1418-1/2 Clouser St, Orlando, Fla: postmarked January 29, 1958.
One page typed on paper. With original mailing envelope and carbon copy of Rosenthal’s letter. 8.5 x 8.5 inches. “I’ve had visions and reassurances and all kinds of wild gnostic certainties handed to me”. Creased from prior folding, small holes at left margin from removed staples. Item #260106
Kerouac writes in response to a letter from Irving Rosenthal of the Chicago Review (a carbon of the letter is included here), who had requested a submission for an upcoming Zen-themed issue, “I do have something for your summer issue of Zen, five pages of prose about Buddhistic meditation in the woods, an excerpted chapter from my novel-in-progress entitled The Dharma Bums. Let me know if you want me to send you that, and please sorta promise you’ll print it (it’s highly publishable) before I type it up in the midst of 1,000 harassments and details … (5,000 word letters being exchanged with Hollywood producer, completion of novel-in-progress, etc. etc. ) (albums with Norman Granz, etc. etc.).”
Kerouac would oblige Rosenthal with an excerpt of The Dharma Bums, which appeared in the Chicago Review under the title “Meditation in the Woods.”
Kerouac goes on to suggest that Rosenthal contact Gary Snyder and Phillip Whalen for more material for the Zen issue, and he mentions Zen scholar Alan Watts. “… I would suggest you contact that young man [Gary Snyder] because he is now on a round the world freighter on his way home from the Shokokuji Monastery in Kyoto Japan and can provide your issue with direct Zen material, the latest, poems or prose … Another strong suggestion, is, get material, prose or poetry, from a contemporary Zen Master (lay) name of Phillip Whalen … Mention to [Alan] Watts that I said that it was his duty to furnish something for your issue in order to turn the wheel of the Dharma in 1958.”
Whalen and Watts both appeared in The Dharma Bums (Whalen would later criticize Kerouac’s “Beat Zen”), and Snyder was the model for the novel’s main character, Japhy Ryder, and the embodiment of the novel’s counter-culture “rucksack revolution” of wandering Zen Lunatics. “As Jack saw it, Gary’s alternative life style was basically a religious way of life in The Dharma Bums …” (Charters, Kerouac, p. 293). Kerouac writes this letter from his sisters’s home in Orlando, where he had gone to write The Dharma Bums, writing the entire novel in ten sittings in November of 1957 — “he thought of himself like an athlete, sticking to his typewriter grinding out 15,000 or 20,000 words at a time” (Charters, Kerouac, p. 293).
Kerouac closes with a remarkable testimony to his Buddhist practice and its very close relationship to his writing, “No, I haven't made a semi-serious study of Buddhism but a very serious one indeed, in fact I’ve had visions and reassurances and all kinds of wild gnostic certainties handed to me. My prose will explain that.”
An outstanding letter, written at the height of Kerouac’s fame, and touching on some of the Zen characters and experiences that were central to the writing of The Dharma Bums.
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