The “Other" Johnny: Jazz, Race, and Existentialism in Julio Cortázar’s El perseguidor and Jack Kerouac’s On the Road
The present paper explores themes of jazz, race and existentialism in Jack Kerouac’s On the Road (1957) and Julio Cortázar’s El perseguidor (1959), and ultimately suggests that Cortázar’s later work may represent a response to Kerouac’s racist portrayal of minority subjects, namely African-American jazz artists. Comparing Dean Moriarty’s multiple “jazz gods” to Cortázar’s Johnny Carter, the study examines On the Road’s mirroring and El persesguidor’s rejection of mid-century authors and philosophers’ construction of black jazz artists as instinctual and wholly unintentional producers of inspiring jazz and superior existential authenticity. While Kerouac’s near-ethnographic portrayal of “wild” jazzmen presents them as voiceless caricatures of existential freedom, Cortázar’s novella gives voice to the brilliant Johnny Carter, whose experimentations with duration and the transcendence of chronologicity render him a fully-intentioned existentialist in his own right. Even if El perseguidor does not represent a direct response to On the Road, it certainly serves as a profound counter-narrative to highly racist portrayals of the mid-century jazzman.