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Beat Generation, The

Esquire, beat, On The Road, Howl, Ghost Tantras, Scratching the Beat Surface, The Beat Vision

a term applied to a group of writers who established a rebellion against society and came to prominence about 1956, centred in San Francisco and New York City. Whilst their activities overlapped with the development of the San Francisco Renaissance, and with the influences and developments of figures like Charles Olson and Robert Creeley of the Black Mountain School, their inception came about in New York City in the late 1940s, when Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, and others met in bars and cafeterias around Columbia University. Writing in the 1958 Esquire magazine, Jack Kerouac summarized the philosophy of the Beats: ‘… a generation of crazy illuminated hipsters suddenly rising and roaming America, serious, curious, bumming and hitchhiking everywhere, ragged beatific, beautiful in an ugly graceful new way—a vision gleaned from the way we had heard the word beat, meaning down and out but full of intense conviction.’ Manifesting a weariness of corruption and a thoroughgoing critique of the crass commercialism of modern society, such writers as Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs, Gregory Corso, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and John Clellon Holmes expressed themselves in a ‘hip’ vocabulary, combined with phrases and experiences from their dealings with Buddhism and Oriental philosophies, and their significant association with the jazz music and rhythms of people like Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, and Thelonious Monk. The ‘anti-establishment Beat bum’ included other such figures as Carl Solomon, Michael McClure, Philip Whalen, Gary Snyder, and Philip Lamantia. Like many movements, they were largely the projection of the media, albeit aided and abetted by its participants. One of the pervasive fictions surrounding the Beat writers was their cult of energy, their tendency to exalt the present over the past, action over reflection, movement over stasis. Yet many of the Beat works also show an anxiety about attaining such a position, revealing a solitude and vulnerability despite the competing and contradictory demands of participation and communalism. These positions are evident in various works which have come to be regarded as seminal within the Beat movement, such as Jack Kerouac's On The Road (1957), a narrative about the experiences encountered on a road journey across the USA; Allen Ginsberg's Howl (1956), an angry and vituperative critique of contemporary social values and mores; and Michael McClure's Ghost Tantras (1964), a formulation of poetry as beast language. There are various books about the Beats, but significant among them are Michael McClure's Scratching the Beat Surface (1982), and Arthur Knight and Kit Knight (eds.), The Beat Vision (1987).

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Houston A. Baker (Houston Alfred to Sally Beauman Biography