Jack Kerouac’s ‘On the Road’: From Scroll to iPhone App

What a transition Jack Kerouac‘s On The Road has made. It started off as a 120-foot scroll of taped together tracing paper, with no margins or paragraphs. It might as well have been written on the back of a cigarette packet. For me, it was the perfect treatment of Kerouac’s dazed-and-confused prose that left readers reaching for a bottle of whiskey, and an atlas.

Kerouac’s novel was basically about getting drunk and having sex, whilst touring round in desperate search of stimulation – something that most gap year students do these days before they’ve left Heathrow airport. And, the core narrative was about little more than two men going everywhere, yet getting nowhere. So why such a landmark?

What Kerouac’s novel did in its day, was to push boundaries. It shocked, and it shocked with little more than the basic truth of what the youth of American were actually doing. It frightened with its honesty.

Numerous publishers rejected Kerouac’s work, Viking Press were fearful of lawsuits; Henry Miller and D. H. Lawrence‘s Lady Chatterley’s Lover were banned in the US, so who could blame them? Apparently Kerouac even revised the original manuscript multiple times to delete sexual depictions deemed too pornographic in 1957.

So imagine if you will, the journey of Kerouac’s words today. They started life scribbled down on a piece of paper not really fit for a pen, just about legible through the various beer and blood stains already present, eventually making their way into a first edition copy called ‘On the Road’, launched in a hail of shock and outrage. And now finally, On The Road has made its way into an iPhone app, with touch screen, Angry Birds, and 5 megapixels camera.

Now that’s a real journey, Jack.

Daniel Marsh

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