Beat Generation

The Beat Generation is a term used to describe a group of American writers who came to prominence in the 1950s, and the cultural phenomena that they wrote about and inspired (later sometimes called "beatniks"). Central elements of "Beat" culture included experimentation with drugs and alternative forms of sexuality, an interest in Eastern religion, and a rejection of materialism.

The major works of Beat writing are Allen Ginsberg's Howl (1956), William S. Burroughs's Naked Lunch (1959) and Jack Kerouac's On the Road (1957).[1] Both Howl and Naked Lunch were the focus of obscenity trials that ultimately helped to liberalize what could be published in the United States. On the Road transformed Kerouac's friend Neal Cassady into a youth-culture hero. The members of the Beat Generation quickly developed a reputation as new bohemian hedonists, who celebrated non-conformity and spontaneous creativity.

The original "Beat Generation" writers met in New York. Later, the central figures (with the exception of Burroughs) ended up together in San Francisco in the mid-1950s where they met and became friends with figures associated with the San Francisco Renaissance.

The language and topics of beat writing pushed the boundaries of acceptability in the conformist 1950's: they often openly discussed drug use, sexuality (in particular homosexuality) and criminal behavior without condemnation, and sometimes with approval. The first "Beat" work to gain nationwide attention was Ginsberg's Howl: its graphic sexual language led to an obscenity-trial which helped fuel its fame. One of the most enduringly famous "Beat" works, Kerouac's On the Road (written in 1951) was not published until 1957, capitalizing on the fame brought by the Howl obscenity-trial, though with some objectionable material edited out. Burroughs' magnum opus, Naked Lunch, which was much more graphic than Howl, also went to trial for obscenity after its 1962 American publication. These trials helped to establish that if anything was deemed to have literary value it was no longer considered obscene.[2][page needed] Thomas Pynchon cites Kerouac and the Beat writers as one proof that there was another kind of language that could be used in writing: "The effect was exciting, liberating, strongly positive." [3]

During the 1960s, the rapidly expanding Beat culture underwent a transformation: the Beat Generation spread and turned into the Counterculture of the 1960s, which was accompanied by a shift in public terminology from "beatnik" to "hippie".


[edit] Characteristics

The Beat Generation works highlighted spontaneity, open emotion, visceral engagement in often gritty worldly experiences and yet, the Beats often emphasized a spiritual yearning, using concepts and imagery from Buddhism, Judaism, Catholicism, and so on. Kerouac's vision of the Beat Generation was a synthesis of the "beaten down" and the "beatific".

One of the best-publicized aspects of Beat writing is the continual challenge to the limits of free expression; the Beat writers produced a body of written work controversial both for its advocacy of non-conformity and for its non-conforming style.

[edit] History

[edit] Origin of name

Author Jack Kerouac introduced the phrase "Beat Generation" in 1948, generalizing from his social circle to characterize the underground, anti-conformist youth gathering in New York at that time; the name came up in conversation with the novelist John Clellon Holmes (who published an early novel about the beat generation, titled Go, in 1952, along with a manifesto of sorts in the New York Times Magazine: "This is the beat generation.") The adjective "beat" came to the group through the underworld association with Herbert Huncke where it originally meant "tired" or "beaten down." Kerouac expanded the meaning of the term, over time adding the paradoxical connotations of "upbeat," "beatific," and the musical association of being "on the beat:" the Beat Generation was on the bottom, but they were looking up. Other adjectives discussed by Holmes and Kerouac were "found" and "furtive."

Kerouac's claim that he had identified (and embodied) a new trend analogous to the influential Lost Generation might have seemed grandiose at the time, but in retrospect it's clear that he was correct – though possibly largely because the prophecy was self-fulfilling.[4][5][page needed]

[edit] Early meetings in 1940s and early 1950s

The original "Beat Generation" writers met in New York: Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, (in 1948) and later (in 1950) Gregory Corso (they are sometimes called the "New York Beats" though only Corso was from New York). Perhaps equally important were the less obviously creative members of the scene, who contributed to the writers' intellectual environment and provided them with subject matter: There was Herbert Huncke, a drug-addict and petty thief who met Burroughs in 1946 and introduced the core members of the New York Beats to the junky life style and junky lingo, including the word "beat:" Lucien Carr, who was key to introducing many of the central figures to one another; and Hal Chase, an anthropology student from Denver, who, in 1947, introduced into the group Neal Cassady, the focus of many beat works (notably Kerouac's On the Road). Also important were the oft-neglected women in the original circle, including Joan Vollmer and Edie Parker. Their apartment on the upper west side of Manhattan often functioned as a salon, or as Ted Morgan puts it, a "pre-sixties commune,"[6] and Joan Vollmer, in particular, was a serious participant in the marathon discussion-sessions.

Later, the central figures (with the exception of Burroughs) ended up together in San Francisco in the mid-1950s where they met and became friends with figures associated with the San Francisco Renaissance such as Kenneth Rexroth, Gary Snyder, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Michael McClure, Philip Whalen, Harold Norse, Lew Welch, and Kirby Doyle. There they met many other poets who had migrated to San Francisco because it had a reputation as an important new center of creativity. This included Bob Kaufman who was, according to legend, the first to actually be called a "beatnik." Also of significance were Philip Lamantia, Tuli Kupferberg, and members of the recently dissolved Black Mountain College looking for a new center of communal creativity, poets such as Robert Creeley, Edward Dorn, and Robert Duncan.

Many writers were inspired by the publication of "Howl" and On the Road and decided to join the group. The Beats met most of these writers when they returned to New York: John Wieners, LeRoi Jones, Diane DiPrima, Anne Waldman. The New York School of poets (including Frank O'Hara, Kenneth Koch, John Ashbery, and James Schuyler, though Ashbery and Schuyler weren–t quite as closely associated with the Beats), had already been established as a movement in New York; they found much in common with this ever-widening circle and consistently promoted one another's work.

[edit] Columbia University

The beginning of the Beat Generation is often traced back to Columbia University to the meeting of Kerouac, Ginsberg, Lucien Carr, Hal Chase, and others in the original circle. Although they were later considered anti-academic artists, the seed for the Beat Generation was planted in a highly academic environment. Many of their early ideas were formed during arguments with professors such as Lionel Trilling and Mark Van Doren. This was the same environment in which some of their classmates, such as Louis Simpson and Donald Hall, became champions of formalism. This is where Carr and Ginsberg discussed the need for a "New Vision" (a term borrowed from Arthur Rimbaud) to move away from Columbia University's conservative notions of literature.

Burroughs was born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1914; making him roughly ten years older than most of the other original beats. While still living in St. Louis, Burroughs met David Kammerer. As a boys' youth-group-leader in the mid-1930s, David Kammerer had become infatuated with the young Lucien Carr (with what encouragement, if any, it is difficult to say). Kammerer began following Carr around the country as Carr attended (and was expelled from) different colleges. In the fall of 1942, at the University of Chicago, Kammerer introduced 17-year-old Lucien Carr to William S. Burroughs.

Burroughs was a Harvard-graduate who lived off a stipend from his relatively wealthy family–his grandfather had invented the Burroughs Adding Machine–though the amount of wealth in the family is often exaggerated (Kerouac remarked on "the Burroughs Millions," which didn't actually exist[7]). The three became good friends, whose sprees got Burroughs kicked out of his rooming-house and culminated with Carr confined in a mental ward after an apparent attempted suicide with a gas oven (one version of the story holds that this was a way of avoiding military service). In the spring of 1943, Carr's family moved him to Columbia University in New York, where Kammerer, and then Burroughs shortly followed.

At Columbia, Carr met the freshman Allen Ginsberg, whom he introduced to Burroughs and Kammerer. Edie Parker, another member of the crowd, introduced Carr to her boyfriend Jack Kerouac when he came back from his stint as a merchant marine. In 1944, Carr introduced Kerouac and Burroughs. Kammerer's fixation was obvious to everyone in the circle, and he became jealous as Carr developed a relationship with a young woman (Celine Young). In mid-August, 1944, Lucien Carr killed Kammerer with a boy scout knife in what may have been self-defense after an altercation in a park on the Hudson River. Carr disposed of the body in the river. He then sought advice from Burroughs, who recommended that he get a lawyer and turn himself in with a claim of self-defense. Instead, Carr went to Kerouac, who helped him dispose of the weapon. The following morning, Carr turned himself in, and Kerouac and Burroughs were charged as accessories to the crime. Burroughs got the money for bail, but Kerouac's parents refused to post it for him. Edie Parker and her family came through, with the condition that she and Kerouac be married immediately.

The stabbing was an incident that Kerouac wrote about twice, once in his first novel The Town and the City and then again in one of his last, Vanity of Duluoz.

[edit] The Times Square "underworld"

Burroughs had an interest in experimenting with criminal behavior and gradually made contacts in the criminal underground of New York, becoming involved with dealing in stolen goods and narcotics and developing a decades-long addiction to opiates. Burroughs met Herbert Huncke, a small-time criminal and drug-addict who often hung around the Times Square area. The beats found Huncke a fascinating character. As Ginsberg put it, they were on a quest for "supreme reality", and felt that Huncke, as a member of the underclass, had learned things that were sheltered from them in their middle-class lives.

Ginsberg's association with Huncke got him in trouble with the law in 1949. Ginsberg let Huncke stay with him for a brief time (as referenced in the line from Howl, "who walked all night with their shoes full of blood on the showbank docks waiting for a door in the East River to open to a room full of steamheat and opium;") Ginsberg's apartment was subsequently packed with stolen goods. He was riding in a car with Huncke while transporting stolen goods which resulted in a car chase with the police: Ginsberg escaped in a panic, but left some notebooks behind in the car which incriminated him. Ginsberg pleaded insanity and was briefly committed to Bellevue Hospital, where he met Carl Solomon.

Carl Solomon was apparently more eccentric than psychotic when he was committed: a fan of Antonin Artaud, he indulged in some self-consciously "crazy" behavior, such as throwing potato salad at a lecturer on Dadaism. Ted Morgan also mentions an incident when he stole a peanut-butter sandwich in a cafeteria and showed it to a security-guard.[page needed] If not crazy when he was admitted, Solomon was arguably driven mad by the shock treatments applied at Bellevue: this is one of the main themes of Ginsberg's "Howl", which was dedicated to Carl Solomon. After his release, Solomon became the publishing contact who agreed to publish Burroughs' first novel Junky (1953), shortly before another episode resulted in his being committed again.[8]

[edit] Neal Cassady

The introduction of Neal Cassady into the scene in 1947 had a number of effects. A number of the beats were enthralled with Cassady – Ginsberg had an affair with him and became his personal writing-tutor; and Kerouac's road-trips with him in the late 40s became a focus of his second novel, On the Road. Cassady is one of the sources of "rapping" – the loose spontaneous babble that later became associated with "beatniks" (see also below). Though he did not write much himself, the core writers of the group were impressed with the free-flowing style of some of his letters, and Kerouac cited this as a key influence on his invention of the spontaneous prose style/technique that he used in his key works (the other obvious influence being the improvised solos of jazz music). On the Road is the book where Kerouac began to write in this manner, and it transformed Cassady (under the name "Dean Moriarty") into a cultural icon: a hyper wildman, frequently broke, going from woman to woman, car to car, town to town; largely amoral, but frantically engaged with life.

The delays involved in the publication of Kerouac's On the Road often create confusion: The novel was written in 1951 – shortly before John Clellon Holmes published Go, and the article "This is the Beat Generation" – and it covered events that had taken place earlier, beginning in the late '40s. Since the book was not published until 1957, many people received the impression that it was describing the late '50s era, though it was actually a document of a time ten years earlier.

The legend of how On the Road was written was as influential as the book itself: High on benzedrine, Kerouac typed rapidly on a continuous scroll of telegraph-paper to avoid having to break his chain of thought at the end of each sheet of paper. Kerouac's dictum was that "the first thought is best thought", and insisted that you should never revise a text after it is written – though there remains some question about how carefully Kerouac observed this rule, at least in the case of On the Road which is sometimes regarded as his "transitional" work. Although Kerouac maintained that he wrote this particular book in one three-week burst, it is clear from manuscript evidence that he had previously written several drafts and had been contemplating the novel for years. Also, the text went through many changes between the final "scroll" manuscript and the published version. Further, Kerouac has denied that it was written on benzedrine: in a 1951 letter to Neal Cassady, he remarked: "I wrote that book on COFFEE"; he went on to recommend coffee for writing over other drugs, including benzedrine.[9]

[edit] Gregory Corso

In 1950 Gregory Corso met Ginsberg, who was impressed by the poetry that Corso had written while incarcerated for burglary. Gregory Corso was the young d'Artagnan (to use Ted Morgan's phrase[10]) added to the original three of the core beat writers, and for decades the four were often spoken of together, though later critical attention for Corso (the least prolific of the four) waned. He gained some notoriety for his tragicomic poetry, such as "Bomb" and "Marriage".

[edit] San Francisco

Some time later there was much cross-pollination with San Francisco-area writers (Ginsberg, Corso, Cassady, and Kerouac each moved there for a time). Lawrence Ferlinghetti (one of the partners who ran the City Lights Bookstore and press) became a focus of the scene as well as the older poet Kenneth Rexroth, whose apartment became a Friday night literary salon. Ginsberg was introduced to Rexroth by an introductory letter from his mentor William Carlos Williams, an old friend of Rexroth's. When Ginsberg was asked by Wally Hedrick [11] to organize the famous Six Gallery reading in October 1955, Ginsberg had Rexroth serve as master of ceremonies. In a sense, Rexroth was bridging two generations. This reading included the first public performance of Ginsberg's poem Howl and thus it is considered one of the most important events in the history of the Beat Generation. It brought East Coast and West Coast poets together in public performance for the first time, and the reading quickly sparked a legend and led to many more readings around California by the now locally famous Six Gallery poets. Soon after the Six Gallery reading, Ferlinghetti wrote Ginsberg a letter, saying, "I greet you at the beginning of a brilliant career. When do I get the manuscript?" This was an adaptation of Emerson's comment about Whitman's poetry, a prophecy of sorts that Howl would bring as much energy to this new movement as Whitman brought to 19th-century poetry. This is also a marker of the beginning of the Beat movement, since the publication of Howl and the subsequent obscenity-trial brought nationwide attention to many of the other members of this group.[12][13]

An account of the Six Gallery reading forms the second chapter of Jack Kerouac's 1958 novel The Dharma Bums, a novel whose chief protagonist is a character based on one of the poets who had read at the event, Gary Snyder (called "Japhy Ryder" in Kerouac's roman clef). Most of the people in the Beat movement had urban backgrounds and they found Snyder to be an almost exotic individual, with his rural and back-country experience, and his education in cultural anthropology and Oriental languages. Lawrence Ferlinghetti has referred to him as "the Thoreau of the Beat Generation." One of the primary subjects of The Dharma Bums is Buddhism, and the different attitudes that Kerouac and Snyder have towards it. The Dharma Bums undoubtedly helped to popularize Buddhism in the West.

[edit] Women of the Beat Generation

There is typically very little mention of women in a history of the early Beat Generation, and a strong argument can be made that this omission is largely a reflection of the sexism of the time, rather than a reflection of the actual state of affairs.[14] Joan Vollmer was clearly there at the beginning of the Beat Generation, and all accounts describe her as a very intelligent and interesting woman. But she did not herself write and publish, and unlike the case of Neal Cassady, no one chose to write a book about her (though she appears as a minor figure in multiple authors' works[15]). She has gone down in history as the wife of William S. Burroughs, killed by him in a shooting incident (a drunken attempt at playing William Tell, by most accounts) which resulted in Burroughs' conviction in Mexico of homicide, with sentence suspended. Burroughs fled the country afterwards.[16]

Gregory Corso insisted that there were many female Beats. In particular, he claimed that a young woman he met in mid-1955 (Hope Savage, also called "Sura") introduced Kerouac and Ginsberg to subjects such as Li Po and was in fact their original teacher regarding eastern religion.[17] This claim may be an exaggeration, though, as a letter from Kerouac to Ginsberg in 1954 recommended a number of works about Buddhism.[18]

Corso insisted that it was hard for women to get away with a Bohemian existence in that era: they were regarded as crazy, and removed from the scene by force (e.g. by being subjected to electroshock).[19] This is confirmed by Diane DiPrima in a 1978 interview:

Potentially great women writers wound up dead or crazy. I think of the women on the Beat-scene with me in the early '50s, where are they now? I know Barbara Moraff is a potter and does some writing in Vermont, and that's about all I know. I know some of them ODed and some of them got nuts, and one woman that I was running around the Village with in '53 was killed by her parents putting her in a shock-treatment-place in Pennsylvania...[20]

However, a number of female beats have persevered, notably Joyce Johnson (author of Minor Characters); Carolyn Cassady (author of Off the Road); Hettie Jones (author of How I Became Hettie Jones); Joanne Kyger (author of As Ever, Going On, and Just Space); Harriet Sohmers Zwerling (author of Notes of a Nude Model & Other Pieces) the aforementioned Diane DiPrima (author of This Kind of Bird Flies Backward, Memoirs of a Beatnik, Loba, and many others); and ruth weiss (author of DESERT JOURNAL and many other poems and films). Later, other women writers emerged who were strongly influenced by the beats, such as Janine Pommy Vega (published by City Lights) in the 1960s, Patti Smith in the early 1970s, and Hedwig Gorski in the early 1980s.

[edit] Drug use

The original members of the Beat Generation group – in Allen Ginsberg's phrase, "the libertine circle" – used a number of different drugs. In addition to the alcohol common in American life, they were also interested in marijuana, benzedrine and, in some cases, opiates such as morphine. As time went on, many of them began using psychedelic drugs, such as peyote, yage (also known as Ayahuasca), and LSD. Much of this usage can fairly be termed "experimental," in that they were generally unfamiliar with the effects of these drugs, and there were intellectual aspects to their interest in them as well as a simple pursuit of hedonistic intoxication.

Benzedrine at that time was available in the form of plastic inhalers, containing a piece of folded paper soaked in the drug. They would typically crack open the inhalers and drop the paper in coffee, or just wad it up and swallow it whole. Opiates could be obtained in the form of morphine "syrettes": a squeeze tube with a hypodermic needle tip. As the Beat phenomenon spread (transforming from Beat to "beatnik" to "hippie,") usage of some of these drugs also became more widespread. According to stereotype, the "hippies" commonly used the psychedelic drugs (marijuana, LSD), though the use of other drugs such as amphetamines was also widespread.

The actual results of this "experimentation" can be difficult to determine. Claims that some of these drugs can enhance creativity, insight or productivity were quite common, as is the belief that the drugs in use were a key influence on the social events of the time (see recreational drug use).[21]

[edit] Sexuality

Many of the key Beat Generation figures were homosexual or bisexual, some of them quite openly, including two of the three most prominent writers, Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs. All three of these writers met each other because of the homosexual social connections, specifically David Kammerer's interest in Lucien Carr, and further

One of the contentious features of Ginsberg's poem Howl that drew the attention of the authorities were lines about homosexual anal sex. William Burroughs Naked Lunch primarily focuses on drug use, but also discusses sexual topics widely regarded as obscene: in addition to many references to homosexualily, it included explicit descriptions of a wide range of extreme sexual practices, including heterosexual anal "rimming" and necrophilia. Once these two works were put on trial for obscentity and won their cases, the doors were opened toward the publication of works on almost any subject: this was the beginning of the end of censorship of literature in the United States.

In comparison, Kerouac's writings were relatively mild. His first book based on Neal Cassady (On the Road) did not mention that Cassady was bisexual (though this point later appears in Visions of Cody). However "On the Road" does show Cassady as frankly promiscuous (for example, he asks a black man he met in a bar if he knows any women interested in "balling"). And the novels that followed on the road feature things such as an interracial love affair with a black woman (The Subterraneans) and a group sex scene with eight men on one woman (Dharma Bums).

The beginnings of the sexual revolution of the 1960s can be seen in the beats interest in alternate sexuality.

[edit] Writers

The press often used the term "Beat" in reference to a small group of writers and artists, the friends of Ginsberg, Kerouac, Burroughs and sometimes Corso. A slightly wider definition would expand it to include other similar poets from New York, but still regard the San Francisco Renaissance and the Black Mountain poets as separate movements.

Defined more broadly, the "Beat" category would include all of these sub-groups, and many other writers who reached prominence in the late 1950s and early 1960s, who shared many of the same themes, ideas, and intentions (dedication to spontaneity, open-form composition, subjectivity, and so on); even though they might have little social connection with the core group, and many might deny that they were ever a part of the "Beat Generation."

The main figures and early writers of the Beats were Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Neal Cassady, Gregory Corso, Herbert Huncke, Peter Orlovsky, and John Clellon Holmes. Certain poets the core Beats encountered in San Francisco were associated with the San Francisco Renaissance such as Gary Snyder, Philip Whalen, Lew Welch, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Harold Norse, Kirby Doyle, Michael McClure. The poets associated with the Black Mountain College were also associated with the Beat Generation, such as Robert Creeley, Denise Levertov, Robert Duncan (though Duncan was one of the most vocal early critics of the "Beat Generation" label). As well, there were the New York School poets such as Frank O'Hara, Kenneth Koch; surrealist poets Philip Lamantia and Ted Joans; and, poets who are occasionally called the "second wave" of the Beat Generation such as LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka, Diane DiPrima, Anne Waldman.

Other people associated with the Beats include Bob Kaufman, Tuli Kupferberg, Ed Sanders, Hubert Selby, Jr., John Wieners, Jack Micheline, A. D. Winans, Ray Bremser and Bonnie Bremser/Brenda Frazer, Ed Dorn, Jack Spicer, David Meltzer, Richard Brautigan, Lenore Kandel. Many previously underappreciated female writers were part of the Beat scene, such as Joanne Kyger, Kaye McDonough, Harriet Sohmers Zwerling, Janine Pommy Vega, Elise Cowen. A few younger writers who were acquaintances of the aforementioned writers (such as Bob Dylan, Ken Kesey, Jim Carroll, Ron Padgett) are occasionally included in this list. Charles Bukowski has a tenuous place on this list since his association is slight.

Several older writers were very closely associated with members of the "Beat Generation," though their reputations were solidified so much earlier that it is difficult to call them part of the same "generation." They include Kenneth Rexroth, the principal figure involved in the San Francisco Renaissance, and Charles Olson, the mentor to the Black Mountain poets and author of the highly influential essay "Projective Verse." Also, so many of these writers either studied personally with William Carlos Williams or looked up to Williams as an idol, that Beat writers are often seen as being the children of Williams.

[edit] Collaboration

Collaboration and mutual inspiration were an important part of the Beat Generation's literary process. Allen Ginsberg was a promoter of the works of a number of the other members of the Beat Generation. He considered himself a pro bono literary agent for all of his friends and for those with similar ideas. For example, he was instrumental in getting William S. Burroughs's first book, (Junkie,) published. Ginsberg had encouraged Burroughs to write in the first place. He did extensive editing on Naked Lunch, with some help from Kerouac and others. Burroughs and Ginsberg also collaborated on the book The Yage Letters.[8] Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs collaborated early on a parody of hardboiled detective fiction called And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks. Gregory Corso, Brion Gysin and William Burroughs collaborated in a book of cut-up poems "Minutes to Go" while living in Paris.

William Burrough's "Naked Lunch" was edited by Allen Ginsberg, Brion Gysin and Gregory Corso, while they lived in the Beat Hotel in 1956. Early in 1956 Jack Kerouac, in Tangiers, had assisted Burroughs in putting his prose "fragments" into novel form. Jack Kerouac incorporates many important Beat figures as characters in his novels. Two of his most important novels, On the Road and The Dharma Bums, feature characters based on Neal Cassady and Gary Snyder, respectively, as their chief protagonists.

The Beats often provided titles for one another's work. The naming of two important works is the subject of Beat legend. Ginsberg gives Kerouac credit for the name "Howl," even though the original manuscript Ginsberg sent to Kerouac had already been given the title "Howl for Carl Solomon." It's uncertain why Ginsberg would give Kerouac credit, but it's not surprising, considering the nature of their relationship. Kerouac also provided Burroughs with the title Naked Lunch, and, according to legend, when Ginsberg asked what it meant, Kerouac said he didn't know but they'd figure it out. Ginsberg gives some suggestions in a later poem: "On Burroughs' Work." He says, "A naked lunch is natural to us,/we eat reality sandwiches." Ginsberg also supposedly coined the term "the subterraneans" (an early attempt at a name for the Beat Generation), which became the title of an early Kerouac novel that was later made into a movie. Ginsberg suggested "Gasoline" to Corso, as the title for his second volume of poetry.

Members of the Beat Generation provided subject-matter for much of Allen Ginsberg's poetry. Neal Cassady in particular was a favorite subject of Ginsberg. Ginsberg dedicates his most famous poem, Howl, to Carl Solomon; Cassady and Solomon are specifically referenced throughout the poem. Other Beat Generation figures referenced in Howl include: Kerouac, Burroughs, Herbert Huncke, Tuli Kupferberg, and many more. He dedicated his first collection of poems, Howl and Other Poems, to Kerouac, Burroughs, Cassady, and originally Lucien Carr, though his name was taken off later at Carr's request. The dedication included all of their accomplishments including then unpublished On the Road, Naked Lunch, and Cassady's The First Third. Carr requested his name be taken off because he didn't want the attention. He dedicated many of his other poetry collections and some individual to poems to other Beat figures, including: Huncke, Cassady, Gregory Corso, Peter Orlovsky, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and Frank O'Hara. Many of them were also subjects of specific poems within these collections.[8]

Kerouac used a "roman clef" style, in which he used thinly disguised Beat characters and described their encounters. Allen Ginsberg appears in five novels as Irwin Garden, and under other names in four more books. William Burroughs is Bull or Will Hubbard, or Old Bull in four books. Corso is Raphael Urso in two books. Corso's letters indicate that Kerouac (as Leo Percepied) originally wrote the ending of The Subterraneans with Percepied killing Yuri Gilgoric (Corso) for sleeping with his African American girlfriend Mardou. Corso warned Kerouac that he would go "down in history as a murderer," and Kerouac rewrote the ending to spare Gilgoric's life by not hitting him with a raised cafe table.

Kerouac, Ginsberg, and Cassady collaborated on a poem called "Pull My Daisy." A section from "Pull My Daisy" was one of the first poems Ginsberg published. When Kerouac and Ginsberg later collaborated on a film with photographer Robert Frank based on a script by Kerouac for a play called The Beat Generation, they found that the title had already been copyrighted. They called the film Pull My Daisy instead. The actors included Ginsberg, Orlovsky, Corso, and Larry Rivers (a painter associated with the New York School), and Kerouac did the narration.[8] Gary Snyder dedicated several poems to Lew Welch and has mentioned other Beat figures, such as Kerouac and Philip Whalen, in his poetry.Frank O'Hara in his conversational poems often talks about eating lunch with "LeRoi" (LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka) and often alludes to other Beat writers, such as Ginsberg and John Wieners. LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka occasionally refers to other Beats in his writing (Snyder and Kerouac, for example). For a time in New York, Baraka and Diane DiPrima edited a magazine called Yugen, which published many of the Beat writers.[2][page needed]

[edit] Cultural context

The postwar era was a time where the dominant culture was desperate for a reassuring planned order; but there was a strong intellectual undercurrent calling for spontaneity, an end to psychological repression; a romantic desire for a more chaotic, Dionysian existence. The Beats were a manifestation of this undercurrent, but they were not the only one.

Before Jack Kerouac embraced "spontaneous prose," there were other artists pursuing self-expression by abandoning control, notably the improvisational elements in jazz music. The bop form of jazz championed by Charlie Parker and others was one of the biggest influences on many of the Beats (the horn-rimmed glasses, goatee, and beret sported by the stereotypical beatnik was derived from the fashion of trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie).

There is a close analogy between Kerouac's approach and the action paintings of Jackson Pollock and the work of other Abstract Expressionists such as Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline. Many members of the New York School of Abstract Expressionism were friends with many members of the Beat Generation and were closely tied with parallel movements such as the New York School of poetry and the Black Mountain school.

The Black Mountain school was associated with some other artists who also rejected refined control, though often with the opposite intent of suppressing the ego, and avoiding self-expression;[22] notably, the works of the composer/writer John Cage and the paintings and "assemblages" of Robert Rauschenberg. Cage's "chance operations" approach was very similar to the "cut-up" technique that Brion Gysin introduced to William Burroughs (after publishing Naked Lunch). For example, in "Minutes to Go," a collaboration of Corso, Gysin and Burroughs, was constructed by clipping phrases from newspapers, mixing them in a bowl, picking them out at random, and pasting them as a poem. This approach is virtually identical to one recommended by Tristan Tzara, a poet of the 1920s associated with the Dadaist/Surrealist movements, whose influence may be the common source of this trend of thought.

Robert Lowell, who is credited with founding confessional poetry (a school of poetry which later included Lowell's students Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton), was reportedly inspired to become more personal and emotionally vulnerable in his poetry by interactions he had with Beats in San Francisco. This is significant because Lowell was close friends with New Critics such as Allen Tate; Lowell's transition away from the traditional forms championed by the New Critics toward the non-traditional poetry of the Beats framed a significant debate in the poetry world during the Beat Generation.

[edit] Dadaism/Surrealism

Dadaism and Surrealism had a direct impact on many of the Beats: Dadaism with its attack on the elitism of high culture and its celebration of spontaneity; Surrealism with its transformation of the Dadaist rebellion into positive social intentions and its focus on revelations from the subconscious. Both movements, in a sense, developed as a reaction to World War I, just as the Beat Generation was reacting to the environment of post-World War II America.

Carl Solomon introduced the work of Surrealist Antonin Artaud to Ginsberg. Artaud had a strong influence on many of the other Beats. The poetry of Andr Breton was also a direct influence (see for example Ginsberg's Kaddish.) Since Surrealism was still in many ways a vital movement in the 1950s, the Beats had interactions with many Surrealists and former Dadaists. Beat associates such as Rexroth, Ferlinghetti, and Ron Padgett were responsible for translating a lot of the poetry from French and introducing it to English-speaking audiences.

Several Beat associates, such as Ted Joans, were actual members of the Surrealist group; another example is Philip Lamantia who was close with Breton and was responsible for introducing a lot of Surrealist poetry to the other Beats. The poetry of Gregory Corso and Bob Kaufman show the clearest influence of Surrealist poetry (the dream-like images, the seemingly random juxtaposition of dissociated images, for example), though this influence can also be seen in more subtle ways in other poetry, Ginsberg's in particular. When in France the Beats met many Surrealists and former Dadaists. As the legend goes, when they met Marcel Duchamp, Ginsberg kissed his shoe and Corso cut off his tie.[8][23][page needed] Many other French writers still active in the 1950s had a tremendous impact on the writing of the Beat Generation, writers such as Louis-Ferdinand Celine and Jean Genet. Older French writers rank high on the list of shared Beat influences: Apollinaire, for example. Beats also repeatedly invoke the spirit of Symbolists such as Arthur Rimbaud and Charles Baudelaire.

[edit] Romantic poets

Specific Romantic writers had a heavy influence on Beats: Gregory Corso, for example, worshiped Percy Shelley as a hero and was buried at the foot of Shelley's Grave in the Protestant Cemetery in Rome. Ginsberg mentions Shelley's Adonais at the beginning of Kaddish, and he cites it as a major influence on the composition of one of his most important poems. Michael McClure compared Ginsberg's Howl to Shelley's breakthrough poem Queen Mab.[24] Ginsberg's most important Romantic influence was Blake, who was the subject of Ginsberg's self-defining auditory hallucination/revelation in 1948, and Ginsberg subsequently spent much of his life studying Blake. Blake was also a major influence on Michael McClure. The first conversation between McClure and Ginsberg was about Blake (McClure saw him as a revolutionary; Ginsberg saw him as a prophet). John Keats was also an influence on many of the Beats.

Of arguably equal importance to the British Romantics was what is often termed American Romanticism. Whether or not this term is accurate, many writers under this umbrella were important to the Beats: Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Herman Melville and especially Walt Whitman. Edgar Allan Poe is occasionally cited as an influence, as in the line from Howl "who studied Plotinus Poe St. John of the Cross telepathy and bop kaballah..." And, though the comparison might not seem obvious, Ginsberg even claimed Emily Dickinson was an influence on Beat poetry. The novel You Can't Win by Jack Black had a strong influence on Burroughs, as did the short stories of British author Denton Welch.

[edit] Modernism

Though in ways the Beats were reacting against the tendency toward objective distancing and the focus on craft brought on by literary Modernism, (hence why the Beats are sometimes considered Postmodern) many modernist writers were major influences on the Beats: Marcel Proust, Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams and H.D.. Pound was specifically important to poets such as Gary Snyder, Allen Ginsberg, Charles Olson, and Robert Creeley. Pound was instrumental in introducing ideas of haiku and other Japanese and Chinese literary forms into Western literature. The Beats further adapted these ideas in their own work. William Carlos Williams was an influence on most of the Beats with his encouragement to speak with an American voice instead of imitating the European poetic voice and European forms. He specifically influenced Snyder, Whalen, and Welch when he came to lecture at Reed College. More importantly he personally mentored many important Beat figures: Charles Olson, Allen Ginsberg, Robert Creeley, Denise Levertov, among others.

He published several of Ginsberg's letters to him in his epic poem Paterson and wrote an introduction to two of Ginsberg's books. And many of the Beats (Ginsberg specifically) helped promote Williams' poetry and his play Many Loves. Ferlinghetti's City Lights even published a volume of his poetry. Williams is occasionally classified as both an Imagist and an Objectivist. Kenneth Rexroth was also considered a member of the Objectivists. H.D. (Hilda Doolittle), one of the key Imagists, was another important influence on the Beats. Robert Duncan wrote a book-length study of her work. Gertrude Stein, another important modernist and a major influence on many of the Beats, was the subject of a book-length study by Lew Welch. Marcel Proust, specifically in his Remembrance of Things Past, had an influence on Kerouac's Duluoz Legend concept: a single epic/personal story in multiple volumes. Other important Kerouac influences (and by extension Beat influences) include: Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe.

[edit] Open-form versus closed-form poetry

One way of understanding why the Beat Generation was considered radical, as well as measuring its impact on later writers, is to compare the literary establishment of the 1950s, especially as it involved poetry, with that of the 1960s to see how it had changed. Poetry in the 1950s was under the heavy influence of T. S. Eliot's often misinterpreted idea of poetry being an escape from self and the Modernist focus on objectivity. Similar to this, and perhaps an even more pervasive influence, were the ideas of the New Critics, including their conception of a poem as a perfectible object. In particular, the poetry of John Crowe Ransom and Robert Penn Warren was highly influential at this time. The focus of these poets on the formal aspects of poetry and their celebration of the short, ironic lyric led to a rise in formalist poetry and a preference for the short lyric. When the Beat poets came to prominence during this time, they were decried as sloppy libertines, and the Beat movement was characterized as at best only a passing fad which had been largely fueled by media-attention.

This antagonism between literary camps was framed by two rival anthologies. Three champions of formalist poetry, Louis Simpson, Donald Hall, and Robert Pack, were putting together an anthology of young poets called New Poets of England and America. Allen Ginsberg – who was a relentless promoter of the work of his friends and the work of those he admired – believing at the time that the Beat poets would be accepted by the literary establishment, brought Simpson, his old Columbia classmate, a packet of poetry including works by Gary Snyder, Philip Whalen, Robert Duncan, Ed Dorn, Robert Creeley, Philip Lamantia, Denise Levertov, Michael McClure, and Charles Olsen in hopes that these poets would be included in this new anthology. Simpson rejected every one of them. The introduction for the anthology was written by formalist hero Robert Frost. The anthology included poetry by Robert Bly, Donald Justice, James Merrill, W. S. Merwin, Howard Nemerov, Adrienne Rich, Richard Wilbur, and James Wright and many others. There is not a strict demarcation here between conservative and avant-garde poetry.

The anthology also included a number of English poets who were associated with a movement that, chronologically at least, ran parallel with the Beat Generation, the "Angry Young Men". These included poets such as Kingsley Amis, Philip Larkin, and Thom Gunn. However, the anthology did set a trend for who would become poets acceptable to academia and the literary establishment. For example, Robert Lowell and W. D. Snodgrass would be seminal in the creation of what later became known as confessional poetry, which helped finally overturn the strict focus on objectivity (Lowell, according to some accounts, was inspired to write more personal poetry by Ginsberg and the Beats).

Donald Allen of Grove Press accepted many of the manuscripts Ginsberg gave him for his rival anthology The New American Poetry 1945-1960. Poets in that anthology included John Ashbery, Paul Blackburn, Ray Bremser, Gregory Corso, Robert Creeley, Ed Dorn, Kirby Doyle, Robert Duncan, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Allen Ginsberg, LeRoi Jones, Jack Kerouac, Kenneth Koch, Philip Lamantia, Howard Hart (1927–2002), Denise Levertov, Michael McClure, Frank O'Hara, Charles Olson, Joel Oppenheimer, Peter Orlovsky, James Schuyler, Gary Snyder, Jack Spicer, Lew Welch, Philip Whalen, John Wieners, and Jonathan Williams. Don Allen framed the debate as "Open Form" (his anthology) vs. "Closed Form" (the other anthology). Though seeing it as a rivalry is overly simplistic (for example, many poets in New Poets of England and America were not strict formalists or have since moved away from formalism), the development of U.S. poetry in the later half of the 20th century is framed in these two anthologies.

Arguably, these poets have had equal impact on literature, and it can be said that Beat literature has changed the establishment so that academia is now more open to more radical forms of literature. For example, of the poets listed in this section, ten from New Poets of England and America and nine from The New American Poetry have been included in the Norton Anthology of American Literature. But Jack Kerouac, despite his impact on American culture and his status as an American icon, has only just been included in the 7th Edition of the Norton. Also, three poets from New Poets of England and America have served as Poets Laureate of the U.S. No Beat poet has ever served as Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress.[25][26]

[edit] The "Beatnik" era

The term "Beatnik" was coined by Herb Caen of the San Francisco Chronicle on 2 April 1958, a portmanteau on the name of the recent Russian satellite Sputnik and Beat Generation. Caen's coining of this term appeared to suggest that beatniks were (1) "far out of the mainstream of society" and (2) "possibly pro-Communist". His column reads as follows: "...Look magazine, preparing a picture spread on S.F.'s Beat Generation (oh, no, not AGAIN!), hosted a party in a No. Beach house for 50 Beatniks, and by the time word got around the sour grapevine, over 250 bearded cats and kits were on hand, slopping up Mike Cowles' free booze. They're only Beat, y'know, when it comes to work..."[27] Caen's new term stuck and became the popular label associated with a new stereotype of men with goatees and berets playing bongos while free-spirited women wearing black leotards dance.

An early example of playing up to the "beatnik stereotype" occurred in Vesuvio's (a bar in North Beach) which employed the artist Wally Hedrick to sit in the window dressed in full beard, turtleneck, and sandals, creating improvisational drawings and paintings; by 1958 tourists to San Francisco could take bus tours to view the North Beach Beat scene.[28] A variety of other small businesses also sprang up exploiting (and/or satirizing) the new craze. In 1959, Fred McDarrah started a "Rent-a-Beatnik" service in New York, taking out ads in The Village Voice and sending Ted Joans and friends out on calls to read poetry.[29] The image of the beatnik appeared in many cartoons, movies, and TV shows of the time, perhaps the most famous being Bob Denver's character Maynard G. Krebs in The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. (1959–63)

While some of the original Beats embraced the beatniks, or at least found the parodies humorous (Ginsberg, for example, appreciated the parody in Pogo[30]) others criticized the beatniks as inauthentic posers. Kerouac feared that the spiritual aspect of his message had been lost and that many were using the Beat Generation as an excuse to be senselessly wild.

But for many young people, the popular image of the beatnik was their first contact with the subject. As Glenn O'Brien put it, "Maynard was sloppy, lazy, and did not respond to the mainstream of varsity culture. Maynard was post-romantic, a dreaming realist. I didn't know what a bohemian was, but I knew one when I saw one. As a preteen, I sensed that a beatnik was what I wanted to be. Maynard G. Krebs was a satire on beatniks, but that didn't matter because beatness shone through."[31] Beat literature and the beatnik stereotype both had an influence on high school and college students during the late 1950s and very early 1960s.

[edit] "Hippie" era

Some time during the 1960s, the rapidly expanding Beat culture underwent a transformation: the Beat Generation gave way to The Sixties Counterculture, which was accompanied by a shift in public terminology from "beatnik" to "hippie". Many of the original Beats remained active participants, notably Allen Ginsberg, who became a fixture of the anti-war movement – though equally notably, Kerouac did not remain active on the scene: he broke with Ginsberg and criticized the 60s protest movements as "new excuses for spitefulness." According to Ed Sanders the change in the public label from beatnik to hippie happened after the 1967 Human Be-In in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park[32] (where Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder and Michael McClure were leading the crowd in chanting "Om"). There were some stylistic differences between beatniks and hippies – somber colors, dark shades, and goatees gave way to colorful psychedelic clothing and long hair. The beats were known for "playing it cool" (keeping a low profile) but the hippies became known for "being cool" (displaying their individuality).

In addition to the stylistic changes, there were some changes in substance: the beats tended to be essentially apolitical, but the hippies became actively engaged with the civil rights movement and the anti-war movement. To quote Gary Snyder in a 1974 interview:[33]

... the next key point was Castro taking over Cuba. The apolitical quality of Beat thought changed with that. It sparked quite a discussion and quite a dialogue; many people had been basic pacifists with considerable disillusion with Marxian revolutionary rhetoric. At the time of Castro's victory, it had to be rethought again. Here was a revolution that had used violence and that was apparently a good thing. Many people abandoned the pacifist position at that time or at least began to give more thought to it. In any case, many people began to look to politics again as having possibilities. From that follows, at least on some levels, the beginning of civil rights activism, which leads through our one whole chain of events: the Movement.

We had little confidence in our power to make any long range or significant changes. That was the 50s, you see. It seemed that bleak. So that our choices seemed entirely personal existential lifetime choices that there was no guarantee that we would have any audience, or anybody would listen to us; but it was a moral decision, a moral poetic decision. Then Castro changed things, then Martin Luther King changed things ...

[edit] Connections between beats and hippies

The Beats in general were a large influence on members of the new counterculture, for example, in the case of Bob Dylan who became a close friend of Allen Ginsberg. Ginsberg as early as 1960 became close friends with 60's icon Timothy Leary and helped him in distributing LSD to influential people (including Robert Lowell) in order to demystify drug paranoia. In 1963 Ginsberg lived in San Francisco with Neal Cassady and Charles Plymell at 1403 Gough St. Shortly after that Ginsberg connected with Ken Kesey's group who was doing LSD testing at Stanford, and Plymell, while he was publishing the first issue of R. Crumb's Zap Comix on his printing press a few years later. He then moved to Ginsberg's commune in Cherry Valley, NY in the early 1970s. (The Plymells never lived at the Farm, just visited there; although they remained in Cherry Valley.)

Cassady was the bus driver for an important early Hippie group, Ken Kesey's Merry Pranksters, which included several members of the Grateful Dead. When the Merry Pranksters, with Cassady's insistence, attempted to recruit Kerouac, Kerouac angrily rejected their invitation and accused them of attempting to destroy the American culture he celebrated. In addition to the "Human Be-In," Ginsberg was also present at another important event in Hippie culture: the protest at the 1968 Democratic Convention, and was friends with Abbie Hoffman and other members of the "Chicago Seven".

[edit] Influences on Western culture

A section devoted to the beat generation at a bookstore in Stockholm, Sweden.

While many authors claim to be directly influenced by the beats, the Beat Generation phenomenon itself has had a huge influence on Western Culture more broadly. In many ways, the Beats can be taken as the first subculture (here meaning a cultural subdivision on lifestyle/political grounds, rather than on any obvious difference in ethnic or religious backgrounds). During the very conformist post-World War II era they were one of the forces engaged in a questioning of traditional values which produced a break with the mainstream culture that to this day people react to – or against. The Beats produced a great deal of interest in lifestyle experimentation (notably in regards to sex and drugs); and they had a large intellectual effect in encouraging the questioning of authority (a force behind the anti-war movement); and many of them were very active in popularizing interest in Zen Buddhism in the West.

In 1982, Ginsberg published a summary of "the essential effects" of the Beat Generation [34]:

  • Spiritual liberation, sexual "revolution" or "liberation," i.e., gay liberation, somewhat catalyzing women's liberation, black liberation, Gray Panther activism.
  • Demystification and/or decriminalization of cannabis and other drugs.
  • The evolution of rhythm and blues into rock and roll as a high art form, as evidenced by the Beatles, Bob Dylan, and other popular musicians influenced in the later fifties and sixties by Beat generation poets' and writers' works.
  • Opposition to the military-industrial machine civilization, as emphasized in writings of Burroughs, Huncke, Ginsberg, and Kerouac.
  • Attention to what Kerouac called (after Spengler) a "second religiousness" developing within an advanced civilization.
  • Return to an appreciation of idiosyncrasy as against state regimentation.
  • Respect for land and indigenous peoples and creatures, as proclaimed by Kerouac in his slogan from On the Road: "The Earth is an Indian thing."

[edit] Literary legacy

Many novelists who emerged in the 1960s and 70s, many labeled postmodernists, were closely connected with older Beats and considered latter day Beats themselves, most notably Ken Kesey (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest) and Terry Southern (Dr. Strangelove). Other postmodern novelists, Thomas Pynchon (Gravity's Rainbow)[35] and Tom Robbins (Even Cowgirls Get the Blues) for example, considered the Beats to be major influences though they had no direct connection. William S. Burroughs is considered by some a forefather of postmodern literature; he inspired many later postmodernists and novelists in the cyberpunk genre. Inspired by the Beat Generation's focus on free speech and egalitarianism, Amiri Baraka went on to found the Black Arts movement which focused more specifically on issues in the African American community. Other notable writers associated with this movement include Gwendolyn Brooks, Maya Angelou, and Nikki Giovanni.

Since there was such a heavy focus on live performance among the Beats, many Slam poets have been influenced by the Beats. Saul Williams, for example, cites Allen Ginsberg, Amiri Baraka, and Bob Kaufman as major influences.[36]

The Postbeat Poets are a direct out-growth of the Beat Generation. Their association with or tutelage under Ginsberg at The Naropa University's Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics and later at Brooklyn College not only carried on the activist social justice legacy of the Beats, but also created its own body of experimental and culturally-influencing literature by Anne Waldman, Antler (poet), Andy Clausen, David Cope, Eileen Myles, Eliot Katz, Paul Beatty, Sapphire (author), Lesla Newman, Jim Cohn, Sharon Mesmer, Randy Roark and others.

[edit] Rock and roll connections

The image of the rebellious rock star is in many ways analogous to the Beat images such as Dean Moriarty in On the Road.

The Beats had a large influence on rock and roll including major figures such as the Beatles, Bob Dylan and Jim Morrison:

It's commonly believed that The Beatles spelled their name with an "a" as a Beat Generation reference [37], and Lennon was reportedly a fan of Jack Kerouac. [38]. Ginsberg later met and became friends with members of the Beatles. Paul McCartney played guitar on Ginsberg's album Ballad of the Skeletons.

Ginsberg was close friends with Bob Dylan[39] and toured with him on the Rolling Thunder Revue in 1975. Dylan cites Ginsberg and Kerouac as major influences.

Jim Morrison cites Kerouac as one of his biggest influences, and fellow Doors member Ray Manzarek has said "We wanted to be beatniks" [40]. Jim Morrison also studied poetry briefly with Jack Hirschman. Michael McClure was also friends with members of The Doors, at one point touring with keyboardist Ray Manzarek. Ginsberg was friends with Ken Kesey's Merry Pranksters, a group of which Cassady was a member, which also included members of the Grateful Dead. In the 1970s, Burroughs was friends with Mick Jagger, Lou Reed, and Patti Smith.

Singer-songwriter Tom Waits, a Beat fan, wrote "Jack and Neal" about Kerouac and Cassady, and recorded "On the Road" (a song written by Kerouac after finishing the novel) with Primus. He later collaborated with Burroughs on the theatrical work The Black Rider.

There was a resurgence of interest in the beats among bands in the 80s: Ginsberg has worked with The Clash. Burroughs worked with Sonic Youth, R.E.M., Kurt Cobain, and Ministry, amongst others. Bono of U2 cites Burroughs as a major influence, and Burroughs appeared briefly in a U2 video. Experimental musician and performance artist Laurie Anderson featured Burroughs on her 1984 album Mister Heartbreak and in her 1986 concert film, Home of the Brave. British progressive rock band Soft Machine is named after Burroughs' The Soft Machine. The 1980s incarnation of British progressive rock band King Crimson produced the album Beat inspired by the Beat Generation. The Beats are referenced in songs by artists such as: The Beastie Boys, Rage Against the Machine, 10,000 Maniacs, They Might Be Giants, Van Morrison, The Clean, Ani Difranco, and Bad Religion.

[edit] Criticism

One prominent critic of the Beats was Norman Podhoretz, a fellow student at Columbia who knew Ginsberg and Kerouac (some of his poetry was published by Ginsberg before their falling-out). In 1958, Partisan Review published his article "The Know-Nothing Bohemians," an attack on The Beats largely based on Kerouac's first two published books, On the Road and The Subterraneans, as well as, to a lesser extent, Ginsberg's Howl. The essay also reacts to an unidentified Norman Mailer piece (possibly "The White Negro").[41]

The main thrust of his attack is that the Beat embrace of spontaneity is bound up in an anti-intellectual worship of the primitive directly opposed to civilization and can easily turn toward mindless violence.

Podhoretz asserted that there was a link between the beats and the delinquents:

I happen to believe that there is a direct connection between the flabbiness of American middle-class life and the spread of juvenile crime in the 1950s, but I also believe that the juvenile crime can be explained partly in terms of the same resentment against normal feeling and the attempt to cope with the world through intelligence that lies behind Kerouac and Ginsberg. Even the relatively mild ethos of Kerouac's books can spill over easily into brutality, for there is a suppressed cry in those books: Kill the intellectuals who can talk coherently, kill the people who can sit still for five minutes at a time, kill those incomprehensible characters who are capable of getting seriously involved with a woman, a job, a cause.

Podhoretz echoes the then-current characterization of delinquents as "rebels without a cause."[42]:

The hipsters and hipster lovers of the Beat Generation are rebels, all right, but not against anything so sociological and historical as the middle class or capitalism or even respectability. This is the revolt of the spiritually underprivileged and the crippled of soul–young men who can't think straight and so hate anyone who can; [...]

The Bohemianism of the 1950s is [...] hostile to civilization; it worships primitivism, instinct, energy, "blood." To the extent that it has intellectual interests at all, they run to mystical doctrines, irrationalist philosophies, and left-wing Reichianism. The only art the new Bohemians have any use for is jazz, mainly of the cool variety. Their predilection for bop language is a way of demonstrating solidarity with the primitive vitality and spontaneity they find in jazz and of expressing contempt for coherent, rational discourse which, being a product of the mind, is in their view a form of death.

According to Podhoretz, Kerouac's anti-intellectualism was shown by his impoverished vocabulary:

Kerouac, however, manages to remain true to the spirit of hipster slang while making forays into enemy territory (i.e., the English language) by his simple inability to express anything in words. The only method he has of describing an object is to summon up the same half-dozen adjectives over and over again: "greatest," "tremendous," "crazy," "mad," "wild," and perhaps one or two others. When it's more than just mad or crazy or wild, it becomes "really mad" or "really crazy" or "really wild." (All quantities in excess of three, incidentally, are subsumed under the rubric "innumerable," a word used innumerable times in On the Road but not so innumerably in The Subterraneans.)

Podhoretz also criticizes Kerouac's racial attitudes:

[...] Kerouac's love for Negroes and other dark-skinned groups is tied up with his worship of primitivism, not with any radical social attitudes. Ironically enough, in fact, to see the Negro as more elemental than the white man, as Ned Polsky has acutely remarked, is "an inverted form of keeping the nigger in his place."

Ginsberg responded in a 1958 interview with The Village Voice (collected in Spontaneous Mind), specifically addressing the charge that the Beats destroyed "the distinction between life and literature.":

The novel is not an imaginary situation of imaginary truths–it is an expression of what one feels. Podhoretz doesn't write prose, he doesn't know how to write prose, and he isn't interested in the technical problems of prose or poetry. His criticism of Jack's spontaneous bop prosody shows that he can't tell the difference between words as rhythm and words as in diction ... The bit about anti-intellectualism is a piece of vanity, we had the same education, went to the same school, you know there are 'Intellectuals' and there are intellectuals. Podhoretz is just out of touch with twentieth-century literature, he's writing for the eighteenth-century mind. We have a personal literature now–Proust, Wolfe, Faulkner, Joyce.[43]

[edit] Internal criticism

Gary Snyder in a 1974 interview,[33] comments on the subject of "casualties" of the Beat Generation:[2]

Kerouac was a casualty too. And there were many other casualties that most people have never heard of, but were genuine casualties. Just as, in the 60s, when Allen and I for a period there were almost publicly recommending people to take acid. When I look back on that now I realize there were many casualties, responsibilities to bear.

[edit] Other critics

Bruce Conner stated: "I don–t know any artist that would call himself a beat artist... If somebody did, you–d consider him a fake, a fraud running a scam."[44]

[edit] The Beats comment on the Beat Generation

"The so-called Beat Generation was a whole bunch of people, of all different nationalities, who came to the conclusion that society sucked."
- Amiri Baraka
"John Clellon Holmes... and I were sitting around trying to think up the meaning of the Lost Generation and the subsequent existentialism and I said 'You know John, this is really a beat generation'; and he leapt up and said, 'That's it, that's right!'"[45]
- Jack Kerouac
"But yet, but yet, woe, woe unto those who think that the Beat Generation means crime, delinquency, immorality, amorality ... woe unto those who attack it on the grounds that they simply don–t understand history and the yearning of human souls ... woe in fact unto those who make evil movies about the Beat Generation where innocent housewives are raped by beatniks! ... woe unto those who spit on the Beat Generation, the wind–ll blow it back."
- Jack Kerouac
"Three writers does not a generation make."
- Gregory Corso[46] (sometimes also attributed to Gary Snyder).
"Nobody knows whether we were catalysts or invented something, or just the froth riding on a wave of its own. We were all three, I suppose."
- Allen Ginsberg[47]

[edit] See also

[edit] Notes

  1. ^ Charters (1992) The Portable Beat Reader. The table of contents shows Kerouac, Ginsberg and Burroughs as the first three featured authors.
  2. ^ a b c Charters (2001) Beat Down to Your Soul
  3. ^ Thomas Pynchon (1984) Slow Learner, pp.6-7 As quoted at "At the simplest level, it had to do with language. We were encouraged from many directions--Kerouac and the Beat writers, the diction of Saul Bellow in The Adventures of Augie March, emerging voices like those of Herbert Gold and Philip Roth--to see how at least two very distinct kinds of English could be allowed in fiction to coexist. Allowed! It was actually OK to write like this! Who knew? The effect was exciting, liberating, strongly positive."
  4. ^ Kerouac, Jack (author) and Ann Charters (edditor) (2007) The Portable Jack Kerouac . Penguin Classics,
  5. ^ Holmes, John Clellon. Passionate Opinions: The Cultural Essays (Selected Essays By John Clellon Holmes, Vol 3). University of Arkansas Press, 1988. ISBN 1-55728-049-5
  6. ^ Morgan (1983) p. 96
  7. ^ according to Burroughs himself, in the documentary Burroughs (1983) Howard Brookner (director),
  8. ^ a b c d e Miles (2001) Ginsberg
  9. ^ Letter from Kerouac to Neal Cassady, of June 10, 1951: "I wrote that book on COFFEE ... remember said rule. Benny, tea, anything I KNOW none as good as coffee for real mental power kicks." This is quoted by Howard Cunnell in the introduction to On the Road: The Original Scroll, Howard Cunnell, ed. Viking (2007), ISBN 978-0-670-06355-0 books
  10. ^ Morgan (1983) pp. 226-228
  11. ^ Jonah Raskin, American Scream: Allen Ginsberg's "Howl" and the Making of the Beat Generation:

    Wally Hedrick, a painter and veteran of the Korean War, approached Ginsberg in the summer of 1955 and asked him to organize a poetry reading at the Six Gallery...At first, Ginsberg refused. But once he–d written a rough draft of Howl, he changed his "fucking mind," as he put it.

  12. ^ Ginsberg, Allen. Howl. 1986 critical edition edited by Barry Miles, Original Draft Facsimile, Transcript & Variant Versions, Fully Annotated by Author, with Contemporaneous Correspondence, Account of First Public Reading, Legal Skirmishes, Precursor Texts & Bibliography ISBN 0-06-092611-2 (pbk.)
  13. ^ McClure, Michael. Scratching the Beat Surface: Essays on New Vision from Blake to Kerouac. Penguin, 1994. ISBN 0-14-023252-4
  14. ^ Wills, D. "The Women of the Beat Generation," in Wills, D. (ed.) Beatdom Vol. 2, Mauling Press: Dundee, 2008, pp. 14–18
  15. ^ Brenner, Joseph M. "Looking for Joan Vollmer" (website). The doomfiles March 16, 2004. Available online: web page
  16. ^ Grauerholz, James. The Death of Joan Vollmer Burroughs: What Really Happened? American Studies Department, University of Kansas.
  17. ^ Lerner, Richard and Lewis MacAdams, directors What Ever Happened to Kerouac? (1985)
  18. ^ Knight, Arthur and Kit ed. The Beat Vision, Paragon House, New York, 1987, ISBN 0-913729-41-8, p. 115
  19. ^ Knight, Brenda. ed. Women of the Beat Generation: The Writers, Artists and Muses at the Heart of a Revolution, Conari Press, Berkeley, CA ISBN 1-57324-138-5 p. 141. A quotation attributed to "Stephen Scobie's account of the Naropa Institute's tribute to Ginsberg, July 1994."
  20. ^ Knight, Arthur and Kit ed., The Beat Vision, Paragon House, New York, 1987, ISBN 0-913729-41-8 pg. 144
  21. ^ McClure, Scratching the Beat Surface
  22. ^ McClure,Scratching the Beat Surface
  23. ^ Ginsberg, Howl: Original Draft Facsimile
  24. ^ McClure, Michael. Scratching the Beat Surface
  25. ^ Allen, Donald. (ed.) The New American Poets: 1945–1960. University of California Press, 1999. ISBN 0-520-20953-2
  26. ^ Hall, Donald et al. (ed.)New Poets of England and America.Meridian Books, 1957.ASIN: B000CKJ8M4
  27. ^ Herb Caen (1997-02-06). "Pocketful of Notes". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2010-01-30. 
  28. ^ William T. Lawlor ed., Beat Culture: Lifestyles, Icons and Impact, pg. 309.
  29. ^ Arthur and Kit Knight ed., The Beat Vision, Paragon House, New York, 1987, pg. 281
  30. ^ Ginsberg, Howl: Original Draft Facsimile,
  31. ^ O'Brien, Glenn "The Beat Goes On" collected in Beat Culture and the New America 1950–1965 published by the Whitney Museum of American Art 1995/1996 ISBN 0-87427-098-7 softcover, ISBN 2-08-013613-5 hardcover (Flammarion)
  32. ^ Workman, Chuck, writer and director of the documentary The Source (1999)
  33. ^ a b Knight, Arthur Winfield. Ed. The Beat Vision (1987) Paragon House. ISBN 0-913729-40-X; ISBN 0-913729-41-8 (pbk)
  34. ^ Ginsberg, Allen A Definition of the Beat Generation, from Friction, 1 (Winter 1982), revised for Beat Culture and the New America: 1950–1965,
  35. ^ Pynchon, Thomas. Slow Learner. Vintage Classics, 2007. ISBN 0-09-953251-4
  36. ^ Williams, Saul. Said the Shotgun to the Head. MTV, 2003. ISBN 0-7434-7079-6
  37. ^ "... the name Beatles comes from 'Beat' ..." Regina Weinreich, "Books: The Birth of the Beat Generation", The Sunday New York Times Book Review, January 11, 1996, a review of Steven Watson's THE BIRTH OF THE BEAT GENERATION: Visionaries, Rebels, and Hipsters 1944-1960
  38. ^ Ellis Amburn describes a telephone conversation with Jack Kerouac: "John Lennon subsequently contacted Kerouac, revealing that the band's name was derived from 'Beat.' 'He was sorry he hadn't come to see me when they played Queens,' Kerouac said, referring to the Beatles Shea Stadium concert in 1965." Amburn, Ellis Subterranean Kerouac: the hidden life of Jack Kerouac, p. 342, ISBN 0-312-20677-1
  39. ^ Wills, D. "Father & Son: Allen Ginsberg and Bob Dylan," in Wills, D. (ed.) Beatdom Vol. 1 (Mauling Press: Dundee, 2007) p. 90-93
  40. ^ "As Ray Manzarek recalls when Morrison was studying at UCLA: 'He certainly had a substantial investment in books. They filled an entire wall of his apartment. His reading was very eclectic. It was typical of the early- to mid-sixties hipster student. [...] And lots of Beatniks. We wanted to _be_ beatniks. But we were too young. We came a little too late, but we were worshippers of the Beat Generation. All the Beat writers filled Morrison's shelves [...]' (Manzarek 1999, 77)" Sheila Whiteley, Too much too young: popular music, age and gender (2005, Routledge) ISBN 0415310288, 9780415310284 A google books search partially confirms this quotation within a quotation: "Light My Fire: My Life With the Doors" by Ray Manzarek (2000, Berkley Boulevard) ISBN 0425170454, 9780425170458
  41. ^ Collected in The Norman Podhoretz Reader by Norman Podhoretz, Thomas L. Jeffers, Paul Johnson. Free Press, 2007. ISBN 978-1-4165-6830-8
  42. ^ The James Dean film Rebel Without a Cause was released in 1955, two years before On the Road, and still earlier than that there was a joke in the film The Wild One (1953) to the effect that the "Black Rebels Motorcycle Club" will rebel against anything at all.
  43. ^ Ginsberg, Allen, Spontaneous Mind: Selected Interviews, 1958–1996, p. 5 ISBN 0-06-093082-9
  44. ^ Selz, Peter and Landauer, Susan. Art of Engagement: Visual Politics in California and Beyond, UC Press, 2006, p. 89.
  45. ^ Rees, Nigel. Sterling: Brewer's Famous Quotations: 5000 Quotations and the Stories Behind Them, 2006.
  46. ^ Lerner, Richard and Lewis MacAdams, directors "What Ever Happened to Kerouac?" (1985)
  47. ^ Burns, Glen Great Poets Howl: A Study of Allen Ginsberg's Poetry, 1943–1955 ISBN 3-8204-7761-6

[edit] References

[edit] Further reading

  • Campbell, James. This Is the Beat Generation: New York–San Francisco-Paris. LA: University of California Press, 2001. ISBN 0-520-23033-7
  • Cook, Bruce The Beat Generation: The tumultuous '50's movement and its impact on today. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1971. ISBN 0-684-12371-1.
  • Gifford, Barry and Lawrence LeeJack's Book An Oral Biography Of Jack Kerouac, New York: St. Martin's Press, 1978. ISBN 0-312-43942-3
  • Grace, NancyJack Kerouac and the Literary Imagination, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007. ISBN 1-4039-6850-0
  • Hemmer, Kurt ed. Encyclopedia of Beat Literature. Facts on File, 2006. ISBN 0-8160-4297-7
  • Hrebeniak, Michael. Action Writing: Jack Kerouac's Wild Form, Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois UP, 2006.
  • Johnson, Ronna C. and Nancy Grace Girls Who Wore Black: Women Writing the Beat Generation. Rutgers, 2003. ISBN 081353065
  • McDarrah, Fred W. and Gloria S. McDarrah. Beat Generation: Glory Days in Greenwich Village Schirmer Books (September 1996) ISBN 0-8256-7160-4
  • McNally, Dennis. Desolate Angel: Jack Kerouac, the Beat Generation, and America. NY: DeCapo, 2003. ISBN 0-306-81222-3
  • Miles, Barry. The Beat Hotel: Ginsberg, Burroughs & Corso in Paris, 1957–1963. NY: Grove Press, 2001. ISBN 0-8021-3817-9
  • Sanders, Ed Tales of Beatnik Glory (second edition, 1990) ISBN 0-8065-1172-9
  • Theado, Matt (ed.). The Beats: A Literary Reference. NY: Carrol & Graff, 2002. ISBN 0-7867-1099-3
  • Watson, Steven. The Birth of the Beat Generation: Visionaries, Rebels, and Hipsters, 1944–1960. NY: Pantheon, 1998. ISBN 0-375-70153-2

[edit] Films about the Beat Generation

  • Jack Kerouac (wrote), Robert Frank and Alfred Leslie (directed) Pull My Daisy (1958)
  • Richard Lerner and Lewis MacAdams (directed) Whatever Happened To Kerouac? (1986) Documentary.
  • Burroughs appeared at "Drugstore Cowboy" final scenes (1989)
  • Chuck Workman (wrote and directed) The Source (1999)
  • Gary Walkow (wrote and directed) Beat (2000)
  • Allen Ginsberg Live in London (1995)

[edit] External links

[edit] General Beat Generation pages

[edit] Beat tourism pages

[edit] Photographs

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