The Further Inquiry (1990)
by Ken Kesey (1935-2001)
This book is best read after Tom Wolfe’s 1968 book The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. It refers almost entirely to events chronicled in Wolfe’s book, the 1964 cross-country trip of Kesey’s Merry Pranksters in the bus named Further.
This book is cast in the form of an inquiry into the spirit of Neal Cassady, the primary driver of the bus Further, if not the driving force behind the trip. In a bizarre sort of judicial proceeding, Cassady’s spirit is more-or-less accused of causing the mental destruction, through the agency of LSD and psychological pressure, of the woman nick-named Stark Naked, who was abandoned by the bus after she was arrested in Texas and placed in a psychiatric institution.
No doubt many readers of Acid Test had misgivings about the apparent careless disregard for the “casualties” of Kesey’s LSD crusade, and this work seems to address those feelings. However, he seems to deflect the misgivings to Cassady from himself, where I thought they most properly belonged. Then, with Cassady unable to defend himself, Kesey generously exonerates him. The whole exercise seems self-serving in a rather twisted way.
Nonetheless it is an interesting work, especially when read shortly after Acid Test. It is quite short, in the form of a screenplay, with many pictures from The Movie made on the trip. In addition, it actually contains a short clip in one corner, viewable by flipping the pages. It is well executed, even if its motive and result are suspect.
Kesey apparently holds Cassady in considerable esteem. So he seems still to hold to many (if not all) of the memes discernible from Acid Test, as expressed by Wolfe. At least he does not dispute them. This fact itself indicates a continuity of belief over a 25 year period. Such continuity gives greater weight to Kesey’s opinion, and greater responsibility for the actions that were based on those opinions, than if he were to recant the opinions formerly attributed to him.
The book is interesting in another way, for the added insight it gives to the personality of Neal Cassady. His influence over a fifteen year period, through Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs, Kesey; through the Beats, the Beatniks, and the Hippies has been enormous and is little recognized. Whether his influence has been for better or worse I can’t say. However, the divide of opinion over this question, were it to be asked and thoughtfully answered, would certainly delineate two distinct communities of modern American life.
Perhaps a book about that period should be dedicated to Dean Moriarty, Speed Limit, and some other alias of Neal Cassady.