open notes to life

Some notes from Jack Kerouac’s essay “Are Writers Born or Made?”

jack(Writer’s Digest: January 1962)

“I always get a laugh to hear Broadway wise-guys talk about “talent” and “genius.” Some perfect virtuoso who can interpret Brahms on the violin is called a “genius,” but the genius, the originating force, really belongs to Brahms; the violin virtuoso is simply a talented interpreter—in other words, a ‘talent.’”

“Or you’ll hear people say that so-and-so is a “major writer” because of his “large talent.” There can be no major writer without original genius. Artists of genius, like Jackson Pollock, have painted things that have never been seen before.”

“Some geniuses come with heavy feet and march solemnly forward like Drieser, yet no one ever wrote about that America of his as well as he. Geniuses can be scintilliating and geniuses can be somber, but it’s that inescapable sorrowful depth that shines through—originality.”

“Joyce was insulted all his life by practically all of Ireland and the world for being a genius. Some Celtic Twilight idiots even conceded he had some talent. What else could they say, since they were all going to start imitating him?”

“But five thousand university-trained writers could put their hands to a day in June in Dublin in 1904, or one night’s dream, and never do with it what (James) Joyce did with it: He was simply born to do it.”

“When the question is therefore asked, “Are writers made or born?” one should first ask, “Do you mean writers with talent or writers with originality?” Because anybody can write, but not everybody invents new forms of writing.”

The criterion for judging talent or genius is ephemeral, speaking rationally in this world of graphs, but one gets the feeling definitely when a writer of genius amazes him by strokes of force never seen before and yet hauntingly familiar.”

“The main thing to remember is that talent imitates genius because there’s nothing else to imitate. Since talent can’t originate it has to imitate, or interpret.”

“Genius gives birth, talent delivers. What Rembrandt or van Gogh saw in the night can never be seen again. No frog can jump in the pond like Basho’s frog. Born writers of the future are amazed already at what they’re seeing now, what we’ll all see in time for the first time, and then see imitated many times by made writers.”


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This entry was posted on March 8, 2013 by in notes.
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