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Insane or Inspired: Jack Kerouac

Presented by Amazon Prime's Hand of God
September 8, 2015 8:04AM (UTC)

There’s a saying that genius is close to madness, and in this four-part profile series presented by Hand of God on AmazonPrime we’re celebrating those legendary figures who have left us debating where they sat on the spectrum of sanity.  Looking back at history’s most controversial figures, we’ll ask the question: were they insane, or were they inspired?
Click here to explore more stories in the "Insane of Inspired" series.

 Prolific or Psychotic: Jack Kerouac
“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars…” –Jack Kerouac, On the Road

The Story: A pioneer of the Beat Generation in the 1950s, American writer Jack Kerouac gained notoriety for his frank depictions of casual sex and drug use. His most famous novel, On the Road, is regarded as the bible of the counterculture.


The Scandal: While many considered Kerouac to be a genius, others believed that he was simply a mentally ill alcoholic whose writings were not inspired but rather driven by rampant drug abuse.

The Evidence Against Him: Kerouac was honorably discharged from the Navy after serving only eight days of active duty for what was described as “indifferent character,” or, in the current vernacular, schizophrenia. It wasn’t the first time his sanity was questioned: the writer had said that at the age of six he had a holy vision wherein God told him that he would suffer in life and die painfully before receiving salvation. (The “painful” part was accurate: Kerouac died at 47 of internal bleeding brought by years of alcoholic drinking.) Rarely seen without a drink in his hand, Kerouac achieved mythical status after details of his writing process—viewed by many as insane—were revealed.

The Evidence For Him: Yes, it’s true: Kerouac wrote On the Road in three benzo-filled, coffee soaked, sleepless weeks—all onto one long strip of paper that he had devised so that he wouldn’t have to stop to refill his typewriter. What’s also true is that the session was the result of tremendous research, meticulous note taking and several different iterations of the piece. A master craftsman, he tinkered with the novel endlessly in order to attract publishers.


The myth of its creation—based on a remark Kerouac himself made on a popular talk show—gave naysayers the opportunity to write the work off as the product of a drug binge. The truth, however, is that the impact of On the Road can’t be understated—it took true talent, which cannot be chemically manufactured.

The Verdict: Not Guilty
In his time, Kerouac’s sexual exploits, drug use and experimental style of writing got him labeled as a madman. His style was so offbeat that finding publishers for his books proved difficult—works that are now considered some of the most prolific in American literature. History appreciates his brilliance and the zeal with which he lived and wrote. We see Kerouac for what he truly was: a raw talent, an innovative thinker, and a true genius.

Insane or Inspired?
There’s no doubt that he lived a troubled life, but decades after his death Jack Kerouac manages to constantly rouse new readers to live a life of true adventure. What’s more inspired than that?


The day of reckoning has arrived in San Vincente, California, and Judge Pernell Harris is the modern day Soloman who is determined to mete out justice. On an obsessive quest to avenge a family tragedy, Pernell is receiving divine inspiration to chart his path—or is he? As his friends and family work to hide what they see as his unraveling, Pernell pursues a course of brutal righteousness. Starring Ron Perlman (Sons of Anarchy), Dana Delaney (Desperate Housewives), and Andre Royo (The Wire) Hand of God was created by Ben Watkins and marks the television debut of filmmaker Marc Foster (Monster’s Ball, Finding Neverland).

Stream all episodes on Amazon Video September 4th. Free with Amazon Prime membership.

Presented by Amazon Prime's Hand of God

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