The Lonely Beat Generation: Dawn of The New Journalism

Jack Keruoac: A Catalyst for Avant-Garde Writers

William Burroughs: The Portrait of an Anonymous Man

Allen Ginsberg: A Poetic Champion of Human and Civil Rights

Gregory Corso: Poetry to  Stimulate Individual Will

The Lonely Beat Generation: Dawn of The New Journalism

The City and Man: Origins of The New Journalism

It is neither self-effacing and depressing antiquarianism, nor self-effacing and exhilarating romanticism that compels us to turn with a renewed passionate interest in learning about and appreciating the origins of the New Journalism.  Our present world of public discourse has taken rigidly hostile polarized constructs of traditional Main-Stream Media versus the contemporary incarnation of New Media.  However, while the former has long been understood to focus largely upon the accumulation of power and wealth, the same has come to be the goal of new media organizations.  In fact, present-day new media organizations are made even more repugnant by their petty, envy-based sarcastic commentaries and idolatry of faux-celebrity life.  Further, whatever their seeming differences, both forms of media share in the adherence to vicious levels of social and political ideology, which strongly bias and distort the communications and news presented to the public.

Jack Kerouac: An Early Catalyst for Avant-Garde Writers

No man should go through life
without once experiencing healthy,
even bored solitude in the wilderness,
finding himself depending solely on himself
and thereby learning his true and hidden strength.

Jack Kerouac, Lonesome Traveler (1960)

Jack Kerouac’s (1922-1969) athletic talent led him to become a 100 meter hurdler on his Lowell (Mass.) high school track team, and his skills as a running back in football earned him scholarship offers from Boston College, Notre Dame and Columbia University.  He enrolled at Columbia University, but when his football scholarship didn’t work out, Kerouac dropped out of Columbia, although he continued to live for a while on New York City’s Upper West Side.  It was during this time that he met many of the people with whom he was later to journey around the world.  This group later came to be known as the pioneers of the so-called Beat Generation, including Allen Ginsberg, Neal Cassady, John Clellon Holmes, Herbert Huncke and William S. Burroughs.

Nostalgia often is  to be the the main appeal of both Jack Kerouac and his 1957 groundbreaking, of-the-generation On the Road.  In reality, the characters in On the Road spent as little time on the road as they could.   Speed was essential.  The men rarely even had time to chase after the women they ran into, because they were always in a hurry to get to a city.  Kerouac’s story is soaked through with an aching sadness that comes from the certainty that this world of hobos, migrant workers, cowboys and crazy joyriders was dying.  But the sadness is not sentimental, because many of the characters in the book who inhabited that world would have been happy to see it go differently, or else were too drunk or forlorn to care.  They did not share the traditional literary man’s nostalgie de la boue. They were restless, lonely, lost, beat.  Readers can witness that painful sadness by reading a sampling of Kerouac’s personal journal entries between 1948, when the twenty-five-year-old writer had recently returned to New York from a cross-country trip, to 1950, when his first book, The Town and the City, was published.

There is a sense of something risky and exposed about Kerouac’s reading, just as there is about Kerouac’s prose. The Beats were men who wrote about their feelings.  On the Road is somewhat sub-canonical, but it’s also also a tour de force.  It is usually considered to be more a literary phenomenon than a work of literature.  On the other hand, it has had an influence that is equivalent to a work of literature.  Kerouac revealed how one could stretch a canvas across an entire continent. He made America a subject for literary fiction; he de-Europeanized the novel for American writers.  Had his publishers not insisted upon using pseudonyms for “characters” in the book, On the Road arguably could have been considered the first nonfiction novel.  As it finally emerged in publication, Kerouac described it as a narrative-novel.  Nevertheless, Kerouac’s book came out eight years before Capote’s In Cold Blood and twenty-three years before Norman Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song.  It is certainly one of the leading literary sources for The New Journalism of the nineteen-sixties and seventies.  On the Road served as a major catalyst for the outburst of magazine pieces by writers like Tom Wolfe, Joan Didion and Hunter Thompson, a surge of avant-garde articles which took America and its weirdness as its great subject.

Two films related to Kerouac’s work are presented below.  The first is Pull My Daisy, an experimental art movie about “The Beat Generation” that Kerouac wrote and narrated in 1958.  The second film is the 1994 biographical movie, Jack Kerouac: King of the Beats.

Pull My Daisy (1958): Full HD Version

Jack Kerouac: King of the Beats (Full HD Version)

William S. Burroughs: Portrait of an Anonymous Man

William Seward Burroughs II (1914-1997) was a major figure in the inner-circle of the Beat Generation writers and a post-modern author who influenced popular culture as well as literature.  He is deemed one of the most politically trenchant, culturally influential, and innovative artists of the twentieth century.  Burroughs wrote eighteen novels and novellas, six collections of short stories and four collections of essays.  Five books have been published of his interviews and correspondences.  Burroughs also collaborated on projects and recordings with numerous performers and musicians, and made many appearances in films.

After attending Harvard University, Burroughs became enamoured with contemporary counterculture, and fascinated by the underground society of drug addiction.   Much of Burroughs’s work is semi-autobiographical, primarily drawn from his experiences as an opiate addict, a condition that marked the last fifty years of his life, his first novel being Junky (1953).  His writings are often satirical and darkly humorous, based upon his socially critical observances and lifelong subversion to the moral, political and economic systems of modern American society.  In this regard, Burroughs is perhaps best known for his initially highly controversial third novel Naked Lunch (1959).  In 1983, he was elected to the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters.

Despite his life of constant globe-trotting and public appearances, there was always something cold, remote and forbidding about Burrough’s personality.  This aspect of his life has perhaps been most clearly revealed by the state of his windowless New York City apartment, the former locker room of an 1880s YMCA  on the Bowery in New York City.  Burrough’s apartment, which he named The Bunker, has been preserved since his death in 1997, and a photographic exhibition of his unusual “stuff” can be viewed here.

A documentary film about William Burrough’s life is presented below.  The William S. Burroughs Tribute Documentary (1985) features Allen Ginsberg, Brion Gysin, Francis Bacon, Lauren Hutton, Patti Smith, Terry Southern, William S. Burroughs and others.

The William S. Burroughs Tribute Documentary (Full Version)

Allen Ginsberg: A Poetic Champion of Human and Civil Rights

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by
madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn
looking for an angry fix.

Allen Ginsberg, Howl (1956)

Irwin Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997) was an American poet who vigorously opposed militarism, materialism and sexual repression.  In the 1950s, Allen Ginsberg was a central part of the inner-circle of The Beat Generation writers, who combined poetry, song, sex, wine and illicit drugs with passionate political ideas that championed personal freedoms.  Ginsberg’s epic poem Howl (1956) celebrated his fellow compatriots and excoriated what he saw as the destructive forces of capitalism and conformity in the United States.

In Howl and in his other poetry, Ginsberg drew inspiration from the epic, free verse style of the 19th century American poet Walt Whitman.  Both men wrote passionately about the promise and betrayal of American democracy; the central importance of erotic experience; and the spiritual quest for the truth of everyday existence.

Ginsberg’s book of poems, The Fall of America, won the National Book Award for poetry in 1974.  Other honors included the National Arts Club Gold Medal and his induction into the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, both in 1979.  In 1995, Ginsberg was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for his book, Cosmopolitan Greetings: Poems 1986-1992.

A taped recording of one of the original readings of Howl that Ginsberg gave at Reed College has recently been rediscovered and can be accessed on their multimedia website.

Posted below is a documentary film about Ginsberg, The Life and Times of Allen Ginsberg.

The Life and Times of Allen Ginsberg (Trailer)

Gregory Corso: Poetry to  Stimulate Individual Will

Gregory Nunzio Corso (1930 –2001) was an American poet, the youngest of the inner circle of Beat Generation writers (along with Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and William Burroughs).  If Ginsberg, Kerouac and Burroughs were the Three Musketeers of the Beat movement, Corso could rightly have laid claim to being their D’Artagnan, a sort of junior partner.  As a late-comer to the group, Corso was accepted and deeply appreciated, but with less than complete parity.  After having been abandoned by his parents as a child, Corso had lived alone on the streets of Little Italy for years.  For warmth, he slept in subways in the winter, and then slept on rooftops during the summer, continuing to attend Catholic school, not telling authorities he was living on the street.

As a result of minor run-ins with the law, at the age of sixteen Corso was sent to Clinton Prison for three years.  While imprisoned, Corso studied Greek and Roman classics, consumed encyclopedias and dictionaries, and began writing poetry.  Upon his release from prison in 1951, twenty-one-year-old Gregory Corso joined the Beat inner-circle and was adopted by its co-leaders, Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, who saw in the young street-wise writer the  potential for expressing the poetic insights of a generation wholly separate from those preceding it.  For Corso, poetry became a vehicle for change, a way to redirect the malignant course of society by stimulating individual will.

In 1957, Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky traveled to visit Burroughs in Morocco.  Corso, who at that time was already in Europe, joined them and then led them to Paris, introducing them to a Left Bank lodging house above a bar at 9 rue Gît-le-Coeur that was to become known as The Beat Hotel.  They were soon joined by William Burroughs and others.  It was a haven for young expatriate painters, writers and musicians.  A short documentary about the life of Gregory Corso, and another about The Beat Hotel, are presented below:

Gregory Corso: The Last Beat

The Beat Hotel: American Beats Exiled in Paris

Slide Show: The Beat Generation/Dawn of The New Journalism

(Please Click Image to View Slide Show)

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No Time: Seeing Life Through the Lens of Death

No Time: Seeing Life Through the Lens of Death

No Time

In a rush this weekday morning,
I tap the horn as I speed past the cemetery
where my parents are buried
side by side under a smooth slab of granite.

Then, all day long, I think of him rising up
to give me that look
of knowing disapproval
while my mother calmly tells him to lie back down.

Billy Collins

U. S. Poet Laureate, 2001-2003

Seeing Life Through the Lens of Death

During an interview focusing upon our perceptions of the dead, Collins touched upon his portrayal of death in the poem No Time:

“The underlying theme of Western poetry is mortality. The theme of carpe diem asks us to seize the day because we have only a limited number of them. To see life through the lens of death is to approach the condition of gratitude for the gift, or simply the fact, of our existence. And as Wallace Stevens said, Death is the mother of beauty. Only the perishable can be beautiful, which is why we are unmoved by artificial flowers….

We visit graves because they give the illusion that the person is somewhere, in some place. But like a mandala, the gravestoneitself is a focusing device. The treatment of the dead as if they were still alive is ancient. The Egyptians would entomb you with your favorite food, flowers, even pets (poor dears). In that way, maybe we are all in some form of hopeful denial.”

No Time: Seeing Life Through the Lens of Death

Animation by: Jeff Scher

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