The reason Jack Kerouac novels and, in recent years, Roberto Bolaño novels are always in demand — virtually jumping off the shelves at used bookstores across the country — is because they depict characters who refuse to relinquish their poetic vision of life and the world to the Moloch maw of capitalism (or more generally to industrialized, hierarchical, wage labor and product consumption–centered life, so as not to exclude authoritarian “communist” nations from this analysis). This crucible within which their characters struggle is something to which we can all relate. Each person born into this globalized culture senses what is at stake with their spirit when figuring out how to survive.
Figures like Arturo Belano and Dean Moriarty are not scrambling to win the rat race, which requires one to view all of creation as un-sacred, as objects to be exploited instead of subjects to which we must listen. On the contrary, they are fleeing with great urgency *from* the American Dream and its non-US corollaries. The protagonists sense that the price one pays for security, status and acceptance into their societies is the sacrifice of their primal, poetic vision — a vision which knows that all of life is charged with spirit and that poetry is a liberating force nearly impossible to commodify.
However, Kerouac and Bolaño also understand that under this current set of living conditions, there is also a heavy price to pay for the refusal to conform. Characters in their fiction endure penury and madness and often die young.
Perhaps the nightmare of global warming, mass extinction and ecological collapse we all now face is the story of Dean Moriarity and Arturo Belano playing out a universal scale. If they reckoned with the sacrifice of their souls in exchange for potential stability, humanity now senses we are sacrificing our species and our beloved fellow species on the the same stupid altar of hierarchy and consumption. Now it is not “only” our poetic, communal spirit that is sacrificed for the mere depiction of happiness, but all of creation itself that is gambled away.