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Strange Solitary Mystic: Tracing the Dark Night of the Soul in Kerouac’s Desolation Angels and Big Sur

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Past scholarship of American beat author Jack Kerouac’s novels has primarily focused on examinations of his “spontaneous prose” style and the influence of Buddhism on his writing. However, the recent availability to scholars of Kerouac’s private papers indicates that the Catholic themes and imagery in his writing were the result of a conscious and ongoing engagement with Catholicism, rather than relics of his cultural heritage. These Catholic threads take on greater clarity when Kerouac’s novels are read as he intended: as volumes in a larger, omnibus work. This essay examines two novels—Desolation Angels and Big Sur—through the framework of the dark night of the soul, as illuminated by the Spanish Carmelite mystic St. John of the Cross. The journey begun in the Washington state mountains in Desolation Angels and concluded by the shores of the Pacific Ocean in Big Sur chronicles one man’s quest to reunite with the divine and presents a compelling argument for Kerouac’s position as a Catholic writer.

Affiliations: 1: St. Andrews University

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