Sunday, May 09, 2010

“‘To Be an Irishman Too’: Jack Kerouac’s Irish Connection” in JSTOR

My article on Jack Kerouac and Ireland — “‘To Be an Irishman Too’: Jack Kerouac’s Irish Connection” — from the journal Studies, Vol. 92, No. 368 (Winter 2003), is available through the JSTOR academic database here.

An abstract from the Studies site describes the piece like this:

Jack Kerouac’s assumption into the literary canon in America may have taken longer, because he tended to be regarded as some sort of all-American rebel-without-a-cause. But the “all-American” epithet is simpliste. French-Canadian, Kerouac had Breton ancestors; these in turn hailed from another Celtic stronghold, Cornwall — and traced their own distant forebears to Ireland. (“Kerouac” may be a synonym of “Kerwick” or “Kervick” — Ó Ciarmhaic: “dark son”). The Celtic oral tradition (speculates one biographer) may have something to do with his natural storytelling ability and extraordinary powers of memory.

As one of the working-class settlers south of the Canadian border, Kerouac knew what it was to be marginalised and discriminated against — and any Irish heartstrings in him were struck by the similar plight of the U.S. descendants of Ireland's post-Famine immigrants. (He also identified with Mexicans and black Americans — experiencing themselves as an underclass).

Explicitly, Kerouac accords recognition to his Irish heritage in the matter of literary influence. He renders homage to Joyce — and (among the novels) actual instances are to be found of experimental wordplay, as well as of multiplicity of authorial voices. He also alludes to Yeats’s isle of Innisfree — casting Ireland in the role of a fount of creativity. (The hero of one of the novels applies similes from the Irish landscape to the girl he loves — a landscape which, in real life, Kerouac had only managed to admire from a passing ship).

Meeting him in New York, Brendan Behan had no doubt that here was a soul-mate. Kerouac's influence is felt in the work of contemporary Irish writer Colum McCann, and is openly acknowledged by Cathal Ó Searcaigh. James Liddy quotes Patrick Kavanagh as saying that “the only people in America that are alive are men like Jack Kerouac” — and comments: “Both Kavanagh and Kerouac have in their language the sparkle of epiphany”... So Kerouac would seem not only to have picked up some Irish echo from “way back”, but to have made it resonate anew in Irish sensibilities.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this. Mike. Kernow is the poetic name for Cornwall.Very close to Jack's surname. Of course , you know this. A great post. I found the Jesuit publication very interesting ( even as an Atheist ). Liam MacS