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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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4 Kerouac and Psychoanalysis in America: Direct Encounters

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4.1 1940–1945

Jack Kerouac came into fuller contact with psychoanalytic writings during his studies when reading and having intellectual disputes with his friends absorbed much of his time. The early 1940s also mark Kerouac’s first real life experience with psychotherapy, yet a rather psychiatrically-oriented one. In 1942 after having enlisted to join the United States Navy, the writer as well as – ironically enough – his novel The Sea Is My Brother were examined by psychiatrists at a boot camp in Newport, Rhode Island. This was mainly the result of Kerouac’s antics which were carefully crafted in order to get dismissed, since the writer became quickly disillusioned and appalled by what his responsibilities were to be after the training (Nicosia 104). Such behavior further took him to the naval hospital at Bethesda, Maryland, where his case was diagnosed as dementia praecox. Nicosia adds that the latter was finally changed to ““schizoid personality” with “angel tendencies” (an early epithet for unrealistic self-aggrandizement)” (106). Kerouac’s image of himself was another matter. Anne Charters notes that at that time he perceived himself as being troubled with what he labeled himself as “complex condition” of his mind, which meant being torn apart by contradictory feelings and which hoped to find final welding in the act of writing (SL1 57–58). In a letter to his friend, George J. Apostolos (April, 1943), he states that what he considers “a good book on psychology” (SL1 59) is Human Behavior and Human Mind by...

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