Earwitness Testimony: Sound and Sense, Word and Void in Jack Kerouac’s Old Angel Midnight

“the ineluctable modality of the audible”
– James Joyce Ulysses

So much of Jack Kerouac’s writing seems impelled by an impatience with all verbal restraints and by an urgent purpose that strains to push and pivot, dodge and drive – like the star running back Kerouac once was – past syntax and grammar and language itself in order to touch a truth beyond language. Nowhere in Kerouac’s work is this audacious rush to outdistance the print on the page more radically manifest than in the long prose-poem Old Angel Midnight.1

Old Angel MidnightIn a private letter to poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Kerouac himself acknowledged that Old Angel Midnight was unique among his works, representing the fullest and freest expression of his theory of spontaneous writing: “… it is the only book I’ve ever written in which I allow myself the right to say anything I want, absolutely and positively anything …”.2

Little has been written concerning Old Angel Midnight, and that which has been written tends to treat the circumstances of its composition rather than its import or its position relative to Kerouac’s other writing. This may be due to critics and readers alike finding the work obscure if not impenetrable. After a section of the text titled “Old Angel Midnight Part Two” appeared in Evergreen Review (No. 33, August/September 1964, pp. 68-71, 91), for example, one reader felt moved in the following issue of the magazine to write “A Deathblow Putdown” of the poem, dismissing it as “imbecilic bull” and “twaddle,” an “incomprehensible” and “inept” imitation of James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake.3

Even the estimations of more sympathetic readers of Kerouac, including certain of his biographers, have with regard to Old Angel Midnight echoed aspects of the “Deathblow Putdown” cited above. Dennis McNally concurs in finding the poem “devoid of meaning in the common sense;”4 while Gerald Nicosia pronounces Old Angel Midnight an “ultimate failure” for being “too successful an imitation” of Joyce’s masterpiece.5

When critics have identified content amid the surging waves of words that constitute Old Angel Midnight, their interpretations of the poem have varied considerably. Nicosia views the text as “a confessional dialogue between the writer and his accusers” concerning the topics of writing and art.6 James T. Jones interprets the poem after a Freudian fashion, finding in it evidence of a fundamental Oedipal theme, one which the text’s “obscure language serves to mask” yet in so doing only reveals more clearly.7 Certainly, the poem can accommodate both readings, though they are – as I shall argue – only partial.

My own view of Old Angel Midnight, to be advanced in the following, is that, despite its deployment of radical literary techniques, the poem as a whole is not incomprehensible, and that (whatever other motifs may be present) Old Angel Midnight is essentially an expression of the most fundamental theme in Kerouac’s writing – the search for ultimate reality.

Kerouac’s conception of the long prose poem ultimately titled Old Angel Midnight was that of registering and recording in words the sounds of the world as heard by him through an open window at midnight wherever he might be on the planet. His written rendering of these sounds would be complemented by also setting down the associations and resonances evoked by them. An early statement by the author regarding the nature and direction of this project is cast in the form of a poem titled “Daydreams for Ginsberg” written by Kerouac in 1955 or 1956.8 Here, Kerouac writes of lying alone, hearing the clocks strike midnight and listening to human voices from nearby streets and houses. Perceiving the moment with all its attendant phenomena in a Buddhist perspective, Kerouac is inspired to declare that he will write it all down, “all the talk of the world …with roars of me own brain.” He intends, he says, to “put it down, swiftly, 1,000 words (of pages) compressed into one second of time.”9

Two allusions to Finnegans Wake in “Daydreams for Ginsberg” suggest that Kerouac already saw the text that he envisioned writing and Joyce’s eccentric classic as works related in terms of conception and style. This may have been because Kerouac viewed both works as exploring the nocturnal world and as expressing their vision of that world in an appropriately nocturnal language. In an adventurous spirit similar to that which animates Finnegans Wake, Kerouac’s Old Angel Midnight aims to record both external auditory experiences and those heard with the inward ear. Indeed, a substantial portion of the text of the poem consists of a transcription of uprushes of language and imagery from the unconscious self, the internal world, the nighttime, midnight regions of the psyche. Both works, then, are compendia of sounds and voices.

Although Old Angel Midnight clearly reflects a measure of inspiration and influence derived from Finnegans Wake, Kerouac’s long experimental poem lacks the elaborate design of Joyce’s epic novel, neither is it Joycean in being carefully composed and consciously crafted. Indeed, in method and intention, Old Angel Midnight could be said to be closer to the sound poetry of the dadaists, Hugo Ball and Kurt Schwitters, and to the automatic writing practiced by the surrealists, André Breton and Philippe Soupault, in their book-length exercise in textual autogenesis, The Magnetic Fields, originally published in 1919.

For it is chiefly sound which Kerouac’s poem aims to reproduce, external sounds such as human voices, birds, bells and barking dogs, and inner sounds, preverbal phonemes, non-lexical vocables, utterances from the unconscious mind. And the manner in which this aim is to be accomplished is to transcribe and take dictation, so to speak, to monitor and record the outer and inner sounds as they occur, together with the memories and mental associations they give rise to, all free of rational control and without subsequent editing or revision.

The rationale for this surrender of identity and autonomy on the part of the author would seem to be (though Kerouac makes no such explicit claim) to gain access to deeper truths, to serve as a sort of scribe or oracle for what can be known by revelation alone and cannot be fully understood. In this regard, then, the strategies of sound poetics and automatism are techniques employed in the poem to penetrate to primal, original levels of the mind and to give expression to an innate occult power that is to be found there.

Aldous Huxley writes in Literature and Science of a similar practice among poets that he names “verbal recklessness,” a technique which serves to release images and thoughts from the poet’s preconscious mind.10 This uninhibited, unrestrained form of expression, Huxley affirms, “opens unsuspected windows on the unknown,” and “can discover aspects of the essential mystery of existence.”11

Sound is the chief organizing and unifying principle of Old Angel Midnight. The utilization of sound devices, such as rhyme, alliteration, assonance, consonance, puns and onomatopoeia is frequent throughout the poem to the extent that the unfolding succession of thoughts and images in the text seems often to be based on phonological similarities between words, one word apparently calling to mind another similar word. For example, in the opening passage of the poem, the catalogue of heterogeneous phenomena that begins with “dogs children horses” quickly becomes restricted to those phenomena whose names begin with the letter “p,” including “parts pans pools palls pails parturiencies and petty Thieveries” (1). Other instances of connections made between words based on their similar sonic contours include phrases such as, “the silver ages everlasting swarmswallying in a simple broom” (2), “recapitulating the capitulation of the continent” (3), “sole provender provider” (3), and “I’d as lief be scoured with a leaf rust.” (5)

Words in Old Angel Midnight appear on the page in distorted form, their meanings garbled and muddled, as if coming from afar. Out of the primordial soup of sound, individual units of sound arise, coalesce into denotative units, then collapse and disintegrate. Words are created, – “merlying,” “mesaroolies” “mercery,” – or they are formed by combining existing words, such as “swimswarming” “penisenvious.” Words are spelled according to their pronunciation in various dialects: “dronk,” “perty” “yaself.” Words and phrases from languages other than English are interpolated. Clarity and obscurity, sense and nonsense, euphony and cacophony alternate and intermingle. Conventional rules of grammar and punctuation have no authority over the flow of sounds, the rush and clash of words. No censorship is exercised over the occurrence of obscenities and blasphemies but they co-exist in the text with piety, prayer and the primordial sound from which (according to Hindu and Buddhist beliefs) the universe came forth, the sound-symbol of totality and primary reality: Om. In naked words and primal sounds Old Angel Midnight seeks to penetrate to the sources and origins of language, to plumb its depth and power.

While word and sound are central to Old Angel Midnight, it is also a poem of times, places and persons. In short, the poem possesses spatial, temporal, narrative-dramatic dimensions. It is not merely a playful linguistic exercise but it is about something and its topic is nothing less than the nature of the universe.

Time in Old Angel Midnight is fluid, discontinuous. History, fantasy and memory continually intersect time-present in the text. There are also gaps and temporal leaps in the inner chronology of the poem. Old Angel Midnight begins upon a “Friday afternoon in the universe” (1) but the “now” of the narration soon becomes “moonlight midnight” (1), before returning again to “late Friday afternoon” (2). Later, we are told that the day is “Good Friday” (27). The Friday setting is intermittently maintained, though the time of day varies from section to section of the poem. In Section 28, for example, we are informed that “now it’s comin on Friday night” (31) but in Section 44 there are “birdledeedlies in our morning fresh window” (44). Section 53 takes place, we are told, “this Friday evening” (49), while Section 54 is entirely given over to the dawn chorus of birds.

Events such as the bloody dispute at the Bar of the 7 Seas (2), “the time they put wood to the poets of France” (3), or “when rat tooth came ravin” (6), together with many other such obscure occurrences – actual or imaginary – to which reference is made in the course of the text, take place in an unspecified past, recent or remote.

More precise dates are provided for other references and events in the poem. For example, it is stated that it was a morning in 1928 “when Back was home on the range lake” (9), while the notable achievements of Giants pitcher Geo Hooks Wiltse took place, we are told, on “May 15, 1906” (18). Following this, – perhaps by way of suggesting the implacable passage of time – the exact date for the composition of this section of the poem is given: “today is May 28 1956” (18). Future time is anticipated in relation to the standing of the Red Sox baseball team, which is predicted to be “in 4th place June & 5th place December” (19), while another far more distant future date is that of “Two days ago, March TWIP, 2059” (53). Reference is made in Section 52 to the “April full moon” (47), which by Section 66 has become “the full apogee May moon” (62). Whether measured by the sun or the moon, by the clock, the calendar or individual consciousness, time in the poem enables or reflects the flux of phenomena.

With its relentless changes and its inevitable occasions of disappointment and pain, time in Old Angel Midnight is contrasted to its opposite – eternity: a state of perfect peace, timeless and changeless and everlasting. This state is imaged in the text as “Golden Eternity” (1, 13, 16), the “Golden Ultimate Effulgence” (21) or the “Golden Aeternitatis” (42). Given the absolute nature of eternity, in contrast to the relative and finite temporal realm in which we exist, our deliverance from the tyranny of time has, the poem asserts, already been accomplished though owing to the limitations of our awareness we fail to grasp this wonderful truth. In this sense, even now we inhabit the “Eternal Already” (29) and since the universe is only a dream of the Many by the One, we are already safe in eternity because “goldenly eternally nothing ever happened” (56). As Old Angel Midnight is a poem and not a disquisition, these concepts are asserted rather than explained, but they seem to rest upon the notion that in eternity all boundaries and distinctions are spurious: the end is coincident with the beginning, so we are, in effect, already liberated, already released from the bondage of time. We suffer under a misapprehension regarding time. Right understanding would reveal to us our true condition.

Place or space in Old Angel Midnight is as unstable as time, with localities in the poem quickly succeeding each other. The following is a partial catalogue in roughly chronological order of places named or serving as scenes in the course of the poem: Sausalito, 7th Street (NYC), India, Norfolk, Mill Valley, Oregon, the Yangtze Gorge, Marin, North Beach, Laurel Dell, Columbia University, Sarah Avenue in Lowell, Philadelphia, South Boston, Tokyo, Kyoto, Brooklyn, San Francisco, Dublin, Greece, Gaza, Fez, Capernaum, Paris, Hester Street, Tangier, Arkansas, Persia, Iceland, Egypt, Florida, Russia, Spain, Niagara Falls, London, Kansas, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Juarez, El Paso, Chihuahua, Mazatlan, and Charleston. In addition, there are in the poem numerous imaginary or unspecified localities where events take place, such as “the boy on the sandbank blooming the moon” (46) to name but one instance. As in a dream, discontinuities occur in Old Angel Midnight as settings blur, blend, shift and dissolve.

Further undermining the stability of place and space in the poem is the disorienting spectrum of size introduced in the opening lines. Here the focus of narrative attention proceeds ever downward and inward and to ever smaller life forms, beginning with workingmen on scaffolds painting, continuing to ants underground in their dens and then to microbes living within the ants, moving deeper still to microbes within those microbes “dreaming of the ultimate microbehood” (1) Hereafter, the narrative focus moves to atoms and to sub-atomic particles, suggesting that we inhabit a universe that can be subdivided forever, a universe both infinitely vast and infinitely small, a universe that ultimately is “imaginary … ending nowhere and ne’er e’en born” (1)

This assertion concerning the non-existence of the universe is reinforced by subsequent images and statements in the poem depicting the universe as “the crystal void” (11) and “the universal dream” (15) where “all things are no-things” (12). In this sense, then, all places are equally illusory, equally empty and the only true space is the Void, the Divine Ground or Godhead. Clearly, (and unsurprisingly if the reader if familiar with Kerouac’s writings) these concepts correspond to tenets of Buddhist thought, a topic on which I shall enlarge later.

A census of the persons and entities (gods, spirits, beings) that populate Old Angel Midnight would probably run to a few hundred entries. A multitude of ephemeral figures appear and disappear in the course of the poem, all in a hubbub of voices, a rush and jumble of squabblings and ranglings, pursuits and purposes, perplexities and vexations. Among this throng, three categories of human figures are discernible in the poem. The first of these categories is that of the author’s personal acquaintances, including Gary Snyder, Philip Whalen, Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Bob Kaufman, et al. Historical and contemporary personages are also represented, including Buddha, Mohammed, Christ, Demosthenes, Aristophenes, Homer, Tu Fu, Bankei, Han Shan, Gogol, Dostoyevsky, Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway, Laurence Stern, Baudelaire, E.A. Poe, Hawthorne, Einstein, Werner Von Braun, Count Basie, Lester Young, Mamie Eisenhower, Elgar, Shostakovitch, Pavel Tchelichew, Mickey Spillane, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Hart Crane, Boddhidharma, Avalokitesvara, Milarepa, Pier Angeli, Marlon Brando, Anita Ekberg, Danny and the Juniors, and others. The sweep of human history is suggested by the presence in the poem of Eric Bloodaxe and Harold Fairhair, Leif Erikson, Cardinal Richelieu, Cardinal Mazarin, Jean-Baptiste Colbert and their ilk. The third category is that of named or unnamed imaginary figures who speak and act in the poem but lack any marked identity. These are many and include Mrs. McCartiola, Ole Poke, Mrs. Jones, Mrs. Smith, Mrs. Tourian, Shorty McGonigle, Jim Back, Roger Nulty, Somavilerd, Mrs. Roccoco, Mrs. Jameson, Sardalia, and numerous other characters.

As this confused mass of human lives is called into existence and then quickly passes from view, the reader of the poem experiences a kind of vertigo, a sense of the essential insubstantiality of existence and identity, and of the relentless flux of the phenomenal world. This feeling of fundamental and radical mutability, of chance and change, transience and transformation is reinforced by the changing nature of the two figures most central to Old Angel Midnight, the eponymous angel and the author. First, there is the abrupt switching of narrative voice which occurs in the poem. At the outset the poem is narrated in the first person by Old Angel Midnight: “I know boy what’s I talking about case I made the world & when I made it I no lie & had Old Angel Midnight for my name” (1). By section 4 of the poem, however, the narrative point of view has changed to third person: “Boy, says Old Angel, this amazing nonsensical rave …” (5). By section 9 the narration has become first person: “I see assorted perms…” (11). Thereafter, the poem alternates between first and third person narration, except for section 21 which again seems to be spoken by Old Angel Midnight: “Me – who was Old Angel Midnight that railed at the rant …”(24).

A second feature of the poem that serves to put emphasis upon the theme of flux, transience and uncertainty is the metamorphosis of the names of Old Angel Midnight and the narrator/author that occurs in the course of the text. At the outset, as noted, the speaker clearly identifies himself as “Old Angel Midnight” (1). This name is then shortened to “Old Angel” (5, 24) and lengthened to “Old Angel Midnight Opprobrium” (6). Subsequently, the name is altered to “Old Angel Midpike” (25), “Old Angel Midnight Africanus” (30), “Angel Midnightmare” (33), “The Angel Midmoke” (34), “Old Angel Midnigh” (46), reduced to the abbreviation “O A M” (47) transmogrified into “the old Midnacker snacker” (47) and ending at last in a surprising change of gender, “Old Angel Mama Midnight” (58). Similarly, the name of the author/narrator undergoes continual transformation. The earliest occurrence in the text of the author’s name seems to be in the form “Kee pardawac” (3), which soon thereafter assumes the form of “Jack” (5) and –Kerouac’s childhood nickname – “Ti Jean” (13). Later mutations of the name are “Care-a-wack” (20), “Vast stupid Kerouac-o” (3) “Crack Jabberwack” (33) and the self-deflating “Onan Keraquack” (33). In proto-postmodern fashion, then, both the tale and the teller in Old Angel Midnight are unstable, subverting conventions of narrative structure and suggesting that the very fabric of the world and all its myriad forms have no abiding reality.

Times, places and persons, all so fluid and ephemeral in Old Angel Midnight, serve to bear forward the fundamental themes of the poem. The themes are twofold and mutually reflexive. The first of these, already outlined above, is that of the unreality of the material-temporal world and of the individual consciousness that experiences it. The second theme, a complementary correlate of the first, is that of the ultimate deliverance of all beings from the world of illusion, a blessed and blissful release achieved through union with the Supreme Reality or Original Mind.

Already from the very outset of the poem, these themes are stated, expressed here and later in the text in Buddhist terms. In the first line of Old Angel Midnight, the catalogue of disparate phenomena concludes with the prediction that ultimately they will all “turn into heavenly Buddha” (1). An agent of illusion, the demiurge Old Angel Midnight, admits to having “concocted up a world so nothing you had forever thereafter make believe it’s real – “ (1), an “imaginary universe” (1). The urgency of the author-speaker’s desire to transcend the illusory world, to escape “the great weight of bleary time” (30) and attain “Golden Eternity” leads him variously to wish, anticipate and pray for deliverance. “God’s asleep dreaming, we’ve got to wake him up!” (5), he urges, then later imagines achieving salvation: “Swam! reacht the other shore, folded, in magnificence, shouldered the wheel of iron light, and shuddered no more, and rowed the fieldstar across her bed of ashen samsara sorrow towards in here, the bliss evermore” (8-9).

A prayerful practice or meditative technique to subdue the ego and to attain the emptiness of Supreme Reality is presented in the form of a short poem: “Shh, the sky is empty – / Shh, the earth is empty – / Look out, look in shh – “ (18). More desperate, more direct prayers occur later in the text: “I want the diamond shatterer bring it down return us dear Lord to Golden Aeternitatis” (42) and the urgent cry from the heart, “Oh God, stop it—“ (55). Soon thereafter calm faith returns again and the author-speaker affirms the inevitability of universal salvation: “When God snaps his Finger of Gold … the world will wake” (55).

If a single trope from the poem could be said to encapsulate its central themes, then it would be the haiku-like line occurring at the end of section 6: “(Under the empty blue sky, vertebrate zoology)” (8). Here, the juxtaposition of the two images – the one infinite, the other finite – suggests the purity and tranquillity of the Void as against the ravening world implied in “vertebrate zoology”. Clearly, then, the poem is informed by Buddhist concepts, though they are expressed according to the author’s personal interpretation of those concepts.

Old Angel Midnight can be seen as a kind of Buddhist cartoon, a vignette of infinity. Here, in brief and in miniature is the teeming, babbling, multitudinous, mad world in all its mystery, comedy and horror. There is blind destructive conflict from the Peloponnesian war to war between tribes of ants. There is theft, murder and every form of “mindscreaming blood perturbation” (34). But there is also music, poetry, friendship, sainthood, the beauty of birds and trees, and the uproarious Friday night excitement of “the cats wailing in the wailbar wildbar” (1). And, finally, there is the balm and solace to be found in “the Buddha who abides throughout detestable phenomena” (8). Old Angel Midnight ends abruptly with section 67, a transcription of “The 26th Annual Concert of the Armenian Convention” (63), but I like to think that following the text’s last unit of type the blank space on the rest of the page represents the resolution of the poem, symbolizing the serene eternal emptiness of the Void or Divine Mind.

Although Old Angel Midnight is the most radically innovative and experimental of Kerouac’s writings, the technique of untrammelled stream-of-consciousness expression is employed elsewhere in his work. Chapter six of Part One of Desolation Angels is one such instance.12 Another similar instance is to be found in Visions of Cody in the section titled “Imitation of the Tape.”13 Thematically, Old Angel Midnight is closely related to other works by the author in which Buddhist perspectives are central. Such works include Tristessa (1958), The Dharma Bums (1958), and Visions of Gerard (1963), as well as Mexico City Blues (1959) and The Scripture of the Golden Eternity (1960). Indeed, the latter book could be read as a gloss or commentary on Old Angel Midnight.

Certainly, one source of Kerouac’s fascination with the sheer musical sound of words is his admiration for Finnegans Wake, which, as stated above, exerted an obvious influence on Old Angel Midnight. The author acknowledges this literary debt to James Joyce in the course of the poem with embedded allusions to the two washerwomen by the banks of the Liffey featured in the Anna Livia Plurabelle chapter of Finnegans Wake: “Yes I hook out the wash with a crook of my thumb” (26) and “wash your drawers, draw the river in” (34). A similar acknowledgement of literary indebtedness is made in Old Angel Midnight to Lewis Carroll’s pioneering use of nonsense language in the poem “Jabberwocky” when at one point in the text Kerouac refers to himself as “Crack Jabberwack” (33).

More immediate inspiration for the nonsense passages of Old Angel Midnight is very likely to have come from Kerouac’s love of jazz, from scat singing in particular. The joyous abandon, the humour and the expressionist potentials of scat singing have clear counterparts in the techniques employed in Old Angel Midnight. Kerouac’s favourite practitioner of the art of scat was Slim Galliard (1916 – 1991) whose performances are celebrated in On the Road, and who, in addition to interpolating into his songs words and phrases from half-a-dozen languages, invented his own language called “Vout.” Galliard’s exuberant linguistic inventiveness might well have exerted an influence on the writing of Old Angel Midnight. In this regard, Kerouac is very likely also to have “reaped the righteous riff” of songs such as Cab Calloway’s “We the Cats” with its refrain of “Skibble-de-dooba/ Skibble-de-boy-boy/ Skibble-de-reeba,” and Dizzy Gillespie’s “Oop Bop Sh’Bam a Klook a mop.” The improvisatory character of Old Angel Midnight, its quirky humour, its exploration of onomatopoeia, and its substitution of nonsense syllables for words suggest an inherent kinship with scat singing.

What, in the end, would it profit a reader to have read this idiosyncratic little work by Jack Kerouac? Why submit to such bewilderment, such obscurity, such a welter of wild and whirling words? Perhaps because sometimes an engagement with incoherence can be salutary. Sometimes allowing oneself to be overwhelmed by sounds and images can have a liberating and regenerative effect on the reader. The literary critic, Roberta Tucker, describes this process as “a purposeful disorientation followed by a reorientation.”14

The collision and convergence of disparate realities, the shattering of syntax and sense that characterize Old Angel Midnight, the utilization of incongruity, inconsequence and unintelligibility in the text, all serve to disrupt the reader’s habitual perception of the world. In this fashion, the text encourages us to confront the utter stunning strangeness of existence, the mad, miserable march of history, the confusion and futility of human motives, the impermanence and incomprehensibility of everything. At the same time, the text invites us to take comfort from the certainty of our ultimate, inevitable (even immediate) salvation, our blissful union with empty, tranquil eternity.

Old running back Kerouac may not have scored a literary touchdown with Old Angel Midnight, – some readers may be inclined to resist or dismiss the text or may remain unpersuaded of its merits, immune to its effects – but his swift, agile rush play through our language has undeniably given us a run for our money. He is to be credited for advancing boldly into the end zone of the sayable, toward the goal line of Golden Eternity.

Notes

1 Old Angel Midnight by Jack Kerouac. San Francisco: Gray Fox Press, 1993. Parenthetical references thereafter will be to this edition.

2 Jack Kerouac, Selected Letters 1957-1969, edited by Ann Charters. New York: Viking, 1999, p. 193.

3 “Old Angel Kerouac: A Deathblow Putdown” by Larry Beckett. Evergreen Review No. 34, (December 1964), pp. 11-12.

4 Desolate Angel: Jack Kerouac, the Beat Generation and America by Dennis McNally. New York: Random House, 1979, p. 216.

5 Memory Babe: A Critical Biography of Jack Kerouac by Gerard Nicosia. New York: Grove Press, 1983, p. 518.

6 Ibid. p. 517.

7 Jack Kerouac’s Duluoz Legend: The Mythic Form of an Autobiographical Fiction by James T. Jones. Carbondale, Illinois: Southern Illinois University Press, 1999, p. 225.

8 Scattered Poems by Jack Kerouac. San Francisco: City Lights, 1971, pp. 11-12.

9 Ibid. p. 12.

10 Literature and Science by Aldous Huxley. New Haven: Leete’s Island Books, 1963, p. 32.

11 Ibid. p. 35.

12 Desolation Angels by Jack Kerouac. New York: Coward-McCann, 1965, p. 10.

13 Visions of Cody by Jack Kerouac. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1972, pp. 249-274.

14 “Disorientation, Reorientation, A Compulsion to Explain” by Roberta Tucker. Journal of Consciousness Studies, Vol. 11, No. 5-6, 2004, p. 5.

Buy the books here: Old Angel Midnight and Finnegans Wake.

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About Gregory Stephenson

Gregory Stephenson grew up in Colorado and Arizona but has lived in Denmark for 40 years. He is the author of Exiled Angel: A Study of the Writings of Gregory Corso (1989) and The Daybreak Boys: Essays on the Literature of the Beat Generation (1990) as well as critical studies on J.G. Ballard, Robert Sheckley, and Robert Stone.

Comments

  1. Nancy Grace says:

    I enjoyed this article and more needs to be written about Old Angel Midnight. I encourage Stephenson, however, to see my book Jack Kerouac and the Literary Imagination, which has a rather extensive discussion of Old Angel Midnight. I also discuss at length the connection between Kerouac and Joyce. These percursor works of research need to be acknowledged.

  2. Dave Moore says:

    Excellent article by Gregory Stephenson.

    Kerouac’s own thoughts on Old Angel Midnight were expressed in his 1967 article The First Word:

    “I’d gone so far to the edges of language where the babble of the subconscious begins … I began to rely too much on babble in my nervous race away from cantish cliches, chased the proton too close with my microscope, ended up ravingly enslaved to sounds, became unclear and dull as in my ultimate lit’ry experiment ‘Old Angel Midnight.’ There’s a delicate balancing point between bombast and babble.”

What do you think?

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