Attempting to Label Beat Prose: The Paradox of Jack Kerouac’s “Essentials of Spontaneous Prose”.

May 20 09:24 2011 Brian J. Smith Print This Article

Holmes, John Clellon. “This is the Beat Generation.” Beat Down to Your Soul: What Was      the Beat Generation. Ed. Ann Charters. New York: Penguin, 2001. 222-228. Print.Kerouac, Jack. “Essentials of Spontaneous Prose.” Portable Beat Reader. Ed. Ann      Charters. New York: Penguin, 1992. 57-58. Print.

The writings of the Beat generation serves to connect the traditional nostalgia and experimentation of American Modernism with the questioning of the 1960s,Guest Posting as well as with Post-Modernism. Beat poet, John Clellon Holmes says in “This is the Beat Generation” that “any attempt to label an entire generation is unrewarding” (223). The attempt by an artist – writer of poetry or prose – to label or group their work could be compared to this dilemma proposed by Holmes. Such is the case in Jack Kerouac’s “Essentials of Spontaneous Prose”. Kerouac’s “Essentials of Spontaneous Prose” is perhaps a paradox between what is expected to be produced by writers and what writers want to produce. The outcome is a step-by-step procedure of how to produce “spontaneous prose”; however, suggesting the outcome to be “spontaneous prose” is itself paradoxical, because if it were anywhere near “spontaneous”, then Kerouac’s methodical piece would need not to be written. The conflict between expectations and wants or desires could be seen as a reflection of the relationship between what writers from the Beat generation wanted to achieve and produce, and what their publishers expected them to produce.The paradox between what is expected to be produced by writers and what writers want to produce is evident in Kerouac’s “Essentials of Spontaneous Prose”. The method of “spontaneous prose” does not utilize “… periods separating sentence-structures arbitrarily riddled by false colons and timid usually needless commas” (Kerouac 57), though, however, does utilize the “… vigorous space dash separating rhetorical breathing” (Kerouac 57). This comparison of “bad” grammatical structures with “good” grammatical structures subsequently connects to the paradox of what is expected to be produced by writers and what writers want to produce. The expectation of what is to be produced by writers may see the use of periods, colons, and commas in the writers’ work as important, whereas writers may want to produce a work using whatever grammatical structure they see fit for their work. Moreover, what is called the lag in procedure and timing of “spontaneous prose” is parallel to the paradox between what is expected to be produced by writers and what writers want to produce. The lag in procedure forces “no pause to think of proper word[s] … till satisfaction is gained” (Kerouac 57), whereas timing – similarly – suggests “nothing is muddy that runs in time and to laws of time” (Kerouac 57). Once again the paradox between what is expected to be produced by writers and what writers want to produce is parallel to “spontaneous prose”.  The expectation for writers to produce work within a certain period of time is typically not what the writers set out to achieve; their prose is not “spontaneous” if it is adhered to a certain timed schedule. Likewise, the timing of the “spontaneous prose” exudes this paradox because what is expected of the writers does not always flow with the “… laws of time” (Kerouac 57) and writers tend not to want to be forced into a schedule with their prose; furthermore, timing and “spontaneous prose” is paradoxical through the exception to the “… no revisions” (Kerouac 57) “rule” such as “obvious rational mistakes” (Kerouac 57) including “names or calculated insertions” (Kerouac 57).Finally, the center of interest and the structure of work in terms of “spontaneous prose” exemplifies the paradox between what is expected to be produced by writers and what writers want to produce. The center of interest of “spontaneous prose” suggests the subject being discussed should be from a fresh, new perspective, “… not from preconceived idea[s] of what to say about [it]” (Kerouac 58). This is contrast to what is said in lines that follow it, where it is suggested that center of interest of “spontaneous prose” should stem from preconceived ideas, or “… painful personal wrung-out[s]” (Kerouac 58); these “… painful personal wrung-out[s]” (Kerouac 58) could be viewed as a sub classification of preconceived ideas. Moreover, the structure of the work suggests that the structure of work should not to take the form of “Modern bizarre structures, [which] arise from language being dead” (Kerouac 58), and that “… “different” themes give illusion of “new” life” (Kerouac 58) to the prose. The center of interest and structure of work of “spontaneous prose” strengthens the paradox between what is expected to be produced by writers and what writers want to produce, because what is expected of the writer may be to produce a work that does not stem from a preconceived idea, when a writer may want to produce a work that does, and, furthermore, create a structure that reflects “Modern bizarre structures” (Kerouac 58) or their own original or bizarre structure. 

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About Article Author

Brian J. Smith
Brian J. Smith

I am a writer of poetry and fiction from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. I am an undergraduate from Mount Saint Vincent University with a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature and Writing. You can visit my personal website at: http://www.brianjsmith.ca.

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