‘A Sense of Dooming Boom’: Kerouac’s Psychopathic Aesthetics of Speed in Big Sur

Harma, Tanguy. 2018. '‘A Sense of Dooming Boom’: Kerouac’s Psychopathic Aesthetics of Speed in Big Sur'. In: 12th International IDEA Conference. Akdeniz University, Antalya, Turkey 18 - 20 April 2018. [Conference or Workshop Item]

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Abstract or Description

This presentation will focus on Kerouac’s radical aesthetics of speed through the character of Cody in his 1960 novel Big Sur. While the narrator Jack Duluoz – Kerouac’s alter ego – falls victim to a sense of apathy that precipitates his self-destruction, the scenes involving Cody bring a neat contrast to the text. His legendary impetuosity, his ebullient and impulsive nature produce a transcending movement that seeks to nullify the pervasive nothingness of the novel.

This movement in the text is expressed through an aesthetic strategy foregrounded in the transience of prosodic forms; it aims to convey the illusion of energy, of spontaneity and of liveliness on the page, one of the trademarks of Kerouac’s œuvre. Such a strategy, as it reverberates Cody’s restlessness in the narrative, generates a momentum in the writing, a flux indexed on the very movements of the writer’s consciousness through which his most intimate and immediate perceptions are arranged intuitively in relation to the conditions of the instant.

Hell-bent on velocity, thrusting his own self forward into the unknown, Cody’s commotion encapsulate a form of ecstatic performativity that echoes Norman Mailer’s notion of the ‘psychopathic’ in his essay ‘The White Negro’ (1957): Cody nourishes a tremendous desire for life whose ultimate apotheosis is self-annihilation. Crucially, I will show that this contradictory movement of creation and destruction is embedded primarily in the writing: as it rushes towards self-destruction, it creates its own vortex within which all syntactical and narrative forms collapse.

Item Type:

Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)


Jack Kerouac; speed; spontaneous prose; flux of consciousness; Cody; Norman Mailer; psychopathic; self-destruction.

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

English and Comparative Literature


18 April 2018Completed

Event Location:

Akdeniz University, Antalya, Turkey

Date range:

18 - 20 April 2018

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

03 May 2018 12:32

Last Modified:

29 Apr 2020 16:45



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