The Gospel According to Jack Kerouac

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Claudio Zonta SJ

 Claudio Zonta SJ / Book Review / Published Date:8 December 2021/Last Updated Date:9 December 2021


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The Gospel According to Jack Kerouac by Luca Miele (published by Claudiana Editrice, 2021) is a careful reading of the work of the famous father of the Beat Generation. Above all, Kerouac is famous for his ideal of freedom from strict American social conventions, and his rebellion against ‘The System’, especially in his most famous novel On The Road. Miele, however,  dwells on the traces of God’s presence in his writings.

From the written word appears a Kerouac in search of a profound relationship with a God who is always being continuously  defined, in a feverish and tenacious dynamic made up of struggles, contrasts and questions that never have a definitive answer. Miele comments on his “battle with and against the word, his inability to write God. The writer’s whole life is absorbed by this struggle, to the rhythm of his impulses and his failures, made vulnerable by impossibility.”

For the American writer, there are two poles in which to seek the presence of God: the word and silence. One’s encounter with the presence of God can be apophatic, through negation, or so diaphanous as to be dazzling: “God is suspended perpetually between revelation and concealment,” and the face of God can shine “in a street corner or a tree or in anything else.”

La Civilta Cattolica

It is a God who seems to hide in the folds and wounds of the existences of the characters  of On the Road described by Kerouac, who often fall under the weight of their own choices, their own mistakes, as they grope their way through the darkness of the nights of the soul. In the face of pain, Kerouac utters a prayer: “Every night I still ask the Lord, ‘Why?’ and haven’t heard a decent answer yet.” But the answer also remains “on the road,” where the sacred and damnation meet and compete for the soul of the human being.

And so, scrolling through the pages of Miele’s alternative reading of the American writer’s work, we see how much the word is performative of an incessant search, which continues to clash with doubts and the deepest human questions. In Kerouac’s writings we catch a glimpse of a tentative and stuttering answer, but above all we sense how God travels the same roads as we do, blessing existence, even the most compromised, perhaps because to be beat is a way of being that belongs to God himself…, because: “beat does not mean tired or dejected as much as blessed… like St. Francis, trying to love all forms of life…, practicing tolerance, kindness, cultivating joy in the heart.”