Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
First Committee Member
Stephen G. Brown
Second Committee Member
John C. Unrue
Third Committee Member
Charles C. Whitney
Fourth Committee Member
Number of Pages
Few novels so clearly dramatize an artist's discovery of his authentic voice as does Kerouac's On the Road. The publication of the writing that Kerouac did before On the Road, and particularly the writing he did before The Town and the City, offers almost unprecedented opportunity to study his artistic apprenticeship and trace his development as an artist. To study Kerouac's apprenticeship is to witness him learning how to liberate himself in order to be that which he would become. In addition to shedding light on this unexamined aspect of Kerouac's career, I hope this study might inspire similar breakthroughs and breakouts in other would-be artists.
The dynamics of this developmental process are under-theorized. No one to my knowledge has written of this process as thoroughly as Otto Rank, which is why I've used his theories of artistic apprenticeships to inform this analysis. I used Martin Heidegger's Being and Time because he founds his philosophy on the same central question that I believe Kerouac founds his art: the "question of Being." I wanted to examine Kerouac's writing before On the Road to trace how his psychological artistic development was informed by the philosophical question that would give On the Road and his later works much of their power to move people.
Within my study I move from the death of Kerouac's older brother, Gerard, to the "Joan Anderson/Cherry Mary" letter that he received from Neal Cassady that convinced him once and for all that he could write an artistically worthwhile novel using first-person narration and unabashedly autobiographical material. I cover the broad spectrum of writing that influenced him, from the pulp fiction magazine The Shadow to the plotless, first-person short stories of William Saroyan, from the intense, verbose novels of Thomas Wolfe to the underground beauty he found in the work of Fyodor Dostoevsky and Louis Ferdinand-Celine. I examine the influences of football and jazz on his "spontaneous prose" technique. I also look at the influence of his artistic mentors Sammy Sampas, Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, and other Beat Generation figures like Lucien Carr and Herbert Huncke and, finally, at the influence of Neal Cassady himself. I also believe that the deaths of Gerard, Sammy Sampas, and Leo Kerouac, Kerouac's father, had a profound impact on Kerouac's artistic development and his ability to impart his feeling of life's ephemerality into his art. Kerouac's ability to impart this very feeling is the source of much of his writing's artistic power.
Jack Kerouac was an artistic innovator who began, like all artists must, as an artistic imitator. Before he wrote On the Road, he wrote several books as others had written them. A critical analysis of his pre-On the Road works offers one the opportunity to see a rare thing indeed: the development of an authentic artist in America.
Artistic Apprenticeship; Authenticity; Beat Generation; Kerouac; Martin Heidegger; Otto Rank
Art and Design | Theory and Criticism
Botsis, Nathaniel, "Jack Kerouac's Artistic Apprenticeship and the Discovery of His Authentic Voice" (2014). UNLV Theses, Dissertations, Professional Papers, and Capstones. 2520.