The Beat Generation is a term used to describe both a group of American
writerswho came to prominence in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and the cultural phenomena that they wrote about and inspired (later sometimes called " beatniks"): a rejection of mainstream American values, experimentation with drugs and alternate forms of sexuality, and an interest in Eastern spirtuality.
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). [Charters, Ann ed."The Portable Beat Reader" published by Penguin books. ISBN 9780142437537. The [http://us.penguingroup.com/nf/Book/BookDisplay/0,,9780142437537,00.html?sym=TAB table of contents is online] , and shows Kerouac, Ginsberg and Burroughs as the first three featured authors.] Both "Howl" and "Naked Lunch" were the focus of obscenitytrials that ultimately helped to liberalize what could be published in the United States. "On the Road" transformed Kerouac's friend Neal Cassadyinto 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. 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".
The press often used the term "Beat Generation" in reference to a small group of writers, the friends of Ginsberg, Kerouac, Burroughs and sometimes Corso. A slightly wider definition would expand it to include other members of the "New York Beats", but still regard the
San Francisco Renaissanceand the Black Mountain poetsas 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, early 1960s, who shared many of the same themes, ideas, and intentions (dedication to spontaneity, open-form composition, subjectivity, and so on); even though some of these 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 Collegewere 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 Schoolpoets such as Frank O'Hara, Kenneth Koch; surrealistpoets Philip Lamantiaand 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 Bremserand 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 Bukowskihas 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 Williamsor looked up to Williams as an idol, that Beat writers are often seen as being the children of Williams.
The Beat Generation works highlighted the primacy of such Beat Generation essentials as spontaneity, open emotion, visceral engagement in often gritty worldly experiences; in a seeming paradox, the Beats often emphasized a spiritual yearning, using concepts and imagery from Buddhism, Judaism, Catholicism, and so on. Thus members of the Beat Generation sought a synthesis of the "beaten down" and the "beatific," as Kerouac described it. One of the most well 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.
The language and topics (drug use, sexuality, aberrant behavior) pushed the boundaries of acceptability in the conformist 1950's. The first "Beat" work to gain nationwide attention was Ginsberg's "
Howl" based partly on its graphic sexual language; an obscenity-trial helped fuel its fame. One of the most enduringly famous "Beat" works, Kerouac's " On the Road" (written in 1951), which had much of its objectionable material edited out, was not published until 1957, in a sense capitalizing on the fame brought by the "Howl" obscenity-trial; Kerouac was subsequently accused of encouraging delinquency. Burroughs' magnum opus, " Naked Lunch", which was much more graphic than "Howl", likewise 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. [Charters, Ann (ed.). "Beat Down to Your Soul: What Was the Beat Generation?" NY: Penguin, 2001. ISBN-10: 0141001518]
Origin of name
Jack Kerouacintroduced 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 manifestoof 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 Hunckewhere 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 Generationmight 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. [Kerouac, Jack. "The Portable Kerouac". Ed. Ann Charters. Penguin Classics, 2007.] [Holmes, John Clellon. "Passionate Opinions: The Cultural Essays (Selected Essays By John Clellon Holmes, Vol 3)". University of Arkansas Press, 1988. ISBN-10: 1557280495]
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 Vollmerand 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" [Morgan, Ted "Literary Outlaw The Life and Times of William S. Burroughs" (1983) ISBN 0-380-70882-5 p. 96, first printing, trade paperback edition Avon, NY, NY] ), 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 Renaissancesuch 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 Kaufmanwho 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 Schoolof 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.
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 Trillingand Mark Van Doren. This was the same environment in which some of their classmates, such as Louis Simpsonand 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.
They soon met people outside of Columbia University such as Burroughs, Hunke, and Cassady and the new focus became real life experiences in contrast to the academic environment of Columbia. Perhaps the most important early experience that drew most of the members of the Beat Generation together was Lucien Carr's stabbing of David Kammerer. This was one reason why Burroughs maintained his close-but-distant relationship with the rest of the Beats. The stabbing was an incident that Kerouac tried to capture twice, once in his first novel "
The Town and the City" and then again in one of his last, " Vanity of Duluoz".
Burroughs was born in
St. Louis, Missouriin 1914; making him roughly ten years older than most of the other original beats. While still living in St. Louis, Burroughs met David Kammerer, and thus began an association presumably based on their shared homosexual orientation and intellectual tendencies. 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 formed a pattern of 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 [according to Burroughs himself, in the documentary Burroughs (1983) Howard Brookner (director), ] ). 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 Universityin 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 him 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 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 Squarearea. 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.
In 1949 Ginsberg got in trouble with the law because of this association. 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 rode with Huncke to transport these stolen goods which led to a car chase with the police. Ginsberg pleaded insanity and was briefly committed to Bellevue Hospital, where he met Carl Solomon. When committed, Carl Solomon was more eccentric than psychotic.
A fan of
Antonin Artaud, he indulged in some self-consciously "crazy" behavior, e.g. 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. If not crazy when he was admitted, Solomon was arguably driven mad by the shock treatments applied at Bellevue, and this is one of the things referred to many times by Ginsberg in " 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. [Miles, Barry. "Ginsberg: A Biography". London: Virgin Publishing Ltd. (2001), paperback, 628 pages, ISBN 0-7535-0486-3]
The introduction of
Neal Cassadyinto 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 below). He was not much of a writer himself, though 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 jazzmusic). "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 after 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.
Gregory Corsomet 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 [Morgan, Ted "Literary Outlaw The Life and Times of William S. Burroughs" (1983) ISBN 0-380-70882-5 p. 226-228, first printing, trade paperback edition Avon, NY, NY] ) 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."
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 Bookstoreand 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[ Jonah Raskin, American Scream: Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” and the Making of the Beat Generation:
] to organize the famous
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. Six Gallery readingin 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. [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.)] [McClure, Michael. "Scratching the Beat Surface: Essays on New Vision from Blake to Kerouac". Penguin, 1994. ISBN-10: 0140232524]
An account of the
Six Gallery readingforms 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 à 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 anthropologyand 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.
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
sexismof the time, rather than a reflection of the actual state of affairs. Joan Vollmer(later, Joan Vollmer Adams Burroughs) 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. [Brenner, Joseph M. "Looking for Joan Vollmer" (website). "The Doom files". March 16, 2004. Available online: [http://obsidianrook.com/doomfiles/LOOKING_FOR_JOAN_VOLLMER.html web page] ] ). She has gone down in history as the wife of William S. Burroughs, who was killed by him in a shooting-incident (often called "accidental") that resulted in Burroughs' conviction in Mexico of homicide, but with sentence suspended. [Grauerholz, James. "The Death of Joan Vollmer Burroughs: What Really Happened?". American Studies Department, University of Kansas. [http://old.lawrence.com/burroughs/deathofjoan-full.pdf Online.] ] Gregory Corsoinsisted 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 Poand was in fact their original teacher regarding eastern religion [Lerner, Richard and Lewis MacAdams, directors “What Ever Happened to Kerouac?” (1985)] (this claim must be an exaggeration, however: a letter from Kerouac to Ginsberg in 1954 recommended a number of works about Buddhism [Knight, Arthur and Kit ed., The Beat Vision, pg. 115 (Paragon House, New York, 1987) ISBN 0-913729-41-8 (pbk.)] ).
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) [Knight, Brenda. ed. Women of the Beat Generation: The Writers, Artists and Muses at the Heart of a Revolution. p.141 (Conari Press, Berkeley, CA) ISBN 1-57324-138-5 A quotation attributed to "Stephen Scobie's account of the Naropa Institute's tribute to Ginsberg, July 1994"] . This is confirmed by Diane DiPrima(in a 1978 interview [Knight, Arthur and Kit ed., The Beat Vision, pg. 144 (Paragon House, New York, 1987) ISBN 0-913729-41-8 (pbk.) Note: "ODed" (no apostrophe) is "sic"] ): :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 Moraffis 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 ...
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"; "Just Space"); Harriet Sohmers Zwerling(author of "Notes of a Nude Model & Other Pieces"); and the aforementioned Diane DiPrima (author of "This Kind of Bird Flies Backward", "Memoirs of a Beatnik", "Loba", and many others). 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 Smithin the early 1970s, and performance poet Hedwig Gorskiin the early 1980s.
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,
benzedrineand, 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). [McClure, "Scratching the Beat Surface"]
Collaboration and mutual inspiration were an important part of the Beat Generation's literary process.
Allen Ginsbergwas 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". [Miles, "Ginsberg"] Jack Kerouacand William S. Burroughs and Corso collaborated early on a parody of hardboiled detective fiction called " And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks". Gregory Corso, Brion Gysinand William Burroughscollaborated 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 Gysinand Gregory Corso, while they lived in Paris Hotel in 1956. Early in 1956 Jack Kerouac, in Tangiers, had assisted Burroughs in putting his prose "fragments" into novel form. Jack Kerouacincorporates 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 Cassadyand 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 Cassadyin 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. [Miles, "Ginsberg"]
Kerouac used a "roman à 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 Frankbased 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. [Miles, "Ginsberg"] Gary Snyderdedicated several poems to Lew Welchand has mentioned other Beat figures, such as Kerouac and Philip Whalen, in his poetry. Frank O'Harain 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 Barakaoccasionally refers to other Beats in his writing (Snyder and Kerouac, for example). For a time in New York, Baraka and Diane DiPrimaedited a magazine called "Yugen", which published many of the Beat writers. [Charters, Ann (ed.). "Beat Down to Your Soul"]
Before Jack Kerouac embraced "spontaneous prose", there were other artists pursuing self-expression by abandoning control, notably the improvisational elements in jazz music. The
bopform of jazz championed by Charlie Parkerand others was one of the biggest influences on many of the Beats; in fact, the horn-rimmed glasses, goatee, and beret sported by the stereotypical beatnik was derived from the fashion of trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie. The "cut-up" method most famously employed by William S. Burroughs may have its origins many years earlier in the poetry of Dadaist/ Surrealist Tristan Tzarawho recommended putting cut up words in a bag and pulling them out randomly to create a poem. "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 in a poet form, pushed the form to Tzara's ad absurdum. Dadaismand Surrealismhad 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 WWI, just as the Beat Generation was reacting to the environment of post-WWII America. Carl Solomonintroduced the work of Surrealist Antonin Artaudto Ginsberg. Artaud had a strong influence on many of the other Beats. The poetry of Andre Bretonwas also a direct influence (see for example Ginsberg's "Kaddish"). Since Surrealismwas 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 Padgettwere 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 Lamantiawho was close with Breton and was responsible for introducing a lot of Surrealist poetry to the other Beats. The poetry of Gregory Corsoand Bob Kaufmanshow 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. [Miles, "Ginsberg"] [Ginsberg, "Howl: Original Draft Facsimile"] 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 Celineand 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 Rimbaudand Charles Baudelaire.
Specific Romantic writers had a heavy influence on Beats:
Gregory Corso, for example, worshiped Percy Shelleyas 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". [McClure, Michael. "Scratching the Beat Surface"] 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 Keatswas 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 Melvilleand especially Walt Whitman. Edgar Allan Poeis 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 Dickinsonwas 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.
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 Williamsand 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 haikuand 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
Imagistand an Objectivist. Kenneth Rexrothwas also considered a member of the Objectivists. H.D. ( Hilda Doolittle), one of the key Imagists, was another important influence on the Beats. Robert Duncanwrote 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 Hemingwayand Thomas Wolfe.
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 (and over time, a primary focus for those energies), but they were not the only one. Close analogies to the writings of the Beats can be found in the action paintings of
Jackson Pollockand the work of other Abstract Expressionistssuch as Willem DeKooningand Franz Kline. Many members of the New York Schoolof Abstract Expressionism were friends with many members of the Beat Generation; they were so closely tied with parallel movements such as the New York Schoolof poetry and the Black Mountain school.
Black Mountain was associated with many other artists in the post-war period who embraced a similar disdain for refined control, often with the opposite intent of suppressing the ego, and avoiding self-expression; [McClure,"Scratching the Beat Surface"] notably, the works of the composer/writer
John Cageand the paintings and "assemblages" of Robert Rauschenberg. The "cut-up" technique that Brion Gysindeveloped and that William Burroughs adopted after publishing "Naked Lunch" bears a strong resemblance to Cage's "chance operations" approach. Robert Lowell, who is credited with founding confessional poetry(a school of poetry which later included Lowell's students Sylvia Plathand 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 Criticssuch 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.
Open-Form vs. 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 Modernistfocus 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 Ransomand Robert Penn Warrenwas 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 Olsenin 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 Wrightand 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 Lowelland W. D. Snodgrasswould 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 Allenof Grove Pressaccepted 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, 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 twentieth 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. [Allen, Donald. (ed.) "The New American Poets: 1945-1960". University of California Press, 1999. ISBN-10: 0520209532] [Hall, Donald et al. (ed.)"New Poets of England and America".Meridian Books, 1957.ASIN: B000CKJ8M4]
The "Beatnik" era
The term "
Beatnik" was coined by Herb Caenof the " San Francisco Chronicle" on 2 April 1958, likely as a play on the name of the recent Russian satellite Sputnik. 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's free booze. They're only Beat, y'know, when it comes to work...". 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 Hedrickto sit in the window dressed in full beard, turtleneck, and sandals and create improvisational drawings and paintings; by 1958 tourists to San Francisco could take bus tours to view the North Beach Beat scene. [William T. Lawlor ed., "Beat Culture: Lifestyles, Icons and Impact", pg. 309.] 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 Joansand friends out on calls to read poetry. [Arthur and Kit Knight ed., "The Beat Vision", Paragon House, New York, 1987, pg. 281] 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. Krebsin " The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis" (1959-1963).
While some of the original Beats embraced the beatniks, or at least found the parodies humorous (Ginsberg, for example, appreciated the parody in "Pogo" [Ginsberg, "Howl: Original Draft Facsimile"] ), 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.
Bruce Conneralso 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.” [Peter Selz and Susan Landauer, "Art of Engagement: Visual Politics in California and Beyond", UC Press, 2006, pg.89.]
But for many young people, the popular image of the beatnik was their first contact with the subject. As
Glenn O'Brienput 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." [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 2-08013-613-5 hardcover (Flammarion)] Thousands of young people on college campuses and high schools came to regard themselves as beats or beatniks in the late 1950s and very early 1960s and many of them were in sympathy with the popular stereotypefact|date=February 2007.
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." This was in many respects a gradual transition. 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 Sandersthe change in the public label from beatnik to hippie happened after the 1967 Human Be-Inin San Francisco's Golden Gate Park [Workman, Chuck, writer and director of the documentary "The Source" (1999)] (where Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder and Michael McClure were leading the crowd in chanting "Om"). There were certainly 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: [Knight, Arthur Winfield. Ed. "The Beat Vision" (1987) Paragon House. ISBN 0-913729-40-X; ISBN 0-913729-41-8 (pbk)]
... 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 ...
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 Dylanwho became a close friend of Allen Ginsberg. Ginsberg as early as 1960 became close friends with 60's icon Timothy Learyand 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 Cassadyand Charles Plymellat 1403 Gough St. Shortly after that Ginsberg connected with Ken Kesey's group who was doing LSD testing at Stanford, and Plymell, which publishing the first issue of R. Crumb's Zap Comixon his printing press a few years later then moved to Ginsberg's commune in Cherry Valley, NYin 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. A sign of Kerouac's break with this new direction in counterculture occurred 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 Hoffmanand other members of the " Chicago Seven."
Influences on Western Culture
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 IIera 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 Buddhismin the West.
Allen Ginsberg's "A Definition of the Beat Generation": [Ginsberg, Allen "A Definition of the Beat Generation", from "Friction, 1" (Winter 1982), revised for "Beat Culture and the New America: 1950-1965"] , he characterized some of the essential effects of Beat Generation artistic movement as including spiritual liberation, sexual "revolution" or "liberation,"(e.g., gay liberation, somewhat catalyzing women's liberation, black liberation, Gray Panther activism); liberation of the word from censorship, and demystification and/or decriminalization of cannabisand other drugs. Ginsberg claimed that the Beat Generation began to view 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. It also included the spread of ecological consciousness, emphasized early on by Gary Snyderand Michael McClure, the notion of a "Fresh Planet" and opposition to the military-industrial machine civilization, as emphasized in writings of Burroughs, Huncke, Ginsberg, and Kerouac. There was increasing 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." [Charters, Ann. Ed. 1992. "The Portable Beat Reader". Penguin Books. ISBN 0-670-83885-3 (hc); ISBN 0-14-015102-8 (pbk).] As well, Beats paid more attention to what Kerouaccalled (after Spengler) a "second religiousness" developing within an advanced civilization, and there was a return to an appreciation of idiosyncrasy as opposed to state regimentation.
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") [Pynchon, Thomas. "Slow Learner". Vintage Classics, 2007. ISBN-10: 0099532514] 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. Burroughsis considered by some a forefather of postmodern literature; he inspired many later postmodernists and novelists in the cyberpunkgenre. Inspired by the Beat Generation's focus on free speech and egalitarianism, Amiri Barakawent on to found the Black Artsmovement 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 Kaufmanas major influences. [Williams, Saul. "Said the Shotgun to the Head". MTV, 2003. ISBN-10: 0743470796]
Rock and roll connections
The Beats had a large influence on
rock and rollincluding major figures such as the Beatles, Bob Dylanand Jim Morrison. 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 Beatles spelled their name with an "a" because John Lennonwas a fan of Kerouac. [Watson, Steven. "The Birth of the Beat Generation: Visionaries, Rebels, and Hipsters, 1944-1960". NY: Pantheon, 1998. ISBN-10: 0375701532 ] 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 and toured with him on the Rolling Thunder Revuein 1975. Dylan cites Ginsberg and Kerouac as major influences. Jim Morrison cites Kerouac as one of his biggest influences. He also studied poetry briefly with Jack Hirschman. Michael McClurewas also friends with members of The Doors, at one point touring with keyboardist Ray Manzarek. Ginsberg was friends with, and Cassady was a member of, Ken Kesey's Merry Pranksters, a group that 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 also co-wrote " The Black Rider" with Burroughs.
Ginsberg has worked with
The Clash. Burroughs worked with Sonic Youth, R.E.M., Kurt Cobain, and Ministry, amongst others. Bonoof U2cites Burroughs as a major influence, and Burroughs appeared briefly in a U2 video. Experimental musician and performance artist Laurie Andersonfeatured Burroughs on her 1984 album " Mister Heartbreak" and in her 1986 concert film, "Home of the Brave". The British progressive rockband Soft Machineis named after Burroughs' " The Soft Machine". 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, Bad Religion, and King Crimson.
One prominent critic of the Beats was
Norman Podhoretz. He was a student at Columbia who knew Ginsberg and Kerouac (some of his student poetry was published by Allen Ginsberg before their falling-out). Later Podhoretz became editor of the neo-conservative publication "Commentary". In 1958, he published an article in the "Partisan Review" titled "The Know-Nothing Bohemians" [Collected in "The Norman Podhoretz Reader" by Norman Podhoretz, Thomas L. Jeffers, Paul Johnson. Free Press, 2007. ISBN-13: 978-1-4165-6830-8] , which is an attack on "The Beat Generation" largely based Kerouac's first two published books, "On the Road" and "The Subterraneans", and also, to a lesser extent, on Ginsberg's "Howl" (Burroughs had not yet been published). More unusually, this essay also works with a reading of an unidentified Norman Mailer article.
The main thrust of his attack is that the Beat embrace of spontaniety is bound up in an anti-intellectual worship of the primitive that's 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 1950's, 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" [The James Dean film
Rebel Without a Causewas 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.] :
: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, an 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. [Ginsberg, Allen, "Spontaneous Mind: Selected Interviews, 1958-1996", p5 ISBN 0060930829]
Gary Snyder in a 1974 interview, [Knight, Arthur Winfield. Ed. "The Beat Vision" (1987) Paragon House. ISBN 0-913729-40-X; ISBN 0-913729-41-8 (pbk)] comments on the subject of "casualties" of the Beat Generation:
: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. [Charters, Ann (ed.). "Beat Down to Your Soul"]
: "The so-called Beat Generation was a whole bunch of people, of all different nationalities, who came to the conclusion that society sucked."::-
:"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!'" [ [http://books.google.com/books?id=uIRi0BOvTi4C&pg=PA269&dq=%22+this+is+really+a+beat+generation%22&as_brr=0&sig=HevOtDQmscq516QbOZRQ1GT3MLY Rees, Nigel. Sterling: "Brewer's Famous Quotations: 5000 Quotations and the Stories Behind Them", 2006.] ] ::-
:"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."::-
:"Three writers does not a generation make."::-
Gregory Corso[Lerner, Richard and Lewis MacAdams, directors “What Ever Happened to Kerouac?” (1985)] (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[Burns, Glen "Great Poets Howl: A Study of Allen Ginsberg's Poetry, 1943-1955" ISBN 3-8204-7761-6]
:"Once when Kerouac was high on psychedelics with
Timothy Leary, he looked out the window and said, 'Walking on water wasn't built in a day.' Our goal was to save the planet and alter human consciousness. That will take a long time, if it happens at all."::- Allen Ginsberg
San Francisco Oracle
*Campbell, James. "This Is the Beat Generation: New York-San Francisco-Paris". LA: University of California Press, 2001. ISBN-10: 0520230337
*Charters, Ann. Ed. 1992. "The Portable Beat Reader". Penguin Books. ISBN 0-670-83885-3 (hc); ISBN 0-14-015102-8 (pbk).
*Charters, Ann (ed.). "Beat Down to Your Soul: What Was the Beat Generation?" NY: Penguin, 2001. ISBN-10: 0141001518
*Cook, Bruce "The Beat Generation: The tumultuous '50's movement and its impact on today". New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1971. ISBN 0684123711.
*Gifford, Barry and Lawrence Lee"Jack's Book An Oral Biography Of Jack Kerouac", New York: St. Martin's Press, 1978. ISBN 0312439423
*Hemmer, Kurt ed. "Encyclopedia of Beat Literature". Facts on File, 2006. ISBN-10: 0816042977
*Hrebeniak, Michael. "Action Writing: Jack Kerouac's Wild Form", Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois UP, 2006.
*Johnson, Ronna C. "Girls Who Wore Black: Women Writing the Beat Generation". Rutgers, 2003. ISBN-10: 081353065
*Knight, Arthur Winfield. Ed. "The Beat Vision" (1987) Paragon House. ISBN 0-913729-40-X; ISBN 0-913729-41-8 (pbk)
*Knight, Brenda. "Women of the Beat Generation: The Writers, Artists and Muses at the Heart of a Revolution". ISBN 1-57324-138-5
*McClure, Michael. "Scratching the Beat Surface: Essays on New Vision from Blake to Kerouac". Penguin, 1994. ISBN-10: 0140232524
*McDarrah, Fred W. and Gloria S. McDarrah. "Beat Generation: Glory Days in Greenwich Village" Schirmer Books (September 1996) ISBN-10: 0825671604
*McNally, Dennis. "Desolate Angel: Jack Kerouac, the Beat Generation, and America". NY: DeCapo, 2003. ISBN-10: 0306812223
*Miles, Barry. "Ginsberg: A Biography". London: Virgin Publishing Ltd. (2001), paperback, 628 pages, ISBN 0-7535-0486-3
*Miles, Barry. "The Beat Hotel: Ginsberg, Burroughs & Corso in Paris, 1957-1963". NY: Grove Press, 2001. ISBN-10: 0802138179
*Morgan, Ted "Literary Outlaw The Life and Times of William S. Burroughs" (1983) ISBN 0-380-70882-5
*Phillips, Lisa "Beat Culture and the New America 1950-1965" published by the Whitney Museum of American Art in accordance with an exhibition in 1995/1996 – ISBN 0-87427-098-7 softcover, ISBN 2-08-013613-5 hardcover (Flammarion)
*Raskin, Jonah "American Scream: Allen Ginsberg's "Howl" and the Making of the Beat Generation". University of California Press. (2004) ISBN 0520240154
*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-10: 0786710993
*Watson, Steven. "The Birth of the Beat Generation: Visionaries, Rebels, and Hipsters, 1944-1960". NY: Pantheon, 1998. ISBN-10: 0375701532
* 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.
*Chuck Workman (wrote and directed) "The Source" (1999)
Gary Walkow(wrote and directed) " Beat" (2000)
*Allen Ginsberg Live in London (1995)
General Beat Generation pages
* [http://dmoz.org/Arts/Literature/Periods_and_Movements/Beat/ Beat Literature: Open Directory Project]
* [http://www.emptymirrorbooks.com/beats.html Biographies of Beat Generation writers, artists, & poets]
* [http://jtlusk.com/fathers/ Fathers of Beat: Website on Beat Generation Writers and run-ins with the law]
* [http://beat.digihitch.com/ Beat Generation and Bohemian Culture - the movement at digihitch]
* [http://www.kerouacalley.com/beatgeneration.html Kerouac Alley - Beat Generation directory]
* [http://www.rooknet.net/beatpage/index.html Beat Generation biographies and historical information]
* [http://ezone.org/ez/e2/articles/digaman.html How Beat Happened] by Steve Silberman (the Beat Generation in San Francisco)
Beat tourism pages
* [http://www.pbase.com/pzo/beat_tour Denver Beat Photo Tour]
* [http://www.vlib.us/beats/ Beats In Kansas: The Beat Generation in the Heartland]
* [http://www.kansan.com/stories/2005/apr/27/features_kulture_counterculture/ From Beatnik to Anarchist, in the town where William S. Burrough's died]
* [http://wiredforbooks.org/williamburroughs/ 1984 and 1985 audio interviews of William Burroughs by Don Swaim of CBS Radio - RealAudio]
* [http://wiredforbooks.org/allenginsberg/ 1985 audio interview of Allen Ginsberg by Don Swaim of CBS Radio - RealAudio]
* [http://wiredforbooks.org/lawrenceferlinghetti/ 1988 audio interview with Lawrence Ferlinghetti by Don Swaim of CBS Radio]
* [http://wiredforbooks.org/garysnyder/ 1991 audio interview with Gary Snyder by Don Swaim of CBS Radio]
* [http://wiredforbooks.org/anncharters/ 1992 audio interview of Ann Charters by Don Swaim of CBS Radio - RealAudio]
* [http://www.emptymirrorbooks.com/keenan/ Beat Generation photographs by Larry Keenan]
* [http://www.vlib.us/beats/beatgallery/ Photos, William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Anne Waldman, Patti Smith]
* [http://beatfootprints.com/Site/Columbia.html#7 421 W 118th Street Building where Joan Vollmer Adams & Edie Parker lived]
* [http://beatfootprints.com/Site/Columbia.html#9 419 W 115th Street - "The Cragsmoor" another building where Joan Vollmer Adams lived.]
* [http://www.pbase.com/pzo/ncgravesite Photos, Neal Cassady Sr. Gravesite]
* [http://www.pbase.com/pzo/jacks_house Photos, Jack Kerouac's Last House, St. Petersburg, FL]
* [http://www.pbase.com/pzo/kerouac_gas_station_longmontco Photos of the Kerouac Gas Station in Longmont, CO]
* [http://www.beatfootprints.com/Site/Home.html A Photographic Essay of Beat Generation Landmarks in New York City]
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