November 14, 2010

The virtue of continual, engaged experience

I’ve listened to the tapes from the bus trip and reread his letters and autobiography—The First Third—for years. I’ve tried to distill his teachings as best I can. The most important lesson is also the most ironic: most of what is important cannot be taught except by experience. His most powerful lesson behind the rap was not to dwell on mistakes. He used the metaphor of driving. He believed that you got into trouble by overcorrecting. A certain sloth, he thought, lets you veer into a ditch on the right side of the road. Then you overcorrect and hit a car to your left. Cassady believed you had to be correcting every instant. The longer you let things go, the longer you stayed comfortable, the more likely the case that you would have to overcorrect. Then you would have created a big error. The virtue of continual, engaged experience—an endless and relentless argument with the self—that was his lesson.
Ken Kesey on Neal Cassady, Paris Review interview

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