talking about human helplessness and unbelievable loneliness in the darkness of birth and death and asking ‘What is there to laugh about in that?’ ‘How can you be clever in a meatgrinder?’ ‘Who makes fun of misery?’ There’s my mother a hunk of flesh that didn’t ask to be born, sleeping restlessly, dreaming hopefully, beside her son who also didn’t ask to be born, thinking desperately, praying hopelessly, in a bouncing earthly vehicle going from nowhere to nowhere, all in the night, worst of all for that matter all in noonday glare of bestial Gulf Coast roads – Where is the rock that will sustain us? Why are we here? What kind of crazy college would feature a seminar where people talk about hopelessness, forever?”

(photo: Ti Jean and kitty. From theskinnyoncats — check out the post for the Kerouac poem The Wheel of the Quivering Meat Conception, which I think ties very much into the excerpt I posted above)

One comment

  1. kaggsysbookishramblings

    A lot of Kerouac’s best work isn’t easy but I feel that this is what makes it so valuable – it makes you think and question and can be life-changing which all the best works of art are. Definitely one that needs more than one read, as far as I can recall!

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