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On the Road to Lost Fathers: Jack Kerouac in a Lacanian Perspective

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Tomasz Sawczuk

The book is the first monograph which examines the correspondences between the oeuvre of Jack Kerouac and the thought of Jacques Lacan, the two apparently incompatible worlds which prove to be complementary when taking a closer look. The study demonstrates a number of points. Firstly, with Jacques Lacan as a silent partner, it helps to better understand why psychoanalysis won Kerouac’s enmity in the mid-1950s. It also delves into Lacan’s reflections on spontaneous free-association to prove their convergence with Beats’ literary tactics. In its final part, by employing Lacanian theory, the book offers an extensive insight into Kerouac’s oeuvre to excavate the problematic status of the father figure, a crucial matter not yet given a rigorous critical attention.

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Introduction

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The book is a modest attempt to bring close the apparently incompatible worlds of the Beat Generation writer, Jack Kerouac, and the French psychoanalyst, Jacques Lacan, with a view to finding points of convergence between the standpoints which at first glance could be easily recognized as mutually exclusive. The unemotional, baroque, gnomic, elitist, and anti-metaphysical works of Lacan offer surprisingly much when confronted with the passionate, sentimental, democratic, and spiritual poetics of Kerouac. What is perhaps accountable for diminishing the cultural as well as geographical distance between the two figures, and their respective milieux, is their prime focus on the problem of language; both Kerouac and Lacan perceived it as the carrier of one’s unconscious as well as a means supporting one’s coming to terms with traumatic experiences. Both were highly distrustful as regards the shape of American institutional psychoanalysis. Finally, a rapprochement between the French Freud and the Beat writer seems all the more invited in the surge of critical strategies currently recognized in the fields of the Beat studies and Lacanian literary criticism. These areas have acknowledged, respectively, the necessity of breaking the confines of the American context and the need to reverse the process of elucidating literary works with psychoanalysis. It is here that I would like to locate my attempt to offer a comprehensive insight into the correspondences between Kerouac, his body of work, and (Lacanian) psychoanalysis as well as to investigate if Kerouac’s textual strategies might be revealing for Lacanian criticism.

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