Monthly Archives: November 2022

KW3 (376)

7. Pink juice

This phrase comes from Kerouac’s introduction to Rbt. Frank’s seminal photography book The Americans, a collection of images initially rejected by large numbers of conservative critics for its “anti-American” content, particularly representations of segregation as in the famous picture of a New Orleans trolley car. That photo seems to give direct form for the oppressive social regimentation of Jim Crow, as it shows whites in the front and Black people in the back. Particularly notable is the wounded expression of a Black man apparently looking directly at Frank’s camera. Kerouac marvels at Frank’s humane, searching eye, arguing that it visualizes the “pink juice of human kindness.” This phrase stands out among a slew of other verbal images, many of which pinball from line to line after the fashion of Kerouac’s idea of Spontaneous Prose. Using the photos from the book as “image-objects,” he allows his language and consciousness to flow over them like a river over a rock.

8. Fellaheen

This term is found in Kerouac’s short “story” October in the Railroad Earth, an exemplar of the Spontaneous Prose method in which the writer “blow[s] as deep as [they] want to blow” after the fashion of a jazz musician departing on an improvised solo. An Arabic word, fellaheen literally translates to “tiller of the earth”— i.e., a peasant. “The Negro” (in the accepted parlance of mid-century America) as well as the bum or the Beat are fellaheens— humbled by circumstance, beaten down, stripped of pretension, yet angelic and saintly. The Beat concern for those living at the margins of mainstream society indicates their antagonism toward the stultifying conformity of Cold War culture as well as a belief that the ordinary aspects of living— and ordinary people— have a beatific aspect. We can see these values expressed in Ginsberg’s Sunflower Sutra, where he takes the presence of a grime-encrusted sunflower as an occasion to marvel at the hallowedness of life. Other examples from Ginz include the Footnote to Howl with its anaphoristic use of “Holy, holy, holy” to claim that “everything’s holy” including “the cocks of the grandfathers of Kansas”— an absurd phrase that brings these stolid, conservative figures down to an earthier level. 

5. No. 5

This is the title of an abstract expressionist painting by Jackson Pollock, one of the key figures of that art movement which also includes Willem de Kooning. At one time the most expensive painting in the world, No. 5 is non-representational. Its aesthetic value comes from its chaotic, aggressive use of color and line, which are produced using the techniques of Action Painting. No. 5 is the visual correlative of Jazz, taking its power from spontaneity rather than score (in this sense “score” in painting might be the model of the work, the object rendered, as in a still-life). There are a few things to consider here. One is that the financial value of No. 5 indicates the degree to which edgy, Modernist art has been commodified. As with Ginsberg’s poetry and Kerouac’s prose, paintings such as Pollock’s have fully entered the mainstream of American culture. Provocative in their immediate time, they now represent culture AS capital. The other thing to acknowledge is the notion that as with Ginsberg and Kerouac’s methods of composition, and the increasingly baroque and experimental shape of Jazz music, the question of form is not given in advance. Form will find itself in the act of expression. (And this is one of the things that makes art an approach to the expansion of consciousness.)

3. Hot vs. cool

We might call this phrase— drawn from lecture as well as Ginsberg’s remarks on Kerouac and the meaning of Beat— the primary dialectic of America’s first national subculture. Yet it also applies to different genres of Jazz and arguably Robert Frank’s strange short film “Pull My Daisy.” To be hot is to be open, expectant, goofy, ardent, and enthusiastic. Hot can be fast, as in the notes played by Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie in “Salt Peanuts”. It can be effusive to the point of innocence as in the speaker of Ginsberg’s poem “Supermarket in California”. It can be “ragged” in a sense, or unfinished, as in the editing and camerawork of Pull My Daisy. Cool on the other hand possesses a distance, a low-key quality. As a cultural style it seems more meditative and detached. Miles Davis’s trumpet work on Kind of Blue is decidedly Cool, as are Chet Baker’s vocals. As a way of being in the world, Cool indicates an unwillingness to engage completely. It’s a holding back of sentiment and judgement. Kerouac was clearly a Hot Beat, as evidenced by his penchant for “goofing” (mentioned in PMD)— i.e., playing with language and actively creating nonsense. Nonsense has the capacity to interrupt the rigidity of rationality. It’s an antidote to the regimentation of normative, conformist society.