Cannery Row Number Two: Can You Beat It?

And another thing about Cannery Row.

There’s something proto-beat about this book. A fast, loose style, a little wordplay, a piling on of adjectives, a schmearing of prose into poetry. There’s no apology for disjointed stories, for the unnecessary insertion of parables (gophers!) shocking scenes (dead girl!) that have no obvious echo in the rest of the short text. Rules are broken, but feels are felt.

Now, this “proto-beat” thing, that’s just my take on it, my frame of reference. Yours might be something different. Like a balding rock reviewer that compares every folk singer to Dylan and every punk to the Pistols, the mind circles back to familiar turf when scoping out the novel, the new. The Beats were my eye-opener to many things. So it goes.

And in my mind, the jazz-soaked and pubic-bearded revolutionaries of the Beat Generation burst forth ex-nihilo from the crushing conformity of the 50s. That’s the myth! But nothing comes from nothing, and the even the Beatific mind of Carl Solomon must have been nourished on something.

(I had the same feeling reading Thomas Merton as he described late-night undergrad adventures around Columbia University. It was all very much the same schtick, on the self-same turf, that Kerouac would chronicle a decade or so later on.)

These were well-read men after all, in a top-notch academic institution. I’m thinking there’s no doubt that Ginsberg absorbed some Steinbeck. Compare, contrast, if you will:

Allen: “Everything is holy! everybody’s holy! everywhere is holy! everyday is in eternity! Everyman’s an angel! The bum’s as holy as the seraphim! the madman is holy as you my soul are holy!”

John: “Its inhabitants are, as the man once said, ‘whores, pimps, gamblers, and sons of bitches,’ by which he meant Everybody. Had the man looked through another peep-hole he might have said: ‘Saints and angels and martyrs and holy men,’ and he would have meant the same thing.”

Also, I’ve never been able to make full sense of these sentiments. I grok ’em right off but fail miserably in the explanation. Still, I find them comforting.

And, of course: True.


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