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Jude's avatar

Can anyone please explain this Jack Kerouac quote?

Asked by Jude (32112points) December 11th, 2008

“My witness is the empty sky.”

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8 Answers

o0's avatar

My take is that it hints at loneliness, but also a sort of freedom. There are no people to witness or share his actions. But thats kinda the way Kerouac likes it. You dig?

Harp's avatar

I’ve got a hunch that Kerouac is drawing on Buddhist imagery, as he does over and over. There is a famous incident in the account of Buddha’s enlightenment when Siddhartha’s worthiness to become Buddha is called into question. Siddhartha responds by touching the Earth and asking it to bear witness to his worthiness. The significance of this was that there was no longer any hint of separation between the Buddha and all that exists.

Buddhist writings also speak of Emptiness as being the ultimate nature of everything, so it seems to me that Kerouac is riffing off of these images to say “I’m one with the Emptiness, and I call the sky as my witness”. any proper Zen teacher would have promptly smacked him upside the head

Originate's avatar

It sounds more to me that this is half literal and half figurative. So… Let’s start with one definition of “Witness”, which is:

One present at a transaction so as to be able to testify to its having taken place.

So… literally it would be saying that the sky is the entity that can attest or testify to what he is claiming. But, that doesn’t make much sense in a literal sense. So… take one more step to view this middle statement as symbolic. The clear sky would most likely represent everything above it as well, peering down upon him (aka. the universe).

Kerouac is calling upon the universe to testify upon his behalf, to declare the things it has seen that he is claiming. The “empty sky” indicates a clear view as well as an emptiness that doesn’t seem to end or possibly does not end.

If we put all of these ideas together it brings a hazy visual of the universe peering down upon him clearly through a vast void and seeing him and his actions in a way that no one else does or could, because it was there… and watching without obstruction. I hope this is helpful!

Harp's avatar

Just did a bit of digging and found that this quote is from “Wake Up! (More of the Dharma)”, which Kerouac wrote in ‘55—‘56, but was only recently published by Tricycle Magazine (a Buddhist publication). It’s Kerouac’s account of the life of the Buddha, which makes me all the more certain that this quote alludes to the Earth Witness account.

steelmarket's avatar

I think that he is making a nod and a contrast at the same time. It reminds me of that passage in On the Road where he is riding in the back of a truck, staring up at the sky. Guess I’m reading the quote more as, ”My witness is the empty sky”.

Knotmyday's avatar

Got a link, Harp? I’m wondering if it needs to be understood in context.

Harp's avatar

I’m not finding any larger chunk of this text. Perhaps Tricycle still has a copyright stranglehold on it.

tiffyandthewall's avatar

i’m not familiar with Kerouac’s writing or the man himself, but just reading it i get the feeling of either loneliness, or even just the implication that there is no one, not even a god or some sort of deity watching him. i’m probably oversimplifying it though, sorry.

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