The third sentence in your post is “Has anyone actually read this book? Nine people total, all literary critics?”
Let’s assume, for a moment, that I stopped reading there. There are a lot of blogs like this - people rant about things which they may not be able to express fully to the people around them, and really all it is is that they have a lot of bad things to say about something they don’t really understand. Me, I have been tempted to rant about: coworkers whose pedagogy differs significantly from mine, people who leave grocery carts in the parking lot, restaurant managers who try to say that “organic” may mean “tastes bad.” It’s fine - ranting is okay I guess, as long as you don’t pretend you’re actually making a point. Your sarcastic remark was enough to clue me in that this was all you were going to say, so I really didn’t need to read on. So I didn’t.
I started reading your blog because ‘On the Road’ was a bit of a seminal read for me. It ranks with
“Cancer Ward” by Solzhenitsyn
“One Hundred Years of Solitude” by Marquez
“Madam Bovary” by Flaubert
“Sexing the Cherry” by Winterson
“Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me” by Farina
“The Fountainhead” by Rand, and
“The Crossing” by McCarthy
What differentiates these books from many others I have read is that the authors took a fundamentally different approach to writing and the art of fiction. They combined refined skill and really definitively unique perspectives to create a work not of fiction, not of writing, or social commentary, or self-aggrandizement, but of life. They revealed the ultimate truths of relationships, identity, passion, despair, loss. They were creations of art, not public health pamphlets.
I also read all of these books with absolutely no preconceived notions; I didn’t know about “Atlas Shrugged” or “The First Circle.” I’d never heard about how important the books were. They were recommended by friends whose literary tastes I couldn’t know I agreed with, and by those whose tastes I KNEW I disagreed with. They were stolen from school libraries and picked up from the 50¢ box outside a budget bookstore. I read them out of curiosity and boredom. I had no idea what I was in for.
You thought ‘On The Road’ was narcissistic and spiritually shallow. You call Sal “a passive guy who needs to be lead,” and say that “Dean isn't an antihero, or even amoral, or a free spirit-- he's simply a jerk.” You go on to say that “not only does he do nothing of any value to anyone, he does nothing with purpose.”
It’s so very interesting that you obviously “got” the book, and yet somehow managed to convince yourself there was nothing to get. You say that your problem is with people who misunderstood the book, and yet you go on to rant about how stupid the books characters are (yes, I did eventually read what you wrote. It was just as much of a waste of time as I thought it would be, but if I hadn’t I couldn’t fairly respond to you). You don’t discuss why people may have misunderstood the work, or why they review it the way they do. I see that kind of analysis in the comments, but not in your own writing.
I don’t know what people say about ‘On The Road,’ and I can’t really be bothered to look it up. Your argument that so many people have “got it so wrong” seems fruitless in that you don’t even seem to be concerned about what getting it right would be about. You say that “even when someone actually sits and reads the primary text and finds it is different, it doesn't replace their existing (wrong) information, it only supplements it.” You did the same thing - rather than experiencing the book for yourself, you looked at it through someone else’s eyes - you looked for “young, potent men, lost in a growing commercial society, two coiled springs ready to pop, looking for adventure-- America style.” And when you didn’t find it, instead of finding what it was REALLY about, you only looked at all of the things that were OPPOSITE your expectations. You speak of two “On The Road”s. Speaking as an artist, I am nonplussed at this obvious false dichotomy.
I wanted to write something in response to your post, because I believe the book is wonderful. I’m not really interested in spouting praise like “it’s wonderful that there are so many interpretations of the work” or “it changed my perspective on life.” What I want to say is that it would be great if people were more honest. I don’t really expect my wish to produce results, but then did you expect your rant to keep already closed-minded people from picking up this book? I do think it’s a shame that you practiced this kind of manipulation. I think it’s more a shame that you, yourself, are a victim of it.