Friday, March 28, 2008

The Dharma Bums at Fifty

My first big Kerouac and the Beat Generation burst came when I was an undergraduate at UNC-Chapel Hill. Not only did Kerouac et alia fire me up for the road and brief visits to any number of former Beat hot spots, but I also picked up some early published editions along the way. I found a first edition of The Dharma Bums around 1983 for $35.00. No idea what it might be going for today, but in 1958 it sold for $3.95 in hardback.

From the original 1958 Viking Press liner notes:

Here is the new Kerouac novel -- appearing just a year after the author's explosive On the Road put the Beat Generation on the literary map and Kerouac on the best-seller lists. The same expansiveness, humor, and contagious zest for life that sparked the earlier novel sparks this one. But a more cohesive story is unfolded in The Dharma Bums, inspired by a more concentrated goal.

The principals are two ebullient young men engaged in a passionate search for Dharma, or Truth -- a search that involves them, together and separately, in a series of free-wheeling explorations, both sacred and profane. Their major adventure is the pursuit of the Zen way, which takes them climbing into the high [sic] Sierras to seek the lesson of solitude -- a lesson that has a hard time surviving their forays into the pagan groves of San Francisco's Bohemia with its marathon wine-drinking bouts, poetry jam sessions, experiments in "yabyum," and similar non-ascetic pastimes.

But through it all the two young men remain faithful in their fashion to their quest as Truth Bums, and when we finally take leave of them, each has caught sight of his goal and is on the road to it.

Pretty right on, in fact.

Today's Rune: Breakthrough.


Anonymous said...

Out of sight, man

Sixties are it in 2008\\
Overdue in my book

Anonymous said...

I remember a brief fling with a young lady during my college years. She told me that we were a couple right out of "The Subterraneans." I hadn't read this novel by Kerouac. However, I had read D.H. Lawrence's "The Horse Dealer's Daughter." Ironically, my young lady friend had five brothers just like the title character in the Lawrence story. She was their only sister, just like in the story. And to top it all off, her father owned a car dealership. She was very pretty, if you know what I mean.--Neal Cassidy

Charles Gramlich said...

I have not read this, altough I have a copy around here somewhere. It's in pretty poor shape. I have to admit, I thought "On the Road" was pretty bad and have never had an urge to read anything else by Kerouac since, except for some of his haiku, which I thought were OK. I should probably read "On the Road" again as an older adult and see if it's gotten any better.

Sidney said...

While I was on a Tenessee Williams walking tour in New Orleans one time they mentioned that a few blocks over was the spot where Kerouac had gone to score drugs. An interesting aside, I guess.

Lana Gramlich said...

I remember this book. Perhaps it's time for a reread...