The Beat Generation’s enduring classic dons new high-tech clothes in this excellent digital treatment.
The story of the making of On the Road, first published in 1957, is much told and much embellished, and the business of Kerouac’s banging out a draft in a sitting on a 120-foot-long teletype roll is a bit more complex than all that. (That’s what occasioned Truman Capote’s famous remark, “That’s not writing. That’s typing.”) Literary scholar Howard Cunnell does a solid job, in a long and circumstantial essay presented in the section called “Publication,” of recounting Kerouac’s years-long project of writing On the Road, in which, in some instances, he worked in “a large, pleasant room in Chelsea” rather than in the more fraught demimondes of the novel. Still, there was indeed a scroll, portions of which are presented here, and it’s fascinating to see the differences between it—the draft therein written in 1951—and Kerouac’s 1957 edition. In fact, this redlined version is worth the price of admission, and literary scholars ought to be clamoring for the whole scroll done in this way. The most important thing about the book is, of course, the book, and one wishes it had been given grander treatment, with abundant photos and hyperlinks and vignettes of Kerouac reading his work viva voce—the stuff, one might imagine, of a deluxe edition down the road. As it is, the text is easily navigated and bookmarked, and it’s nicely designed: It looks like a real book, rather than an afterthought. Other features of this digital edition include too-brief biographies of the players in the book (there is much more to say about such figures as Herbert Huncke and Alan Harrington, for instance).
An impressive framework for the full-tilt multimedia treatment that, one hopes, will surely follow. Gadget freak and tinkerer Neal Cassady would have dug it.