The Beat Generation• Allen Ginsbergs Howl (1956)• Jack Kerouacs On the Road (1957)• William S. Burroughss Naked Lunch (1959)
‘Beat Generation’• Kerouac coined the phrase ‘Beaten Generation’ in 1948• ‘beat’ originally meant ‘tired’ or ‘beaten down.’• November 1952 publication of a quasi- manifesto, ‘This is the Beat Generation’, by John Clellon Holmes in the New York Times Magazine:
‘This is the Beat Generation’‘Any attempt to label an entire generation isunrewarding, and yet the generation which wentthrough the last war, or at least could get a drinkeasily once it was over, seems to possess auniform, general quality which demands anadjective ... The origins of the word beat areobscure, but the meaning is only too clear to mostAmericans. More than mere weariness, it impliesthe feeling of having been used, of being raw. Itinvolves a sort of nakedness ofmind, and, ultimately, of soul; a feeling of beingreduced to the bedrock of consciousness...’
• Poetry reading in October 1955 at Six Gallery, SF, brought together East-Coast writers like Allen Ginsberg with West Coast poets.• ‘galvanised media interest in a variety of alternative poetries’ (critic Paul Hoover)• Showed how poetry was linked to public performance at a time when prevailing idea was that it was a contemplative and private relationship to the page.• Fictionalised by Kerouac in The Dharma Bums• ‘a barrier had been broken, that a human voice and body had been hurled against the harsh wall of America’ (McClure)
• Wide range of poetic influences, inc. Whitman, Blake, Pound, Williams• Influence of Surrealism, Eastern/ Buddhist philosophy• Jazz and Blues – unpredictability and spontaneity in the poetry• The Beats responded to and rejected the alienating social and political ideals of Cold War America
‘Quintessential features of this ideology includethe attributing of superior value to the individualrather than the collective; the subjective ratherthan the objective; the irrational rather than therational; innocence rather than experience.’John Osborne, ‘Beat aesthetics’ OxfordCompanion
Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997) Howl and other Poems (1956)• 1957 publisher (and poet) Lawrence Ferlinghetti was charged with publishing and selling an obscene book.• The subsequent obscenity trial brought national attention to Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti’s ‘City Lights’ Bookstore, & the whole Beat movement. ‘Howl’ became a bestseller.• Paperback format itself could symbolise subversion:
‘Ferlinghetti’s bookshop sells no hardcovers, butit does stock all the quarterlies, all the soft-coverprestige lines of the major publishers, a lot offoreign imprints and periodicals, and just aboutevery other sort of pocket book except the kindwhose bosomy covers leer from the racks ofdrugstores and bus terminals.’Journalist David Perlman, covering theobscenity trial of Howl and Other Poems
‘Howl’ the poem• 1949 Ginsberg met poet Carl Solomon in the Psychiatric Institute of New York.• French playwright Antonin Artaud’s inverted concept of artist. Artist seen as mad by a mad society is in fact sane.• First and third sections drawn from Solomon’s stories.• Solomon later declared much of his testimony had been false.
‘ I thought I wouldn’t write a poem, but justwrite what I wanted to without fear, let myimagination go, open secrecy, and scribble magiclines from my real mind – sum up my life –something I wouldn’t be able to showanybody, write for my own soul’s ear and a fewother golden ears.’Ginsberg, ‘Notes for Howl and other poems’
Structure of HowlPart 1: the longest part is a catalogue of people, ‘the best minds ofmy generation’, organized round the fixed base of ‘who’: withineach strophe the ‘who’ is elaborated on and extended with eventsand other details. Occasionally the fixed base is abandoned forsupplementary or contrastive material.Part 2: this section answers its own opening rhetorical question instrophes based on the term ‘Moloch,’ the ‘vision of themechanical feelingless inhuman world we live in and accept.’Part 3: this direct address to Carl Solomon is organized by thebase ‘I’m with you in Rockland.’ Each strophe is slightly longerthan the previous one until a climax is reached with a series ofapostrophes: ‘O…’ followed by a one-strophe coda.Part 4: this ‘footnote’ is based on the word ‘holy’: initially theorganization is irregular, but settles on a spatially marked series ofstrophic affirmations.
‘coarse and vulgar language’‘redeeming social importance’
Howl obscenity trialFerlinghetti defended Ginsberg’s poetry duringthe trial by claiming that American Society wasobscene, rather than the poet.Judge Clayton Horn ruled that the book was notobscene because it offered work of ‘redeemingsocial importance’, despite its ‘coarse and vulgarlanguage’ and presentation of ‘unorthodox andcontroversial ideas.’