“You gotta fight for peace.”
And some in the audience must have agreed. If bad people will do bad things you’ve got to do something to stop them. But others just saw the paradox and laughed.
One of those who laughed was Jack Kerouac, who not only laughed but picked up the speaker’s hat, put it on his own head, and walked in circles around the stage.
Some in the audience laugh even harder. Others murmur in their embarrassment. All can see James Wechsler, who’d spoken the paradoxical words, insulted and red-faced. Why would Jack play the buffoon instead of responding to what he’d said? It seems dismissive and disrespectful.
But Allen Ginsberg calls Kerouac’s response “rational tempered,” and really the only one he could have given. And Wechsler would have understood that, had he been more familiar with “Zen masters and Zen answers.”
As with most debates, there’s no clear right and wrong here, so maybe it’s better not to respond. Maybe it’s better to exhibit your position and let it stand, and Kerouac decided to do that through a kind of theatrical display. And why not? After the show, everyone went home and made up their own minds, as they would have done anyway.
(I’ve been reading The Best Minds of my Generation: A Literary History of the Beats As Taught by Allen Ginsberg, published by Allen Lane in 2017.)