Representative Men: The Biographical Essays of John Clellon Holmes. John Clellon Holmes.
Representative Men: The Biographical Essays of John Clellon Holmes
Representative Men: The Biographical Essays of John Clellon Holmes

Representative Men: The Biographical Essays of John Clellon Holmes

Fayetteville, AK: University of Arkansas Press, 1988. First Softcover Edition. Softcover. “This book—volume two of a proposed three volume edition of nonfiction—deals with people…These pieces all reflect a belief that the passionate response of representative individuals to their era, the response of character to the waywardness of time, will reflect as well the generative ideas and experiences (what might be called the inner life) of a given period—in this case, the post-World War II years. In these sketches of the lives and work of friends, contemporaries and forebears, I have tried, via characterization, description, narrative, recalled dialogue, and the first-person speculative point of view, to engage the psychic realities beneath the fabric of appearances—hopefully without falsifying either in the name of “poetic truth,” as novelists are free to do. Insofar as self-imposed limitations can help to define vision, the writing of these pieces proved an educative and fruitful enterprise.” (John Clellon Holmes, from Preface). Students of American Literature writ large will no doubt think of the great American Transcendentalist author Ralph Waldo Emerson upon hearing the phrase “Representative Men,” as it was the title of his essay collection of 1850 and in many ways the dividing line between the visionary exuberance which marks the first half of his career and the still-sagacious-yet-tempered-by-experience tone of the work that came after “Representative Men.” Like much of the work that preceded it, Emerson’s “Representative Men” is another of his storied studies of greatness, a testament to the emergence of the Divine as incarnated by and in the Individual. At the outset of noted-yet-underread Beat writer John Clellon Holmes’ “Representative Men,” he supplies two thoughtfully placed epigrams denoting and acknowledging the great American Transcendentalist tradition in which his footsteps, his contribution, is to follow. Emerson, as expected, appears first: “Other men are lenses through which we read our own minds.” Walt Whitman, that first-to-mind seminal ancestor of not only Allen Ginsberg but the Beat Tradition as a whole, is represented in the second and final epigram with the following quote: “You shall stand by my side and look in the mirror with me.” These epigrams are nucleus-like kernels of insight through which the work, a map key of-sorts through which Holmes’ biographical essays might be decoded. The most interesting and unexpected part of this work—or at least what this writer found to be interesting and unexpected when curiosity demanded I have a look—is that the bulk of these essays on figures including Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac were written in the white-hot fervor of the 1960s. Ginsberg is, at this time, exerting an inexplicably massive impact on popular culture. He’s kibitzing about with “Blonde on Blonde”-era Bob Dylan and enjoying an almost deified status, his job description something like a “Treasurer of Consciousness.” It’s a bird!—It’s a plane!—It’s Allen Ginsberg, and he’s backstage at the Five Spot giving LSD to Thelonious Monk. His essay on Kerouac dates back to the same year (1966), and it was only a year later that Jack’s intemperate penchant for boozing would do its dirty work, and his bloated paunch and ruddy face would be looking up not at “…fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars,” but the cold, closed lid of a coffin carried by friends. The Neal Cassady essay, equally invigorating, emerged later—prompted perhaps not so much by the pending publication of this work as by the Ken Kesey-published, short-lived literary magazine “Spit in the Ocean,” in whose sixth issue the Cassady essay first appeared. One scholarly note of interest is that Holmes uses for Kerouac the same title Ginsberg more often used for Neal Cassady—“The Great Rememberer,” although, to be fair Ginsberg’s 1974 work “The Visions of the Great Remember” (Amherst, MA: Mulch Press, 1974; TMB Item #2840) deals with both Kerouac and Cassady. The complete list of contents in this remarkable understudied work are: “July 4th Weekend – 1948,” “Pecking the Mess to Pieces,” on the literary journal Neurotica; “The Last Cause” and “the Grubstreet Pimpernel” on Gershon Legman; “The Pop Imagination” and “The Entrepreneur of Islington” on Jay Landesman; “July 4th Weekend 1948 – Two”; “The Consciousness Widener” and “Tally at Three Score” on Allen Ginsberg”; “The Gandy Dancer” on Neal Cassady; “Uncle Willy”; “The Silence of Oswald”; “Arm: A Memoir” on Nelson Algren; and lastly “Envoi in Boulder,” an episode including Holmes’ view on the famed 1982 Kerouac Conference at the Naropa Institute. For real Beat scholars and anyone interested who hasn’t read enough Holmes to have a real opinion on the man and his work, this book is a must. [ISBN: 1-55728-008-8]. Book in very fine condition, almost as new excepting slight, age-typical spotting to top of text block and a bump which created a closed tear at the top left-hand corner of front cover, not affecting text or pages in the slightest. Very Fine. [Item #4527]

Price: $30.00