Sunday, August 15, 2004

Dharma My Ass

OK. One night a couple of months ago I was sitting around with some friends and acquaintances. We were shooting the breeze. In the course of the conversation Jack Kerouac came up. At that point in time I'd only read On the Road, and by read I mean that I read all but the last ten pages, at which point I put the book down and said, "Who gives a fuck?" I'd been drug back and forth across the country in a insane tare that seemed to have no other end than to destroy new cars and ramble back and forth across the country. I stopped reading 10 pages from the end believing that there was no possible way that this book could redeem itself and that there was no point in me wasting any more of my life on this book. (Possible mistake? The world may never know.) Well back to the conversation with friends... I managed to sum up my loathing of Kerouac in a few short sentences and apparently piss off a couple people there. I was obviously too dense to see the monumental cultural and sociological significance of the book and Kerouac as an author. This may be true.

At that point one of the people who seemed most offended by my dislike for Kerouac said, "You should read 'The Dharma Bums'". Not wanting to be the completely closed minded bastard that I often come across as, I agreed to do so. I then promptly forgot about the book.

A couple of weeks later I was once again chatting with friends and acquaintances. Kerouac came up again. I listened a little bit more this time but eventually it was clear to all around that I didn't like Kerouac. At that point someone who claimed to be a "Christian Anarchist" (I thought they were all Republicans.) told me that 'The Dharma Bums' was a much better representation of why Kerouac was a great author. Well color me interested. Two people mention the same book while I bad mouth the author for another of his books. This stuck with me a little bit longer and I managed to make it to Borders to pick up the book before being distracted by a shiny object.

I've now read the book, and am now formally retracting most of the bad things that I've said about Kerouac. While 'The Dharma Bums' is not the best book I've ever read, and I still don't buy the life philosophy that he's representing, I can now accept that there is an appeal to what he writes about. His experiences of and within nature carry a power and appeal that I am drawn to. However, the way that he chooses to live his life, or rather to internally experience his own life and write about it, really holds little appeal.

To quote Elvis Costello, "Writing about music is like dancing about architecture - it's a really stupid thing to want to do". I think you could just as easily say the same thing about writing about Dharma, or rather one individuals quest to understand Dharma. You get all of the boring and mundane details and none of the enlightenment that the author got. Fortunately, Kerouac manages to put together a book that appeals on more than just that level. His experiences are enough to make me look for my old backpack and think about getting a pair of hiking boots. Maybe in the process of doing that I become enlightened, who knows? Of course if that happens then it may be that 'The Dharma Bums' is just a very long and elaborate Zen koan, and it served its purpose.

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