Contradictions: On the Road 3

In real life, this Neal Cassady, with his crazy intensity of life, unstoppable energy, overwhelming charm, and savvy hustle, did only a little writing: published some poems and an autobiographical novel. Mostly, however, Neal Cassady was an artist whose medium was being.

Cassady was a muse, an inspiration, for Kerouac, and also for Allen Ginsberg, who writes about Cassady in “Howl” and calls him the "secret hero of these poems." Cassady would go on to meet Ken Kesey, author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in 1962, and became one of the Merry Pranksters, a group that formed around Kesey. Kesey wrote about Cassady in the book Demon Box, calling him “Superman.” In 1964, Cassady was the main bus driver of a bus – the destination across its front simply saying, “Further” -- immortalized in Tom Wolfe’s book, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. Hunter S. Thompson wrote about him.

Who was this guy, irresistible to writers as he was also to a great many women – and more than a few men – with whom he slept? What kind of model of life is this?

In one scene from On the Road, Dean Moriarty (the name the novel gives to Neal Cassady), with his body seemingly falling apart, is thrown out by his wife, and his primary recurrent girlfriend, formerly also his wife, leaves him. Dean and Sal go looking for sleeping accommodations at another friend’s place, Ed Dunkel. Ed himself has disappeared for a while on the road, and Ed’s wife, Galatea, lets them in and several of the women cohorts of the male Beat characters are there and take the opportunity to express their collective condemnation:
  “‘For years now you haven’t had any sense of responsibility for anyone. You’ve done so many awful things I don’t know what to say to you.’ And in fact that was the point, and they all sat around looking at Dean with lowered and hating eyes, and he stood on the carpet in the middle of them and giggled – he just giggled. He made a little dance. . . .
  I suddenly realized that Dean, by virtue of his enormous series of sins, was becoming the Idiot, the Imbecile, the Saint of the lot.
  ‘You have absolutely no regard for anybody but yourself and your damned kicks. All you think about is . . . how much money or fun you can get out of people and then you just throw them aside. Not only that but you’re silly about it. It never occurs to you that life is serious and there are people trying to make something decent out of it instead of just goofing all the time.’
  That’s what Dean was, the HOLY GOOF.
  ‘You stand here and make silly faces, and I don’t think there’s a care in your heart.’ [said Galatea]
  This was not true; I knew better and I could have told them all. I didn’t see any sense in trying it. I longed to go and put my arm around Dean and say, Now look here, all of you, remember just one thing: this guy has his troubles too, and another thing, he never complains and he’s given all of you a damned good time just being himself, and if that isn’t enough for you then send him to the firing squad, that’s apparently what you’re itching to do anyway. . . .
  ‘Now you’re going East with Sal,’ Galatea said, ‘and what do you think you’re going to accomplish by that? Camille has to stay home and mind the baby now you’re gone – how can she keep her job? – and she never wants to see you again and I don’t blame her. If you see Ed along the road you tell him to come back to me or I’ll kill him.’”
Suddenly we see that this familiar, familiar voice of morality and reason, source of so much rage, is as filled with contradictions as Dean’s free-wheeling is. If you were any good you’d go back, but don’t you go back because she won’t have you. And the people we want are the ones we want to kill. There are contradictions all the way around.

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This is part 3 of 4 of "On the Road"
Next: Part 4: Conventional Morality
Previous: Part 2: Dean/Neal
Beginning: Part 1: Damned Good Questions

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