A while back I commented on the PEW organization’s research study findings how the majority of Americans don’t like the idea of the city because they prefer locations that offer them a new horizon – a new vista – a new experience. Cole Jeffrey has an essay about this aspect of American life based on his recent reading of Jack Kerouac’s book On The Road.
But the word “beat” means something even more, especially to Kerouac. Kerouac never considered himself to be the father of the “beatniks” and their generation. He considered himself to be a Catholic “mystic” searching for the voice of a silent God. In the sad brown tones of life and the gloominess of his own heart, he wanted to find God. In On the Road, there are numerous references to the sky, the stars, and heavenly things. In Kerouac’s mind, that’s where God is…or should be.
On the Road is a novel about men searching for something, searching far and wide, there and back again, under the blue canopy of the American sky and the watchful eye of a silent God. Kerouac considered his generation to be a “religious generation” on a quest for something spiritual, something to worship. All they seemed to find though, Kerouac felt, was “God’s empty chair.”
When people fail to find a destination at the end of the road, they revert to the road itself as their religion. The Path becomes the Person. For a nation of seekers, it’s the only thing that’s certain.
That’s why tolerance is the supreme virtue of a postmodern culture. If we are all on the road, all seeking, then we must be receptive and open-minded towards other people’s gods. As Dean Moriarty tells Sal Paradise in On the Road:
You spend a whole life of noninterference with the wishes of others, including politicians and the rich, and nobody bothers you and you cut along and make it your own way…What’s your road, man? – holyboy road, madman road, rainbow road, guppy road, any road. It’s an anywhere road for anybody anyhow.
We are a people who worship the custom-fit god and “anywhere” roads that don’t actually lead anyplace at all. The end is always sadness, though.