Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Communication Studies

Document Type



This study analyzes Jack Kerouac’s writing method of spontaneous prose and articulates how the method can be understood as performative writing. Kerouac’s “Essentials of Spontaneous Prose,” On the Road, Visions of Cody, and Doctor Sax are explored to evaluate both the successes and failures of the author’s attempts to break literary boundaries and create a new writing method based upon spontaneous tenets. These three novels, which were written in succession from 1950 to 1953 when Kerouac was in his most productive period, represent both the emergence and dissent of the author’s use of performative writing. To explicate the cultural genesis and dissemination of Kerouac’s writing method, the historiographical method of performance genealogy is utilized to address two fictions operating within the larger discourse surrounding Kerouac. First, by focusing on the author’s works rather than on his biographical life, this study seeks to contribute to our understanding of Kerouac’s status as an author and as a performer of fiction. Second, by focusing on the cultural historicity of his writing method, it is argued that Kerouac’s method of spontaneous prose is a much more complicated approach to novelistic discourse than both his earlier critics and some contemporary fans have acknowledged. By addressing spontaneous prose as a method of performative writing, this study articulates what spontaneous prose is and what it does. To this end, the study tracks the doing of spontaneity over the course of three separate literary performances of the novel. As the genealogical trajectory of the writing method demonstrates, in On the Road Kerouac has only begun to implement the changes he wanted to explore after discovering his literary method. Visions of Cody represents the author’s commitment to the writing method, but as its series of literary experiments shows, Kerouac is not yet able to balance his writing method with a sustained approach to narrative story telling. Finally, in Doctor Sax, Kerouac is able to achieve what his two earlier novels had not. That is, a synthesis between the form of invention and the subjects of invention themselves. Implications for performance studies and performative writing are explored.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Michael Bowman



Included in

Communication Commons