erasing clouds

Jack Kerouac's Orpheus Emerged

by eric m. hoover

If I were a respectable vagabond I would have hopped a train while some confused passenger distracted a conductor. Instead I pay the $14 round trip ticket price, fearing "the Man" may attempt to prosecute me. I arrive in Central Park after wandering the sidewalks of Manhattan for hours thinking how easy life was in the time of Jack Kerouac. In his journals and stories he writes of living off the land, off pennies a day (as one could succeed at in the 1930's and 40's), and surviving with strong feet and good will.

Humidity invades my pours as I lay sunstroked with a copy of Kerouac's Orpheus Emerged on the grass. I read my margin notes while an ant travels the mile across page 73 and think, "how far did that insect come before making it to the edge of this parchment?"

One can truly feel a book like Orpheus when you ask questions such as these. Are they trivial distractions from real work or can they lead to unlocking some mystery about our personal existence?

The poet main character of this beatnik lost classic, Michael, asks if he can transcend the human emotions of love and lust to become Orpheus, the "artist-man"—a combination of man and a modern Prometheus; "the artist."

The short novel symbolizes the struggle to become a better you, only to find failure after every attempt in evolution. Trying to move forward with your past grasping you back; these are Kerouac's obstacles in Orpheus.

The supporting cast includes Michael's better half Paul who acts as a living ego. A critical individual, Paul is either praising Michael's poetic genius or crucifying him for cliché philosophical lyrics.

Maureen, Michael's mistress and a woman ten years his senior, supports the flourishing "artist-man" with only expectance of undying love from him. Close friends who include Leo, Anthony, Marie and Jules fill in as cohorts keeping some sanity in the everyday life of anarchy that is living through your 20's.

All are students attending a fictional New York City style Ivy-League university. They spend time philosophize about life while drinking too much wine, listening to classical music and speaking in language too intelligent for Shakespeare let alone typical college students.

Kerouac forms his story around personal journal entries (included at the end of the ibooks softcover release) bringing in person quotes and ideals wrapped around scenes of passionate monologues, drunken lamp fights and intense imagery.

Paul lives out Michael's dream (as well as one of the great American traditions sought by The Beat Generation) of visiting the country to "sleep on the grass and eat fruit for breakfast" as Michael locks himself away in bedrooms and downtown bars to write.

One can best related to this novel if you possess a mischievous will yet are trapped in a void between life phases. Transcendence to a new point takes time, and if like Michael you enjoy no patience whatsoever it could be a great effort to make it through.

These themes help keep you interested in Michael's outcome, wondering that if he can become a true artist perhaps we are all capable of striving in the dark fields of creativity. As the sun sinks behind the skyscrapers I pick up my book and walk back to the subway hoping to meet my Paul along the way.

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