The writings of Paul Zahl (of The Zahl File) about Jack Kerouac are
among the most insightful I know on the subject of this very complex and often
misunderstood writer. Recently he came across an extraordinary
letter from Kerouac to Neal Cassady — of which this is the beginning:
Jan. 9, 1951
[Richmond Hill, N.Y.]
To continue. A new experience has touched the foundation of my soul since I wrote you the last words last night . . .
I came into the Cathedral not only to get out of the bitter cold, but because, moments before, I had stood in Grand Central Station looking around with a futile sorrow for a place to sit and think. All there was — marble floor, rushing crowds, dime lockers, bleak seatless spaces and bright vast corners. What a thing men have let themselves in for, in this New York! . . .
I hurried out in the cold and cut up 5th Avenue, past the (yes) Yale Club and past Harcourt Brace (yes) and swore and cursed; and cut right by the Doubleday Book store without deigning to go in and see if they had my book on
display . . .
As you know, St. Patrick's is a Gothic cathedral, copied after Rheims or Chartres or whichever, with a rectory in the back, and a big department store across the street on 50th street. I . . . ducked . . . into the side entrance of the church.
At first I sneered as all the commonplace “renegade Catholic” thoughts came to me in regimental order but soon I was lost in real sweet contemplation of what was going on . . .
I put away all my worries of where to get a job, how to get to California next month, what to do about my poor wife whom I had been torturing in my subtle way lately, and just merely sat thinking in church. . . so that you see . . . my first thoughts were superficial, or let's
just say “aesthetic.”
Frankly, Neal, I don't know when it happened; when it was I began crying . . .
The letter then records a series of powerful epiphanies, which set Paul off on an extended meditation about Kerouac and
women, about the visionary roots of Kerouac's method, about the meaning
of tears in church and tears in general, about the power of images to
emotions, about a certain episode of The X-Files. If you have a place
in your heart for Kerouac, you need to
read it — here:
Visions Of the Joan-Girl (which includes the rest of the letter and Paul's comments on it . . .)