Birth Pangs: When Kerouac Met The Web

(Today is the 21st birthday of Literary Kicks. I'm making it my new habit to celebrate these birthdays with memories from friends of the site, so here's Tim K. Gallaher remembering way back when. Tim is a former member of the 1970s San Francisco punk rock band Church Police who later became a biochemist at University of Southern California and a pioneer in computational modeling of neurotransmitter receptors and bioinformatics based gene discovery, as well as an expert in early Chinese literature. He has been participating (as "TKG") in conversations here on Litkicks forever, and I met him for the first time one month ago. Thanks for the memories, Tim. -- Levi)

21 years ago, the World Wide Web was so new that the University of Illinois Supercomputer Center put out a list every few days of literally all the new web sites that had just launched. So I saw Levi Asher's Literary Kicks just days after it was born.

I'd been a huge Kerouac and Beat Generation aficionado and was amazed at the awesomeness of a web site about the Beats.

I was at a University and so was lucky to have full Internet access over a local Ethernet (i.e fast) network. I used the Mosaic browser, and sometimes the text-only Lynx browser via the Unix command line.

Levi Asher was about more than just this one website, though. He really turned me on the the possibilities and power of electronic publishing. He wrote stories for Web literary journals (that seem to have gone by the way side) called Enterzone and InterText. I liked his stories, and I liked that I could read them even though they'd never published in a book or magazine.

That was revolutionary.

We did not need a publisher to publish our work. We did not need to print a book. Anyone anywhere in the world could read what we wrote.

The Noble Racist: Atticus Finch and the Ashley Wilkes Principle

Go Set a Watchman, Harper Lee's long-unseen companion novel to To Kill A Mockingbird, is arriving with a shock.

Where Lee's classic novel presents Atticus Finch as a lawyer who fights heroically for an African-American who is unjustly accused, the continuation of the story (written decades ago, but unpublished until now) shows the hero resenting the effects of forced integration and civil rights laws on his society. Can Atticus Finch possibly be a racist? The idea seems to undercut the basic moral message that made Mockingbird a classic.

But a classic novel can yield layered messages, and in fact the apparition of Atticus Finch yielding to ugly currents of civil-rights-era racism echoes a moral conundrum we wrote about a year ago in an article called "The Ashley Wilkes Principle". Ashley Wilkes is the gentle-souled, too-good-for-this-world hero of Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind. In the novel and the movie (in which he is played by Leslie Howard), Ashley Wilkes's utter goodness is constantly contrasted to the earthy deviousness of Rhett Butler, who eventually emerges as Scarlett O'Hara's truest soulmate. Margaret Mitchell presents Ashley Wilkes as a pillar of moral goodness — even excessive goodness. And yet Ashley Wilkes is also a proud officer in the Confederate Army, and such a devoted Southerner that his life is permanently shattered once the North wins the war.

Let's Head Back to Tennessee, Jed

The Grateful Dead's 50th anniversary final shows are now over. Blowing past the boring cliches about aging hippies, the finale turned out to be a spectacular tribute to a gentle cultural phenomenon that offers balm and hope to a pained world ... as well as a glorious summertime-flavored dive into a gorgeous American songbook that unites rock and roll, jazz, country, folk, gospel, bluegrass, beat and blues.

I was able to go to one of the five final shows (the second show in Santa Clara, California) and loved it immensely. I also enjoyed experiencing the other four shows in various formats ranging from extremely low-density (following the setlists on Twitter) to extremely high-density (dancing in a sweaty wistful crowd along with a theater simulcast on Long Island). Highlights for me from all shows included "Black Peter", "Brown Eyed Women", "He's Gone", "Brokedown Palace", "Tennessee Jed", "Deal", "Sailor->Saint", "Cassidy", "Terrapin Station", "Unbroken Chain". Maybe the one thing that impressed me the most was the expressive singing of Bob Weir, who delivered "Throwing Stones" (the Dead's most explicitly ecological song) with a seriousness of purpose that no listener could miss.

Conjuring the Beat Generation: Gerd Stern and the Cassady Kin

One of the exciting things about the Beat Museum's Beatnik Shindig which is happening next weekend in San Francisco is the activity it's stirring up. The photo above, which has never been published before, shows a gang of unknown beatniks on a now-legendary Sausalito barge that became a group home for a wide variety of writers and artists (including, at one point, young Maya Angelou, as she describes in her memoir The Heart of a Woman) in "Howl"-era 1950s San Francisco. Only two faces can be positively identified today, and they are the ones wearing glasses: Gerd Stern and Allen Ginsberg.

I spent a delightful evening with Gerd Stern — still wearing glasses! — and his partner Judith recently to prepare for my onstage interview with Gerd at the Beatnik Shindig. Here's my new friend in 2015, along with one of his cool artworks:

Splinters

“What is life? A madness. What is life? An illusion, a shadow, a story.” - Pedro Calderon de la Barca

I think it would be fun if Literary Kicks won the 3 Quarks Daily Arts and Literature Prize in 2015. My blog post "First There Is A Mountain" is in the running, and if you’d also like to see Litkicks win this prestigious prize, please help me out by voting for me. I need your votes to advance to the next round, so please take a look — thank you!

I did a wonderful podcast this week for a BreakThru Radio show called Biology of the Blog. This podcast features an eclectic variety of original voices on the Internet, and I was truly inspired by the smart and thoughtful questions host DJ Jess tossed my way and went on quite a roll about, hmm, let’s see … why online literature is like Bitcoin, why pacifism is a major meme waiting to hit, why I am obsessed with the phrase "Ship of Fools". BreakThru Radio is about both words and music, and I also like the pleasant tunes DJ Jess selected for this podcast. Thanks BreakThruRadio and Biology of the Blog!

A Beat Gathering in San Francisco, June 27 and 28

The Beat Museum in San Francisco is hosting a major literary conference this summer. The Beatnik Shindig or 2015 Beat Generation Conference will take place at the Fort Mason Center on San Francisco's beautiful waterfront from June 26 to June 28 ... and I will be one of the participants!

Satin Island: Tom McCarthy's Humanistic Weave

Tom McCarthy is a popular British avant-garde novelist with a forbidding public image. He writes technological dystopian fiction that looks at the world with the same cold sinister stare as that of Chuck Palahniuk or William Vollmann, and he physically resembles Dwight Schrute from "The Office". He doesn't come across as a very warm person.

But is this a mirage? I'm liking Tom McCarthy more and more with each new book, and I'm starting to understand the earnest moral passion and conviction behind the sociological concepts that animate his literary experiments. When I first began reading him, I was slightly put off by his cackling, sarcastic persona. I was also mystified by the fact that he balances his fiction writing with "propaganda" on behalf of a shadowy organization devoted to experimental investigations into death.

Yet his novels somehow compel me in, and once inside a Tom McCarthy novel the cold persona quickly starts to fall away. There is in fact something strangely warm, human and relatable about Tom McCarthy, which is why he's emerging as the most interesting postmodern author on the scene today.

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For more recent Litkicks articles, please visit the complete 2015 archive page.
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