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The Parting of Burroughs and Kerouac: The French Backstory to The First Beat Novel, from Rimbaud to Poetic Realist Cinema

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<mark>Journal publication date</mark>09/2013
<mark>Journal</mark>Comparative American Studies
Issue number3
Pages (from-to)265-279
Publication statusPublished
Original languageEnglish


The first so-called beat novel, And The Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks, co-written by Burroughs and Kerouac in 1945 but only published in 2008, has been dismissed as little more than a biographical curiosity. However, a comparative analysis of the text with its unpublished second version—the archival typescript of ‘I Wish I Were You’ composed by Kerouac alone —invites us to reread it from entirely new perspectives. An examination of the crucial role played by allusions to French culture from one version of the text to the other shows how Kerouac emerged from Burroughs’ shadow. In ‘I Wish I Were You’, Kerouac refocuses the story through self-reflexive references to visual works of art, specifically the French poetic realist cinema of the 1930s, and by doing so asserts for the first time his ethic and aesthetic as a writer of ‘bookmovies’.