Eris and The Awakener
Eris, the largest dwarf planet known, was discovered at Palomar on January 5, 2005, and has been named after the Greek goddess of conflict. The following article by astrologer Tom Canfield tracing the transits of Eris to the birthchart of Jack Kerouac appeared in the newsletter of Astro Computing Services, and is reprinted here with their kind permission.
Helen Weaver, who gave us The Larousse Encyclopedia of Astrology, has released her long-awaited book, The Awakener: A Memoir of Kerouac and the Fifties (City Lights Books), which chronicles her bohemian life in the nineteen fifties and sixties. Of particular interest to the astrological community is that she included an appendix with the charts of Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Helen Elliott (her NY roommate) and herself.
Helen Weaver had a short relationship with Jack Kerouac, which ended when he and his drinking buddy, Lucien Carr belted out “My Fair Lady” tunes in her apartment in the middle of the night, and she had to get up and go to work the next morning. After punching him, pulling out his hair, and–a few days later, asking him to find another place to live–she concluded that, “I rejected him for the same reason America rejected him: he woke us up in the middle of the night in the long dream of the fifties. He interfered with our sleep.”
If Helen Weaver had only known of the newly discovered planet Eris, she might have figured out how to deal with Kerouac. In my research of Eris, I have found the Eris “Frenemy Principle,” in which Eris marks the most discord when she is in cooperative aspects, and less discord when in challenging aspects to the other planets.
When Kerouac was born in 1922, Eris was conjunct his Venus in the Seventh House. Throughout his life, Kerouac had difficulties in relating to women. His first marriage was to a woman who was willing to bail him out of jail. His second marriage produced his daughter, but he accused his wife of infidelity and denied paternity until a blood test settled all doubt. The 1950s saw several relationships. His third marriage came at the time of his decline into alcoholism, and it was with an older family friend who helped in caring for his invalid mother. He maintained the macho attitude of his time that “women must be guided by men” and he dreaded appearing effeminate.
From 1942 to 1944, transiting Eris was in opposition to Kerouac’s Saturn in the First House. It was a time of personal discipline for him as he set on his life’s path, questioning the discipline of others. After receiving an honorable discharge from the U.S. Navy (and a diagnosis of a “schizophrenic personality”), Kerouac became friends with Lucien Carr, who introduced him to William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg. This set Kerouac on a path witnessing the non-conformity of youth in the so-called Beat generation. It was also at this time that Kerouac served as a material witness for Lucien Carr, when Carr killed a stalker named David Kammerer in self-defense.
Transiting Eris would be square Kerouac’s Pluto in the Tenth House from 1950 until 1953, when he began his literary career, chronicling dark and seamy behavior. His first novel, The Town and the City, which fictionalized the Kammerer killing, was published at this time. It was during this transit that his most famous work On the Road was typed on a giant scroll that Kerouac fed into his typewriter. Written from numerous journal entries, the work dealt with travels across the United States and Mexico with the picaresque hero, Dean Moriarty. The character was based on the roguish Neal Cassady, but many people thought it was an autobiographical account of Kerouac’s life. Before it was finally published, a lot of erotic material had to be removed. It was also during this Eris/Pluto transit that Kerouac began drafts of what would later become ten novels, including The Subterraneans, Desolation Angels, and Doctor Sax, the last featuring a hero inspired by the radio character, The Shadow.
From 1954-1958, transiting Eris would be conjunct Kerouac’s South Node and opposing his North Node. The South Node deals with material concerns, and with Eris conjunct the result was a free-wheeling time with many drinks, many hangovers, many relationships, and many invitations. The North Node deals with spiritual matters, and with Eris opposing it was a time of spiritual transformation when Kerouac discovered Dwight Goddard’s A Buddhist Bible. Kerouac embraced the Buddhist ideas that all is illusion and that life is suffering. On the Road was published at this time, and gave Kerouac instant celebrity as a writer. While Truman Capote derided it as merely “typing”, the New York Times reviewer saw it as a “frenzied pursuit of every sensory perception.”
Kerouac would reject the cult of celebrity, and retreat into a secluded lifestyle. From 1960 to 1964, transiting Eris trined his natal Mars in the Third House, and he ended up internalizing the frenetic energy that took him on his journeys. In 1961, he tried a nature retreat to break his alcoholism. He ended up running to San Francisco, going on a drinking binge and having a breakdown, which would be described in his last great novel Big Sur. With transiting Eris quincunx his natal Ceres in the Second House, the writer most famous for his travels would return to New York state and lead a nurturing, sedentary life, caring for his elderly mother, and seldom leaving the house. The Buddhist philosopher would espouse right-wing politics and support the Vietnam War. The father of the Beats would reject the Hippies and deny that they were the natural heirs of the earlier movement.
By 1969, transiting Eris was opposing his natal Pallas, conjunct his natal Chiron, and approaching a trine to his Neptune in the Eleventh House. Pallas represents wisdom and counsel, and Kerouac did have some intellectual battles in his final days, which were a last hurrah for his career. Chiron, the wounded healer, was wounded all the more with Eris nearby, and Kerouac’s fears and phobias caused his daily consumption of alcohol to escalate alarmingly. Neptune has a reputation for mysticism and vision, but with the Eris trine there was a desire for Kerouac to escape reality. From believing life was only a dream, he would descend into an alcoholic fog. His main activity was playing a game of “baseball” with a deck of cards. He would drink steadily from jugs of cheap wine. Helen Weaver describes his final decay:
In the last years of his life Jack was horribly lonely and he would call his old friends on the telephone in the middle of the night. More often than not I didn’t want to listen to sad crazy drunken Jack. I would tell him to call back tomorrow, which we both knew he would never do.
My last sight of him was a disastrous TV appearance on William F. Buckley’s Firing Line, just a year before he died. Jack was set up: he wasn’t told that other guests would be there to challenge his ideas. He had prepared a statement on the Beat Generation which he was given no opportunity to present. Jack wasn’t a debater who could defend his life and ideas in public before a hostile audience. Hopelessly drunk, he rambled on about hoodlums, commies, and hippies jumping on the Beat bandwagon.
His response to an impossible situation was not without comic élan: At one point he jumped up, put on journalist James Weschler’s hat, and on a surrealist impulse that almost saved the scene, started singing “Flat Foot Floogie with a Floy Floy.”
Death would come to Kerouac on October 21, 1969 from an abdominal hemorrhage caused by cirrhosis.
Tom Canfield has written a book, Yankee Doodle Discord, following the motions of Eris over the course of American history. For more information, go to the Astro Computing Services website at www.astrocom.com.