Marc Latham’s latest Folding Mirror poem was inspired by reading David Lewis-Williams and David Pearce’s Inside the Neolithic Mind and the British cinema release of Walter Salles‘s On The Road. On The Road is of course Jack Keroac‘s classic 1950s Beat novel, that inspired Marc Latham to travel and write.
It has taken over fifty years to bring a film version of On The Road to the screen, and it has received mixed reviews so far, although the acting is supposed to be great. Most critics think it is hard to capture that time now, with the Beats having helped liberate Western culture to such an extent. Marc doesn’t think the book is really that exciting anyway; it was just the idea and philosophy it contained: to live for the moment, seek truth and meaning, and really savour life. It can mean being quite selfish and nihilistic, and Kerouac was disappointed in what the Beat inspiration turned into in the anarchic and messy hippy culture of the sixties.
It is released a fortnight after Marc Latham turned 47, Kerouac’s last age, and Marc is now the sceptical grump that Kerouac was at that age, rather than the free and inquisitive twenty-one-year old he was when he took to the road in search of Kerouac’s life. Marc is writing this fuelled by strong coffee the Kerouac way, and hopes to watch and enjoy the film soon.
In Inside the Neolithic Mind Lewis-Williams and Pearce write that The Epic of Gilgamesh is the earliest Near-Eastern myth known, and one of the oldest pieces of literature in existence. It tells the journey of Gilgamesh, the semi-divine king of Uruk, and a wild creature created by the gods called Enkidu. Together, they travel through the tiered Sumerian cosmology, and following Levi-Strauss’s theory of society being formed around binary oppositions (which is not considered entirely accurate now), Lewis-Williams and Pearce consider ‘their personalities constitute a set of parallel oppositions that can … be read horizontally and vertically’ :
Enkidu : Gilagmesh
nature : culture
wild : civilisation
About 4,000 years after the Epic of Gilgamesh was formed, Kerouac and Neal Cassady travelled the American highways together, immortalised in On The Road as Sal Paradise and Dean Moriaty, and have widely been considered to be a modern version of the culture and nature binary opposition.
So Marc thought he’d combine them into a Folding Mirror poem, and here it is:
Travelling Humanity’s Existential Contrasts
On the Road
classic of fifties free thinking
into the twenty-first-century
Sal Paradise and Moriaty
travelling America’s California dream
searching for life’s answers
risking all to escape
modernity’s false reality
captured in book and film
cultural representative, nature’s perspective
etched on tablet of stone
antiquity’s oldest mythical record
leaving palace and divinity
seeking sun god solicitation
journeying Forest of Cedar
Uruk King and Enkidu
written in third-century-BC
insight into early civilisation mind
Epic of Gilgamesh