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Holy Barbarians; the impact of Surrealism and the Beat generation on human values and the rise of the New Left (Michael Fry)

Holy Barbarians; the impact of Surrealism and the Beat generation on human values and the rise of the New Left (Michael Fry)

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Published by Michael Fry
This work examines the theme of values at the heart of the Beat generation and the
Surrealist movement which would lead the way to the 1960s counterculture and civil
rights activism in both the USA and France. It aims to compare and contrast each
movement while placing them within their context as regards the events of the 1960s by
studying the literature, historical background and common themes within each. It will
centre on the search for values in society, and the rejection of the consumer culture of the
capitalist system, while exploring the humanitarian aspect of both the Surrealists and the
Beat generation. The work will use the literature of the two movements as a critique of
the emerging society against which the New Left would dissent.
This work examines the theme of values at the heart of the Beat generation and the
Surrealist movement which would lead the way to the 1960s counterculture and civil
rights activism in both the USA and France. It aims to compare and contrast each
movement while placing them within their context as regards the events of the 1960s by
studying the literature, historical background and common themes within each. It will
centre on the search for values in society, and the rejection of the consumer culture of the
capitalist system, while exploring the humanitarian aspect of both the Surrealists and the
Beat generation. The work will use the literature of the two movements as a critique of
the emerging society against which the New Left would dissent.

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Categories:Types, Research, History
Published by: Michael Fry on Oct 07, 2009
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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06/10/2012

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Holy_Barbarians.doc1
Holy Barbarians; the impact of Surrealism and the Beat generation on humanvalues and the rise of the New Left
This work examines the theme of values at the heart of the Beat generation and theSurrealist movement which would lead the way to the 1960s counterculture and civilrights activism in both the USA and France. It aims to compare and contrast eachmovement while placingthem within their context as regards the events of the 1960s bystudying the literature, historical background and common themeswithin each. It willcentreon the search for values in society, and the rejection of the consumer culture of thecapitalist system, while exploring the humanitarian aspect of both the Surrealists and theBeat generation.The work will use the literatureof the two movements as a critique of the emerging society against which the New Left would dissent.The 1960s is characterised by the counterculture, by the rebellion against society through political activism, through the use of drugs, and through sexual and musical liberation.But the counterculture was not a spontaneous movement originating at the start of thedecade. The role of literature and literary figures throughout the twentieth century had anenormous impact on the rising rebelliousness and disenchantment of the 1960s. For the post WWI generation, the atrocities in the fields of Flanders made it seem that human lifehad lost all value, at least in times of war it had become a mere utensil, part of a country’sarsenal. The post WWII generation had witnessed the horrors of the holocaust andHiroshima and Nagasaki and were now living under threat of nuclear war. When millionsof human lives can be destroyed at the touch of a button there emerges a sense of futility.Both of these generations would produce literary movements whose works would expressclearly the disenchantment of the times and the search for what Jack Kerouac would callthe ‘tender values’ of mankind;asearch which would culminate in the rising awarenessofthe counterculture of the1960s.“For youngsters who would not reach their teens until
 
Holy_Barbarians.doc2the 1960s, the Beat writings awaited them as a commentary on society’s oppression”
1
, for the French youth, they were coming of age amidst a literature which had followed alinear pattern from romanticism, through symbolism, Dadaism, surrealism and the lettristmovement and which was now expressing itself in the Internationale Situationiste.Though much has been written about the Beat generation, its effect on thecounterculture of the 1960s has often become a point of dissension. Recently, two workson the Beat generation gave radically different views as to what extent the Beatgeneration were countercultural. Jennie Skerl, in her 
 Reconstructing the Beats
, expoundsthe more traditional view, placing the Beats as non-conformists and counterculturalrebels, whereas a work by Manuel Luis Martinez,
Countering the Counterculture: Rereading Postwar American Dissent from Jack Kerouac to Tomas Rivera
, puts the Beatculture as a “rehashing of an American 'rugged individualism' that was ultimately hostileto a Rousseauean commitment to civic participation andradical egalitarian democracy”
2
andeven levels accusations of sexism and racism atthe Beats, andthat there was nothinginherently counterculturalabout them. The problem with looking at the Beat movementin a countercultural light is that it immediately draws comparisons with the 1960s. TheBeat generationwas based on personal discovery, of subjective liberation, it was not acall to revolution, it was not an organized social movement. From the point of view of the60s counterculture the role of the Beats was to create an awareness of the sadness and of the missing values within society. The counterculture then, was the mobilization of thisrestless youth coming of age at the beginning of the new decade. Although one leads tothe other it is misleading to try to approach the two in the same terms.In contrast to the Beat generation, the Surrealist movement was revolutionary. Its aimwas clearly defined, amalgamating Marx’s idea to ‘transformer le monde’ with that of Arthur Rimbaud, to ‘changer la vie.’
3
Its members were self admitted revolutionaries,under the leadership of the enigmatic André Breton. Through their methods of automaticwriting, the analysis of dreams, and word games such as the ‘cadavre exquis’ they soughtthe internal essence of mankind, thestripping of man down to his primitive levels of 
1
Neil A. Hamilton,
 ABC-Clio Companion to the 1960s Counterculture in America
, (Santa Barbara, ABC-Clio Inc., 1997), p. xii
2
Manuel Luis Martinez,
Countering the Counterculture: Rereading Postwar American dissent from Jack  Kerouac to Tomas Rivera
, (Wisconsin, Universityof Wisconsin, 2003), p. 16
3
André Breton,
 Position Politique du Surréalisme
, (Paris, Brodard et Taupin, 1991), p. 39
 
Holy_Barbarians.doc3thought, shedding the sullied garments of a society marred by the corrupted values of capitalism. As Richard Gombin explores in his article on the emergence of FrenchLeftism, the Surrealists were following a chronological pattern of French literatureattacking the “monotonous world” and exerting an individualism which had been lost, or swallowed, by society. Starting with the romantics, and especially ‘les fleurs maladives’of Baudelaire, and following through the symbolist movement, where Rimbaud and themacabre Comte de Lautréamont stood out amongst the Surrealist’s heroes and forebears, beforeextending into the twentieth century and the nihilism of Dadaism.The Surrealists however were not solely an artistic movement;they held a firm andclearly definedphilosophy and politics. They were heavily influenced by Marxistthought, though their concept of revolution would distance them from the FrenchCommunist Party, andwould later align them with Leon Trotsky. The Surrealist idealwas more in line with the continuous revolution propounded by Trotsky, centredonamore humanistic approach to socialism than the Stalinism of the USSR.Gombin arguesthat “this cultural and subjective view of the revolutionary act represents a complete break with the system of Marx and Engels, which concentrates on economic andobjective factors. However, it renews a tradition which owes something to romanticismand symbolism, but whose distant origins are to be found both in chivalryand in themillenarian sects.”
4
Gombin’s relation of the Surrealists to religion is interesting, as the Surrealistmovement, like the Beat’s, was profoundly spiritual. Though it denounced “masochisticChristianity”
5
it held man himself as a Divine figure (and like the Beat generation wouldlook to the East for its spiritual inspiration), as proclaimed in
 La Revolutiond’Abordet Toujours
;Car en définitive,nous avons besoin de la Liberté, mais d’une Liberté calquée sur nos nécessités spirituelles les plus profondes, sur les exigences les plus strictes et les plushumaines de nos chairs.
6
 
4
Richard Gombin, ‘French Leftism’,
 Journal of Contemporary History
, Vol. 7, No. 1/2 (Jan. -Apr., 1972)
5
Robert S. Short, ‘The Politics of Surrealism, 1920-1936’,
 Journal of Contemporary History
, Vol. 1, No. 2Left-wing Intellectuals between the wars (1966)
6
André Breton (ed.), ‘La Révolution d’Abord et Toujours’,http://fr.wikisource.org/wiki/La_R%C3%A9volution_d'abord_et_toujours

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