Rereading »On The Road« by Jack Kerouac

Have you ever heard of Rosebud? This is the famous clue and MacGuffin of »Citizen Kane«, the famous last words summing up the life of the magnate Charles Foster Kane. Rosebud was the name of his sledge when he was a happy child playing in the snow.

25.8.2011

Jan Ulrich Hasecke

Books analyzing »Rosebud« are legion. What I want to say is that there are words that reminds us of our childhood or of another crucial time of our live. »On The Road« is reminiscent of the most creative time of my life. I read »On The Road« when I was 25. I just made my first movie and started my first novel. As Charles Foster Kane lost something vaguely describable as childhood I lost this special kind of creativity you have when you are young, enthusiastic and desperate.

Rereading »On The Road« is a more than 20 years trip back to a point of my life where I was bursting with creativity.  Or more precisely: it will be a trip back, because I didn’t start reading it. For now I am reading the introduction of Howard Cunnell to the »Original Scroll« of Jack Kerouac’s »On The Road«. Cunnell says that Kerouac wrote »On the Road« in a 20 days session in April 1951. But this is only half the truth.

Cunnell traces the struggles Kerouac had to find his own voice. He started the novel over and over again only to break off after a few pages. For more than two years the idea of a road novel roamed in his mind until he knew how to write it. In April 1951 he glued together a long scroll of paper, fed it into his typewriter and began to write. 20 days and a lot of coffee later the book was finished.

When I read that I was stunned. Two years to find his own voice is a short period compared with my quest for originality. I needed years to complete my first novel »Die Reise nach Jerusalem« (Journey to Jerusalem) only to discover that I didn’t find my voice but the novel’s voice and that I had to start from scratch finding the voice of my next novel. That was frustrating.

But even more frustrating was that my novel never paid my bills. I could never understand why people paid me for writing as an advertiser with their voice but never wanted to hear my real voice or at least the unique voice of my book. That made me think of writing something for the market, a crime story. But even though I think that I know how to write it, I never had the energy of writing it. Perhaps I am too professional. I want to be paid for sure, when I write with a foreign tongue. And it is never sure whether your book sells or fails. So this project is on hold as is my real next novel, because I never found its voice.

In the meantime I found my voice in essays and satire. When I worked on my second novel I discovered the web and started something in 1998 what later on was called a blog. I named it Sudelbuch following Georg Christoph Lichtenberg a famous German scientist and satirist. For more than a decade it has been my publishing platform for   small essays and satirical texts mostly about current political affairs. Recently I published the first twelve years as ebooks on the Kindle platform.

Rereading »On The Road« is my Rosebud, a kick in the ass to resume my quest for my own voice in literature. I can’t wait to finish the long introductions and start reading: »I first met Neal not long after my father died…«