There’s something Griceian about Cassady – Neal Cassidy, Grice means.
He would write long letters to J.-L. (“Jack,” Neal called him) Kerouac – about
this, but also about that. If Popper enjoyed Joyce’s stream of consciousness,
he possibly enjoyed Cassidy’s too – or not.
And why can one say there’s something Griceian about Cassady?
Well, Kerouac is alleged to have said of one of the letters Cassady wrote to
him that it was “the most beautiful piece of writing I ever saw.” And it
Consider an utterance by Cassady:
(i) Well it's about time you wrote, I was fearing you farted
out on top that mean mountain or slid under while pissing in Pismo, beach of
flowers, food and foolishness, but I knew the fear was ill-founded for
balancing it in my thoughts of you, much stronger and valid if you weren't
dead, was a realization of the experiences you would be having down there,
rail, home, and the most important, climate, by a remembrance of my own
feelings and thoughts (former low, or more exactly, nostalgic and unreal;
latter hi) as, for example, I too seemed to spend time looking out upper floor
windows at sparse, especially night times, traffic in females—old or young.”
Now consider the implicatures. Kerouac learned from Cassady to avoid the
punctuation period. So the above counts as ONE Griceian utterance. The utterer
is of course Cassady. The ‘addressee’ is Kerouac. A recent letter has recently
resurfaced after Kerouac lent it to Ginsberg. Since there is no period, Grice
must say that (i) represents ONE THOUGHT, or one belief. But is that so? It
seems that the idea that ‘one sentence’ corresponds to ‘one belief’ is like
Ryle’s ‘Fido’-Fido theory of meaning. Let’s see if we can dissect (i) in terms
of implicature and disimplicature:
(i) Well it’s about time you wrote
The ‘well’ carries what Grice calls a ‘conventional’ implicature. Cassady can
NOT just start with ‘it’s about time’. There MUST be that initial ‘well’. After
the ‘wrote,’ Cassady adds a comma, for effect, and goes on:
“I was fearing you farted out on top that mean mountain or slid under while
pissing in Pismo, beach of flowers, food and foolishness,
This comma above seems to represent a different thought. It is the implicature
behind the first segment, i.e. the reason why Cassady thought it was high time
Kerouac wrote. What the above describes is Cassady’s scenario for Kerouac
silence. Cassady goes on:
“but I knew the fear was ill-founded for balancing it in my thoughts of you,
much stronger and valid if you weren't dead, was a realization of the
experiences you would be having down there, rail, home, and the most important,
climate, by a remembrance of my own feelings and thoughts (former low, or more
exactly, nostalgic and unreal; latter hi) as, for example, I too seemed to
spend time looking out upper floor windows at sparse, especially night times,
traffic in females—old or young.”
The latter, ‘or’, is a disjunction – which, as a Griceian must we should take
And so on. Considered ‘lost’ for 66 years, Neal Cassady’s visionary ‘Joan
Anderson letter,’ as it is called in literary history, is a foundational
document of the an era (“I’m beat to my socks”). and what certainly inspired
Kerouac’s literary stylistic revolution in “On the Road.”
Neal Cassady’s “Joan Anderson” letter to Jack Kerouac has permeated virtually
(and sometimes not virtually, too) every Griceian conversation about the beat
(“I’m beat to my socks”) era. Referenced not only by Kerouac but by Allen
Ginsberg, Laurence Ferlinghetti, Herbert Hunke, and a host of their
contemporaries, Cassady’s fluid, incantatory, and deeply revealing Griceian
prose influences an entire generation of beatniks.
The letter was written during three days, Cassady later pointed out
It contained, by Kerouac’s calculation, 13,000 words and ran to 40 pages,
offering a compelling, unaffected and discursive account of Cassady’s frenetic
love life, particularly – but not solely -- with Joan Anderson (whom he visited
in a hospital after a failed suicide), and ‘Cherry Mary’, recounting an
acrobatic escape through a bathroom window when they were surprised by Mary’s
aunt. The slightly uninhibited narrative pointed the way to the free, truthful
style to which Columbia-educated Kerouac aspires.
Overwhelmed by what he read, Kerouac wrote back ecstatically to Cassady,
I thought your letter ranks among the best things ever written. It is better
than the ‘Notes from the Underground’ of Dostoevsk. You manage to gather
together all the best styles: of Joyce, Céline, Dosy, and utilize them in the
muscular rush of your own narrative style and excitement. I say truly, no
Dreiser, no Wolfe has come close to it. Melville was never truer.
It is a typed letter completed in autograph and with autograph additions,
corrections, and deletions in pencil and pen, and addressed to Jack Kerouac. It
is dated, “Denver.”
If Kerouac said he received 40 pages, it is now reduced to 18 pages, and it
comprises 16,000 worsd, some pale browning, and minor marginal chipping.
In an interview published in the The Paris Review, Kerouac famously hails
Cassady’s letter’s impact:
“I got the idea for the spontaneous style of On the Road from seeing how Neal
Cassady wrote his letters to me, all first person, fast, confessional,
completely serious, all detailed, with real names.”
Nearly everyone who knew Cassady was struck by his natural Griceian verbal
After being entranced by the “Joan Anderson” letter, and responding, Kerouac
lent the letter to Allen Ginsberg to read. Ginsberg took Cassady’s letter to
Gerd Stern, who was living in Sausalito in California on a house-boat. Kerouac
thought the letter had been lost over the side of Stern’s boat. In fact,
Cassady’s letter ended in the hands of Stern’s friend, R. W. Emerson. He placed
the letter, complete with its envelope on his ‘to read’ pile. The letter may
have been lost for ever had not John Spinosa, Emerson’s colleague. The letter
remained with Spinosa, and then passed to his daughter, Jean.
Only a fragment of Cassady’s letter has ever been published — 14 years after it
was written, and after the great works it influenced had come out. A portion of
the letter, apparently copied by Kerouac before he passed it on to Ginsberg,
was published by John Bryan in his Notes from Underground #1, where it was
re-titled, appropriately ‘The First Third’ – the second and third thirds being
Griceian, of course.
Bryan claims that Cassady himself came to help print the letter. The same
extract was published by City Lights as an addendum to Cassady’s The First
Third, and later formed the basis of a film The Last Time I Committed Suicide
(with the attending implicature: “there is an afterlife”) -- directed by
Stephen T. Kay, and starring Thomas Jane and Keanu Reeves.
And so on.
Grice, H. P. The Grice Collection, BANCROFT.
Cassady, D. L. The letter. EMORY.