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Dr Sax Examines Duluoz
October 2, 2005 8:53 PM   Subscribe

"Without any particular training or background, this patient, just prior to his enlistment, enthusiastically embarked upon the writing of novels. He sees nothing unusual in this activity." Who was the patient? A 21-year-old seaman named Jack Kerouac, who would become the author of On the Road, The Dharma Bums, Dr. Sax, Visions of Cody and many other great novels that you should be reading instead of these gaddam websites. (The diagnosis from the Navy doctors, "schizoid personality," earned Kerouac a discharge.) A hilarious and poignant find from The Smoking Gun.
posted by digaman (19 comments total)

 
That part about him wanting to be a writer seems to be quoted a lot in my online circles, but there's this passage on the same page:
...and that during this period, neuropsychiatric examination disclosed auditory hallucinations, ideas of reference and suicide, and a rambling, grandiose, philosophical manner.
Okay, don't know what's crazy per say about his manner, but hallucinations and all the rest does seem to make the discharge more valid than "he wrote novels, ain't that weird."
posted by JeremyT at 8:59 PM on October 2, 2005


According to Subterranean Kerouac, the biography written by his last editor Ellis Amburn,
"One day during drill, he threw his gun down, told everyone to go to hell, broke formation, and went to the base library to read. When he was apprehended, he appeared to be deranged, explaining with a perfectly straight face that he was a 'field marshall', and waneted to be confined with the 'other nuts'. His wish was granted, and he was locked up in 0-7 Sick Bar, US Naval Training Station, where day after ay he sat in the lounge, chain-smoking and wondering what was going to happen to him. [...] On April 7, still confined in the Newport mental ward, he wrote G.J. that the split in his 'malleable personality' -- between the sensitivity required by art and the rugged show of masculinity demanded by society -- was was had driven him to a 'schizoid' crack-up. Initially, he accepted his doctors' diagnosis that he was insane, a victim of schizophrenia, but in the pecking order of the asylum no one wants to be called crazy, and Kerouac soon changed his tune. [...] Though the insanity label was humiliating, he went to great lengths to convince the navy doctors that he was crazy, gay, alcoholic, and suicidal -- anything that would get him out of the military. As he later pointed out in The Town and The City, it was academic whether he was actually crazy or just pretending to be. 'In any case it's a withdrawal,' observes the doctor in the novel, 'and it reveals a basic neurotic tendency.'"
[...]
In a later letter to Cassady, Kerouac described how he and Big Slim hatched a plot to break out of the 'nuthatch' but were apprehended and subsequently transferred to Washington by train accompanied by five guards carrying straitjackets in case they misbhaved. [...] Arriving at Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland, he told his doctor that his name was Samuel Johnson and asked to be executed by a firing squad. He added that he couldn't endure naval discinline and asked to be discharged in order to return to the Battle of the Atlantic in the merchant marine. His diagnosis was changed from dementia praecox to 'schizoid personality' with 'angel tendencies'. By angel tendencies, the doctors meant delusional self-aggrandizement, but Kerouac and Ginsberg would later give the word 'angel' a new meaning for their generation.
[...]
In May 1943, the authorities released him, promising an honorable discharge on grounds of 'indifferent character'... [pp. 72-74]
Sorry for the length, just some context, and too much coffee this morning.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:28 PM on October 2, 2005


Kerouac was kind of like the Charlie Parker of literature.

"Go moan for man."
posted by caddis at 10:13 PM on October 2, 2005


You are not Jack Kerouac, and this is not 'On the Road'
posted by Samuel Farrow at 12:41 AM on October 3, 2005


Random Kerouac quotes. pretty good stuff, but I'd rather be thin than rich is a surprise.

I wonder what he thought of No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.
posted by emf at 2:00 AM on October 3, 2005


His quote was actually "I'd rather be thin than famous," which is funny in an ignu sort of way.
posted by digaman at 3:30 AM on October 3, 2005


That's good info, stavros.

I'm a bit skeptical of Amburn as a source, though. Wasn't one of his central hypotheses that Kerouac was gay and in the closet?

Mind you, I'm fully aware that Kerouac was attracted to men, slept with several of them including Gore Vidal (Kerouac, Vidal bragged in print later, was the bottom that night) and made at least one excusion to a bathhouse, and was in love with Neal Cassady. His profound love for Cassady was practically the foundation of such books as On the Road and Visions of Cody, in which he waxes rhapsodic about everything from the size of Cassady's penis to how much he thought about his best friend. But to declare that he was "gay" (when he was primarily sexually attracted to women, as his journals record in detail) and "in the closet" (when his novels are astonishingly open about his attractions and emotional attachments to men, considering the era) seems reductive at best.

Kerouac also slept with Cassady and his wife, Carolyn. But I once asked Allen Ginsberg if he thought that Kerouac would have wanted to have sex with Cassady alone. His response was extremely precise and revealing: "Oh no. He would have been too embarrassed."
posted by digaman at 4:35 AM on October 3, 2005


Kerouac was kind of like the Charlie Parker of literature.

Well, very intentionally so. His writing was consciously modeled after Parker's solos, which he talks about in the Mexico City Blues poems.
posted by digaman at 4:39 AM on October 3, 2005


JeremyT, are these "online circles" anything I can read? Sounds great.
posted by digaman at 4:40 AM on October 3, 2005


Like the man said.
posted by emf at 5:07 AM on October 3, 2005


He was accused of having a "grandiose, philosophical manner." Ouch!
posted by Tullius at 5:22 AM on October 3, 2005


An occupational hazard of 21-year-olds who have already written novels.
posted by digaman at 5:38 AM on October 3, 2005


Wasn't one of his central hypotheses that Kerouac was gay and in the closet?

Well, he presented it as a whole lot more complicated than that, I'd say, digaman. And the only time he did present himself as a direct source is when the end was near, and he became personally involved with Kerouac as his editor.

An uncomfortably large portion of Amburn's book is devoted to cataloguing all the entities animal, mineral and vegetable that Kerouac and his pals spent their time humping, in addition, of course, to each other. But I don't think he ended up being reductive at all -- Kerouac comes off as being not closeted but deeply conflicted about his sexuality, omnisexual more than anything else, and although the picture Amburn paints of him and Ginsberg and all the rest can be unflinching and unpretty, I don't think it's all that unfair. And the ways in which he describes Kerouac's devotion to Sammy Sampras and to Neal Cassady and others (including men and women both) is full of respect and sensitivity.

But, unlike you, and much as I'd've liked to, I've never spoken to any of the principals, so I don't know.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:48 AM on October 3, 2005


Thanks for that correction, stavros.
posted by digaman at 5:57 AM on October 3, 2005


But I don't think he ended up being reductive at all -- Kerouac comes off as being not closeted but deeply conflicted about his sexuality, omnisexual more than anything else...

I had the same impression as digaman, but it sounds like the reviews I read were reductive and perhaps unfair. Thanks.
posted by sudama at 6:58 AM on October 3, 2005


>> Random Kerouac quotes. pretty good stuff, but I'd rather be thin than rich is a surprise.

His quote was actually "I'd rather be thin than famous," which is funny in an ignu sort of way.


I put together the random quote site. Thanks for the correction, digaman.
posted by hootch at 10:17 AM on October 3, 2005


I always liked his poetry much more than his prose.
I see the value in some of his work (On the Road, etc) but it’s not to my taste.

"Without any particular training or background, this patient, just prior to his enlistment, enthusiastically embarked upon the writing of novels...” -
- Man, that’s such a 1960’s establishment thing to say. I can almost smell the Vitalis or Brillcreame in the plastic moulded looking hair of guy who said that.

Like there’s a certificate of some sort you need or a licensed. Good lord! Unlicensed poets wandering the streets their heads filled with rain and hop and birds and the trilling flutter of their little tongues.
...took a left there, sorry.

I prefer Bukowski: “No one who could write worth a damn could ever write in peace.”
/even looking at my own private meager work - it’s much better when I was angry and in chaos than now that I’m fat, dumb and happy. It’s that lousy beautiful wife of mine and our happy marriage that’s screwing up my angst.
If only I was closeted like Keroac, then perhaps I’d...
...huh huh huh...seaman.


Was Gore Vidal that good lookin' back then?
posted by Smedleyman at 10:52 AM on October 3, 2005


Was Gore Vidal that good lookin' back then?

Hmmm, I think you will have to judge for yourself (Gore's on the right).
posted by caddis at 1:01 PM on October 3, 2005


*looks at photo*
Saaay!

...nah, that image of him as Senator Brickley Paiste sloppily eating the blueberry pie in 'Bob Roberts' is too entrenched in my mind.
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0103850/
posted by Smedleyman at 3:12 PM on October 3, 2005


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