Kerouac : Language, Poetics, and Territory
Author(s): Hassan Melehy
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 Québec 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 naïve 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.
“Hassan Melehy’s groundbreaking study begins with a simple yet overlooked fact—Kerouac, originally from the French-Canadian community of Lowell, Massachusetts, was a native Francophone speaker. The author reintroduces his readers to Kerouac as not only an astute reader and craftsman of literature, but also a transcultural author whose work explores tensions between roots and travel, settlement and motion, home and the road … Melehy’s work is a timely and vital contribution not just to Beat Generation scholarship, but also to Francophone studies more broadly as the field tends toward inscribing Francophone Literatures in global and transnational paradigms.” - L’Esprit Créateur
“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’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