Kerouac Language, Poetics, and Territory Synopsis
Given Jack Kerouac's enduring reputation for heaving words onto paper, it might surprise some readers to see his name coupled with the word poetics. But as a native speaker of French, he embarked on his famous spontaneous prose only after years of seeking techniques to overcome the restrictions he encountered in writing in a single language, English. The result was an elaborate poetics that cannot be fully understood without accounting for his bilingual thinking and practice. Of the more than twenty-five biographies of Kerouac, few have seriously examined his relationship to the French language and the reason for his bilingualism, the Quebec Diaspora. Although this background has long been recognized in French-language treatments, it is a new dimension in Anglophone studies of his writing. In a theoretically informed discussion, Hassan Melehy explores how Kerouac's poetics of exile involves meditations on moving between territories and languages. Far from being a naive pursuit, Kerouac's writing practice not only responded but contributed to some of the major aesthetic and philosophical currents of the twentieth century in which notions such as otherness and nomadism took shape. Kerouac: Language, Poetics, and Territory offers a major reassessment of a writer who, despite a readership that extends over much of the globe, remains poorly appreciated at home.
Kerouac Language, Poetics, and Territory Press Reviews
Kerouac: Language, Poetry, & Territory provides rich analysis, further evidence-if that is needed-to show why this mid-century author's critical stock goes up even as I write ... Focused on Kerouac's French Canadian roots as key to understanding his literary achievement, Hassan Melehy assumes Kerouac's importance as a writer, and illuminates the role his French-Canadian bilingual background has on his art. * American Book Review * Melehy aims to revitalize our thinking on one of the most widely and enthusiastically read of twentieth-century American authors. Through excellent exposition, careful analysis, and valuable critical readings that draw on recent French notions of `minority' and `nomadic' writing, Melehy explores the role of the French language in Kerouac's life and work, bringing this important and fascinating topic to formal academic discussion * Jonathan Arac, Andrew W. Mellon Professor of English, University of Pittsburgh, USA * Kerouac: Language, Poetics, and Territory argues persuasively that Kerouac's literariness is thoroughly sophisticated, and that his relationship to French and French Canada are at the root of this literary achievement. Melehy's examination of Kerouac's countercultural poetics and the relationship of those poetics to social locations and dislocations will be of interest to both scholars and Kerouac aficionados. * Maria Damon, Professor of Humanities and Media Studies, Pratt Institute of Art, USA * Hassan Melehy's Kerouac: Language, Poetics, and Territory offers a much-needed reassessment of Kerouac's work. Through a groundbreaking analysis of Kerouac's vexed relationship to his Quebecois ancestry and his experience of exile from his own history, Melehy provides a context in which many of the main features of Kerouac's writing come alive anew. Melehy shows why Kerouac is a central figure for a re-imagination of American literature that would-for the first time-take into account our multilingual and vagabond past. * Timothy Hampton, Professor of French and Comparative Literature, University of California at Berkeley, USA * As a professor of French and Francophone studies, Melehy (Univ. of North Carolina, Chapel Hill) has an excellent perspective on Jack Kerouac (1922-69) as a Franco-American writer. Kerouac was born in Lowell, Massachusetts, the home of many immigrants from Quebec, including his parents, and he spoke French at home. Melehy illuminates the way this background influenced the writer's attitudes toward race, his love of world literature, and his transnational point of view. More important, Melehy discusses the influence of the grammar of the French language on the famous style of Kerouac's fiction. The author provides remarkable close readings of early novels-for example, The Town and the City (1950), Dr. Sax (1959)-in which Kerouac's Franco-American heritage is especially important. Melehy packs the book with insights, and these are expanded in the stimulating notes. Including a helpful bibliography and a thorough index, this study makes a significant contribution to the understanding of Kerouac's work and to American studies in general. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty. * CHOICE * While some literary critics rescue Kerouac from the impulse to collapse textuality into biography by erasing Kerouac's cultural specificity, Melehy instead traces the impact of his French-Canadian background on a formal and a thematic level, finding in it a source of Kerouac's literary innovations. In its attention to Kerouac's cultural background, Melehy's critical intervention joins the recent publication of Jack Kerouac's French writings ... to point to the fundamental importance of Kerouac's biculturalism to his literary project. ... An innovative exploration of Kerouac's poetics. * Studies in 20th & 21st Century Literature * Melehy's Kerouac: Language, Poetics, and Territory is an innovative exploration of Kerouac's poetics, exposing the importance of the specificity of Jack Kerouac's own French-Canadian cultural background to Kerouac's energetic reformation of American literature as North American, with suggestions for reaching a global scope (179-80). * Studies in Twentieth and Twenty-First Century Literature *