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The Best Minds of My Generation: A Literary History of the Beats

The Best Minds of My Generation: A Literary History of the Beats

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Ratings:
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars2/5 (1 rating)
Length: 560 pages8 hours

Description

THE BEST MINDS OF MY GENERATION is a very unusual new addition to the oeuvre of Beat writing. Based on a series of lectures that Allen Ginsberg gave at the Naropa Institute in Colorado and then at Brooklyn College, the book is many things at once: literary primer for those new to the Beats; unique and approachable personal account (at times similar to a memoir) by Ginsberg of the major figures and events of the movement; important new resource for academics and Beat enthusiasts. Because Ginsberg quotes at some length from the texts to which he refers, the book also serves as a piece of literary criticism and a kind of Beat reader – there are many important poems and passages from novels and criticism/articles in these pages.

Ginsberg begins the lectures with a definition of the “Beat Generation” – a phrase that, as he explains, has a convoluted origin story. Kerouac used the phrase once in the early 1950s to discount the idea of generations altogether (he was not part of the “lost generation” or “greatest generation”, just a “beat generation”, a kind of non-generation) but it was a 1952 article in the New York Times magazine that used the phrase and made it catch on. “Beat” could mean without money and a place to stay, or more simple, “tired, exhausted”, but also with a resonance of being “beaten down”, as well as a musical idea of the beat of drums – but these last two resonances are misunderstandings, according to Ginsberg. Kerouac unpacked the etymology of the word differently, he pointed out the root of “be-at”, as in “beatitude” or “beatific”. He expounded further: “the necessary beatness of darkness that proceeds opening up to light.” Ginsberg also defines the initial proponents of what would come to be thought of as Beat writing: himself, Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, Herbert Huncket, John Clellon Holmes, Philip Lamantia, Gregory Corso, and Peter Orlovsky, as well as Neal Cassady and Carl Solomon, though they were not primarily known as writers. Other additions came later, as did the Beat’s broad influence on film, visual art and other media. Ginsberg ends the chapter explaining that the essence of the phrase “Beat Generation” can be found in a celebrated phrase of On the Road: “Everything belongs to me because I am poor.”

The book is digressive and very conversational and often intimate in tone – that much is clear from the first two sentences of the first full chapter, which give a good taste for the humorous tone of salaciousness the book sometimes takes: “One thing I’ll try to do is talk sequentially in such a way that it will make sense for scholars as well as for ourselves and record what I’m doing because I’m getting senile and I don’t remember very much any more. I can’t remember who fucked who, when, or who wrote what anymore, and this may be one of the last times I’ll actually be able to remember that and get it straight.”

Early in the book, Ginsberg spends quite a bit of time discussing the influence of music, particularly jazz, on the emerging Beat writers, something that is very interesting and under-referenced in the critical literature. He provides almost a Beat playlist for the reader: “Listen to Brahms’s Trio No. 1 and Brahms’s Sextet, Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 with the “Frère Jacques theme”, some forties music, Thelonius Monk’s “Round About Midnight” . . . some of the forties Dizzy Gillespie, like “Salt Peanuts”, “Opp Bob Sh’bam . . . “The Chase” by Dexter Gordron, and Wardell Gray . . . Lester Young . . . Billie Holiday’s “Don’t Explain . . .” (and the list goes on). He mentions the rhythm of bebop directly influencing the rhythm of Beat poetry and prosody. Indeed, he says that the phrase “salt peanuts, salt peanuts” marks the accenting of a lot of Keroauc’s prose in its noniambic accenting. And it wasn’t just the music, it was the whole zeitgeist in New York that profoundly marked the Beat movement – Ginsberg describes the Times Square scene in the 1940s
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The Best Minds of My Generation: A Literary History of the Beats

Book Actions

Start Reading

Book Information

The Best Minds of My Generation: A Literary History of the Beats

Ratings:
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars2/5 (1 rating)
Length: 560 pages8 hours

Description

THE BEST MINDS OF MY GENERATION is a very unusual new addition to the oeuvre of Beat writing. Based on a series of lectures that Allen Ginsberg gave at the Naropa Institute in Colorado and then at Brooklyn College, the book is many things at once: literary primer for those new to the Beats; unique and approachable personal account (at times similar to a memoir) by Ginsberg of the major figures and events of the movement; important new resource for academics and Beat enthusiasts. Because Ginsberg quotes at some length from the texts to which he refers, the book also serves as a piece of literary criticism and a kind of Beat reader – there are many important poems and passages from novels and criticism/articles in these pages.

Ginsberg begins the lectures with a definition of the “Beat Generation” – a phrase that, as he explains, has a convoluted origin story. Kerouac used the phrase once in the early 1950s to discount the idea of generations altogether (he was not part of the “lost generation” or “greatest generation”, just a “beat generation”, a kind of non-generation) but it was a 1952 article in the New York Times magazine that used the phrase and made it catch on. “Beat” could mean without money and a place to stay, or more simple, “tired, exhausted”, but also with a resonance of being “beaten down”, as well as a musical idea of the beat of drums – but these last two resonances are misunderstandings, according to Ginsberg. Kerouac unpacked the etymology of the word differently, he pointed out the root of “be-at”, as in “beatitude” or “beatific”. He expounded further: “the necessary beatness of darkness that proceeds opening up to light.” Ginsberg also defines the initial proponents of what would come to be thought of as Beat writing: himself, Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, Herbert Huncket, John Clellon Holmes, Philip Lamantia, Gregory Corso, and Peter Orlovsky, as well as Neal Cassady and Carl Solomon, though they were not primarily known as writers. Other additions came later, as did the Beat’s broad influence on film, visual art and other media. Ginsberg ends the chapter explaining that the essence of the phrase “Beat Generation” can be found in a celebrated phrase of On the Road: “Everything belongs to me because I am poor.”

The book is digressive and very conversational and often intimate in tone – that much is clear from the first two sentences of the first full chapter, which give a good taste for the humorous tone of salaciousness the book sometimes takes: “One thing I’ll try to do is talk sequentially in such a way that it will make sense for scholars as well as for ourselves and record what I’m doing because I’m getting senile and I don’t remember very much any more. I can’t remember who fucked who, when, or who wrote what anymore, and this may be one of the last times I’ll actually be able to remember that and get it straight.”

Early in the book, Ginsberg spends quite a bit of time discussing the influence of music, particularly jazz, on the emerging Beat writers, something that is very interesting and under-referenced in the critical literature. He provides almost a Beat playlist for the reader: “Listen to Brahms’s Trio No. 1 and Brahms’s Sextet, Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 with the “Frère Jacques theme”, some forties music, Thelonius Monk’s “Round About Midnight” . . . some of the forties Dizzy Gillespie, like “Salt Peanuts”, “Opp Bob Sh’bam . . . “The Chase” by Dexter Gordron, and Wardell Gray . . . Lester Young . . . Billie Holiday’s “Don’t Explain . . .” (and the list goes on). He mentions the rhythm of bebop directly influencing the rhythm of Beat poetry and prosody. Indeed, he says that the phrase “salt peanuts, salt peanuts” marks the accenting of a lot of Keroauc’s prose in its noniambic accenting. And it wasn’t just the music, it was the whole zeitgeist in New York that profoundly marked the Beat movement – Ginsberg describes the Times Square scene in the 1940s
Read More