At the end of the 1940s, an unfamiliar, ecstatic cry seeped from the womb of America: it was the Beat Generation aborning. This was to be, above all, a literary movement. But perhaps even more powerful than the Beats' literary contributions... [more]
At the end of the 1940s, an unfamiliar, ecstatic cry seeped from the womb of America: it was the Beat Generation aborning. This was to be, above all, a literary movement. But perhaps even more powerful than the Beats' literary contributions was the influence they had on people's lives. The Beats promulgated a manner, an attitude, a style America had never known: they combined bombast and contemplation, madness and meditation, love and lubricity.
A seminal text of the movement is, of course,Allen Ginsberg's "Howl," a simultaneous celebration and lamentation of America's singular manifestations of madness. Another is Jack Kerouac's "On the Road," a book about ceaseless movement, seeking, and discovery, which gripped its readers with the desire to live differently, to live on the edge. Other figures central to the movement included Lawrence Ferlinghetti, William Burroughs, Gregory Corso, and Michael McLure.
The Beats disdained academic self-absorption and wrote their texts not to be studied, but to be performed audaciously and publicly. Their art sought to produce events, uprisings, and chaos of an enjoyable variety. Its soul was essentially affirmative, outgoing, celebratory, inspired by the boldness and ebullience of Whitman's poetry, especially his 1855 "Song of Myself." The Beats may have rebelled against the values of the previous generation and the policies of the American government, but their essential concern was the affirmation of joyous life. [show less]