Kerouac’s Vision of Anguish: An Interpretation of the Dynamics of Dis-integration in Big Sur

Harma, Tanguy. 2017. 'Kerouac’s Vision of Anguish: An Interpretation of the Dynamics of Dis-integration in Big Sur'. In: EBSN 6th Annual Conference, Paris. Paris, France 20-22 Sept 2017. [Conference or Workshop Item]

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Abstract or Description

This paper will use selected precepts from American Transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) and French Existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980) to explore the dynamics of disintegration in Kerouac’s Big Sur. The demise of the narrator in the novel is articulated through a writing strategy that cripples the occurrence of ex-stasis, understood in the context of Kerouac’s work as the experience of visions of a transcendental nature that are fundamentally ontological. I will argue that it is this sudden inability to generate visions – and thereby realise a form of transcendental being from an Emersonian perspective – that greatly contributes to the narrator’s decay in the novel.
One of the reasons, I will show, lies in the inwardness of Duluoz’s look, which is maintained through the constant monitoring of his downfall and fostered through Kerouac’s writing technique. Duluoz, as he indulges in excessive drinking, scrutinises his own mortification: I will demonstrate that the narrator’s inward look produces a reflexive consciousness that engenders a type of anguish, which will be apprehended in Sartrean terms. This obsession with self-reflection is conveyed throughout Big Sur to the detriment of a more fluid expression of various spontaneous experiences; it dismantles the realisation of the intuitive and transcendental self. This barred access to intuition will be envisaged as hindering the continuum between Duluoz’s being and the self-creative principle of the universal mind ingrained in the individual (Emerson), which as an effect impedes the emergence of visionary states and precipitates his self-destruction.

Item Type:

Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)


Kerouac; Sartre; Emerson; Existentialism; Transcendentalism; Anguish; Intuition; Vision; Nature; Ontology;

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

English and Comparative Literature


21 September 2017Completed

Event Location:

Paris, France

Date range:

20-22 Sept 2017

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

07 Nov 2017 16:29

Last Modified:

07 Nov 2017 16:29


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