Dharma & Democracy: The Death of Meritocracy and Prescience of Ancient Wisdom
First published in 1957, Jack Kerouac’s iconic and celebrated autobiographical novel, On the Road inspired a generation of rebels and writers to buck the system in search of greater meaning and authenticity. Cited by many critics as one of the most important American novels ever written, the work nonetheless continues to polarize readers, sparking intense debate, or even eye-rolling dismissal. Is the novel nothing more than a drug-fueled orgy of youthful angst that wrongly celebrates deviant apathy? Or does Kerouac manage to articulate a timeless and transcendent search for meaning, using the road and its travels to give voice to the existential longing at the very heart of being alive? Further, how should we read Kerouac’s overt sexism? At best, many readers have reluctantly accepted the author’s misogyny as reminiscent of an era, while still managing to celebrate the genius of his prose. At worst, in the eyes of many critics, Kerouac’s sexism has rendered him a pathetic creep, unworthy of redemption. But perhaps, both arguments are missing the broader potential for radical feminist liberation weaved into the mad man’s scroll. In this Olio, we will take on such questions by situating On the Road in a broader story of American life after WWII. By firmly rooting our reading of Kerouac in the historical context of postwar America, we will learn not only about this period in the American past, we will also uncover how relevant Kerouac’s travels remain today for women (and men) seeking authentic and subversive liberation.