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The Beat Goes on for Professor Mark Dunphy
September 5, 2007, will mark the 50th anniversary of the publication of Jack Keroauc's American classic novel, On the Road. For Columbia's Mark Dunphy, it has held a special place in his teaching, his research, and his life
By Duane Bonifer
A Lindsey Wilson College professor is among those who are celebrating the golden anniversary of a defining work of American literature.
Fifty years ago on September 5, Jack Kerouac's On the Road was published. The book, which was one of the best-selling books of 1957, quickly became a cornerstone of the Beat movement and Kerouac became one of its patron saints.
Fifty years later, On the Road is considered an American classic, and Kerouac, who died in 1969, continues to inspire each new generation of writers, song writers and filmmakers. Time magazine named On the Road one of the 100 best English-language novels of the last 75 years; and the novel, which continues to sell more than 100,000 copies annually, was recently featured on the front page of the New York Times Sunday Book Review.
Nowhere is On the Road more popular on the hill of Lindsey Wilson than with Professor of English Mark Dunphy. Dunphy, who first read the novel after buying it while on a cross-country trip from the East Coast to San Francisco in the early 1970s, has taught the book in some of his classes, and he's also included it in his research.
Last school year, for example, Dunphy presented a paper on Herman Melville and the Beat generation and another paper on Herman Melville and Jack Kerouac.
"The novel speaks to a lot of people, both the middle-aged, such as me, as well as the younger generation," said Dunphy, who is 57-1/2. "And it will continue to speak to countless generations because of its melancholy optimism and holiness."
Although published in 1957, Kerouac wrote On the Road in April 1951. The largely autobiographical novel is written mostly as a stream of consciousness and based on road trips Kerouac and his friends took across the country. Along with Allen Ginsberg's Howl and William Burroughs' Naked Lunch, On the Road is considered to be among the most important literary works of the Beat generation.
"Without those works, there would be a much diminished Beat literary movement," Dunphy said.
The term "beat" was introduced by sub-culture icon Herbert Huncke to describe the down-trodden and beaten down; Kerouac "morphed the word" into something more optimistic, Dunphy said.
"Beat has two different interpretations and Kerouac was well aware of this: beat as in the sense of exhausted, beaten down in the sense of melancholy; but also optimistic in that beat is the root word of beatitude, ecstatic joy," Dunphy said.
On the Road has become an American literary classic because it is speaks across generations and also offers life lessons, Dunphy said. "It's been called a book on how to live your life," he said.
When Dunphy included On the Road in a special class he taught about the Beat movement a couple years ago at Lindsey Wilson, his students "loved it." In fact, they loved the novel so much that they gave him a poster of the novel's dust jacket as a token of their appreciation.
"It's never a book that is read too early or too late in life," Dunphy said. "Read it too late; too early; on your dying day; on your being-born-day, if you can read that young. ... It still energizes me in my old age."
Although many classic novels lose currency over time, Dunphy doesn't foresee a day when On the Road will become an obscure title known only by literary aficionados.
"A lot of celebrations are going on this year all over the world, and I would guess that a lot of celebrations will be going on another 50 years from now as well," he said.
Duane Bonifer is Director of Public Affairs, Lindsey Wilson College, Columbia, KY
This story was posted on 2007-08-29 14:07:57
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