Friday, July 11, 2008

The Dharma Bums (1958)

What can I say about this book that hasn’t already been said? There are sites online that break down each character’s approach to Buddhism and sites that tell you who the characters are in real life. And there are many sites that analzye every single word and sentence in the book as if it’s poetry or haiku (and some of it is). But for me now, reading The Dharma Bumsin 2008, 50 years after its original publication date, what strikes me most is how mainstream the ideas are. People hike mountains, join groups that hike mountains and shop at REI and HTO and many other places devoted to hiking mountains. We eat brown bread, yogurt and Chinese food and use chop sticks all of the time. Many of us practice eastern religions and meditate. I tried to find a review online that would explain to me why the book was considered controversial back in 1958 but gave up and adopted Jack Kerouac’s quote: "I don't know. I don't care. And it doesn't make any difference." (He wrote in all caps but I'm not feeling that aggressive today.)

This book is about experience. Jack Kerouac's style of writing is very descriptive. When Smith comes down off Matterhorn, his senses have been elevated. He holds onto this different state of existence. He recognizes he's being re-cultured when he returns to civilitization, and then, there he is; it’s a part of him again as it’s always been, and he moves on. Read The Dharma Bums for the experience and then move on.

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