Saturday, August 10, 2013

Beat Generation Misogynists?

 Jack Kerouac Trying to Remember a Woman's Name (That is Not his Mother)

The so-called Beat Generation was as much a product of the media that despised them as they were of their wild emotions. One point worth making in regard to there every really being a 'beat movement' (when what was described in the books and poems was actually happening and not when it became the topic of Time Life articles), is there were serious divisions between the writers, artists, painters and musicians that could be termed 'Beat' to the extent that several of the main figures had little or no contact with each other after about 1959. 

But the point about art and life being different roads is a good one. 'Howl' is not about men or women in the sense of characters, it is about people living in a militaristic society that practiced judicial psychiatry, which executed people in the name of national security, which imprisoned gays and even lobotomized them. 'On the Road' is about the mythology of the Old West and a eulogy for a freedom that it was imagined to embody. The writings of William Burroughs are a nostalgic longing for an imagined lost world of boyhood (that probably never actually existed), which we view through a language obsessed with the dull sensation and slow time of insatiable drug addiction. Each of these writers was looking at (and living in) the beginnings of the post-modern world, when the fables of progress and freedom seemed to be melting in the exhaust smoke and consumer culture of the 'free world'.

I recently started reading Burrough's 'The Ticket That Exploded'. It is a long poem, a painful clouded hallucination that assembles the ruins of a life that was filled with regrets (dead friends, murder, painful withdrawals, poverty and crime, misunderstandings between strangers in bars and cafeterias all driven on by the need to feed some invisible hunger or need). The cut up technique emphasizes this horror and dream-like quality to the prose and the chaos of the experience.

 By today's standards the writings of Kerouac, Ginsberg and Burroughs, along with Huncke and Corso could be well considered misogynistic. But what about Ferlinghetti, Snyder, Bukowski, Micheline, Giorno, Di Prima, Waldman and the many writers who published in the 'Little Magazines' or yelled their verse in coffee houses and on street corners? This post-War movement of writers and poets that first broke open the boundaries on the "unspeakable visions of the individual" and commit them to the public gaze made important steps for later artists and writers. Much has happened since then which would not have happened if those initial steps had not been taken by Kerouac et. al.

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