cover image Some of the Dharma: 0

Some of the Dharma: 0

Jack Kerouac. Viking Books, $32.95 (432pp) ISBN 978-0-670-84877-5

A fascination with Buddhism percolates through many of Kerouac's writings from the 1950s, especially The Dharma Bums, but even those who have read and reread the author may be astonished at the passion for Buddhism evinced in this extraordinary collection of practice notes, ideas, poems, stories, letter fragments, dialogues, journal entries and other miscellany. Buddhists who have never encountered Kerouac will also be astonished, as nothing quite like this volume--a passionate outpouring of faith, understanding and hope from a committed but flailing Western student--exists within Buddhist literature. This isn't a cobbled-up, posthumous collection but a book that Kerouac intentionally created between 1953-1956 but was unable to publish during his lifetime. Kerouac's experimentalism is in full flower here, even graphically, as many of the entries are arranged on the page as triangles, arrowheads, convex or concave forms and so on. Among the thousands of jottings are passages of tremendous power and beauty, flashes of insight into ultimate reality worthy of a Basho, but there are also blatherings awash in self-indulgence and self-aggrandizing; the book at times gives the impression of containing every stray or captive thought and image about Buddhism that passed through Kerouac's head. The text will prove invaluable for Kerouac scholars and admirers as it tracks the writer's struggle with his youthful failures and with the alcoholism that eventually destroyed him. More than just a significant addition to Kerouac's opus, however, this is an important early record of one Westerner's--and, by extension, Western culture's--encounter with the East. (Sept.)