Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 686
Its pages depicting a robin’s-egg-blue sky with fluffy clouds (a spaced out hipster’s dream of open spaces, or merely the view appropriate for a ghost speaking from the heavenly ranks), text highlighted in screenplay format, and pictures from the Merry Pranksters’ 1964 coast-to-coast road trip (California to New York), The Further Inquiry seeks to re-create visually the sensibilities of that bygone era. Michael Ian Kaye provides solarized or psychedelic Day-Glo poster art styles of the 1960’s reflective of visual experiences with the Pranksters’ drug of choice, LSD. A series of shots of legendary rapper Neal Cassady (depicted as Dean Moriarty, the lead in Jack Kerouac’s 1957 On the Road) grace the bottom-right corner and, flipped rapidly, provide the illusion of a home movie of him dancing. The book features 150 previously unpublished photographs of the trip and travelers by Ron “Hassler” Bevirt and images from Allen Ginsberg’s collections. The jacket cover blurb promises “a serious meditation on the sixties.” However, reviewer Brook Horvath in Contemporary Fiction found the text “unambitious” and limited, as did George Searles, who asserted in The New Leader that it nonetheless gives readers “a feeling of what life was like outside American mainstream culture at the dawn of the Hippie era.” Its goal may be to elucidate the past, but the perspective is nostalgic, insider to insider.
The title, The Further Inquiry, plays on the front destination sign of the once yellow school bus that the Merry Pranksters repainted in psychedelic colors for their infamous trip—“Furthur” (the back of the bus, in turn, warned, “Caution: Weird Load”). In case modern readers miss Kesey’s reference, the bus appears in its painted glory on the coversheet front, the designation “Furthur” painted bright red. This label affirmed the Pranksters’ goal to push beyond the boundaries of ordinary folk and normal vision, beyond bourgeoisie constraints. Thus, The Further Inquiry reexamines the Pranksters’ cross-country journey, and more particularly the role of Cassady as driver and lead Prankster in the experience, to reconfirm the value of rejecting the status quo.
This examination has been made many times before—for example, in Tom Wolfe’s Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (1968). Thus, Kesey adds a “further” or “additional” investigation. His word “inquiry” describes his method: a courtroom inquiry with prosecution and defense lawyers, bailiff, and witnesses and with the readers as judge and jury, though the verdict is rendered by a “V-meter” with gleaming brass dials “FOR-AGAINST” (it is once again the machine against the garden, the age-old American conflict). The court questions Cassady’s contribution to society (his spirit speaks in his own words from the grave) and pits the authoritarian forces of order, bureaucracy, and repression against freedom from social restraints and the right to be shocking and uninhibitedly different. The players in this mock trial ask whether the efforts of Cassady (a grade-school dropout and aficionado of Marcel Proust) and the Pranksters worked for good or for ill.
The text—supposedly courtroom documents—includes verbatim transcriptions of Cassady monologues and the testimony of various Pranksters, offering insider views of their lifestyle and perspectives and of the Cassady mystique. The prosecutor, Chest, is a cigar-smoking, right-wing stereotype who repeatedly ambushes the mild-mannered but determined female lawyer for the defense, Tooney. The trial is surreal, with descriptions of the nudity, sex, drug highs, zany behavior, and “deliberate disorganization” that were a commonplace part of the experience and with establishment authorities speaking authoritatively of “psychochemillogically-broken zombies” that need “modern consciousness modification techniques.” The prosecution charges Cassady and crew with the downside of drug use: sexual exploitation of teenagers, injured fetuses, mental instability, disloyalty, irresponsibility. The defense witnesses see Cassady as the antidote to “an awful disease” that had infected the “American society—insidiously, steadily . . . unchecked” to the point of “Condition Terminal . . . a hardening of the heart.” A Doctor Knot testifies that the disease, a “mental net,” destroys “spontaneity” and suffocates a nation, as it did in 1964, when “Our country was dying!”—by implication, Cassady and the Pranksters revived it. The final judgment vindicating Cassady and the Pranksters comes as no surprise, though the form that it takes does.
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