Saturday, February 19, 2011

Jack Kerouac as a Prophet in On the Road: Arabs Coming to New York to Blow it up.

Hi folks -- my students are always teaching me something new, and that is clearly the case with this bunch at the University of San Diego this term. On Thursday a written review of On the Road was due in class and we had a discussion about that assignment. What surprised me was that a number of students had picked out of the book a sentence form page 117 of the Penguin edition:"Dean had a sweater wrapped around his ears to keep warm. He said we were a band of Arabs coming in to blow up New York." (p.117).

How in God's name did Kerouac have the foresight to use this kind of language and idea within the context of the early 1950s? Was it because of terrorism surrounding the founding of Israel? Any comments here would be appreciated!

Thanks to USD student Jennifer Chase for pointing this out in class and then following through by finding the passage.


  1. I just read this portion last night and had the same exact question. I have no idea what Mr. Kerouac's basis was for that statement, but it's very mysterious.

    This is, however, one small aspect of a fantastic work of literature!

  2. Hey I just found this blog post by typing that line from the book into Google. I knew other people would have found it interesting like me. Neal Cassady was an interesting person, but I think it'd be a stretch to call him a prophet. It's an odd coincidence I guess, but I just wonder where the idea of arabs blowing up things, and in particular New York, would have come from back then. If this was something that Neal Cassady actually said, and not something that Jack Kerouac made up, then that would mean that it was uttered way back around Christmas of 1948, which was when that event of the book took place. The connection you made to Israel is interesting, as Israel was proclaimed independence in may of 1948.

  3. Some of the Beats would have read T. E. Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom.
    Cassady might not have read it, but if not he would surely have read Lowell Thomas's books about Lawrence of Arabia, and seen the newsreels on Lawrence that Thomas made and narrated.
    Lawrence was the founder of Arab terrorism and taught the Beduoins how to use explosives. His roving guerrilla bands would come out of the Saudi desert and blow up Turkish trains in the Holy Land.
    They were folk heroes of the Beats' childhoods, also the homoerotic mysticism of Lawrence's writing would have recommended him to them.

  4. This was not Jungian. This was not prophetic. This was metaphor as coincidence. Great cloud of Metropolitan NY = glowing lights. Sweater around the face = it's cold. Blow up NY = We're a rowdy bunch, and we are going to tear it up. Yes, the first thing I thought was, "OMG, that sounds so much like Sept. 11th!" Then I got over the fact that Arabs have been around longer than 1957.

  5. Kerouac also made a reference to a town near New Orleans being destined to wash away in a hurricane, if I remember correctly....I don't have a copy of the book with me