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THE BEAT GENERATION The canonical beat generation authors met in New York: Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, (in the 1940s) and later (in 1950) Gregory Corso. In the mid-1950s this group expanded to include figures associated with the San Francisco Renaissance such as Kenneth Rexroth, Gary Snyder, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Michael McClure, Philip Whalen, Lew Welch and Kirby Doyle.Perhaps equally important were the less obviously creative members of the scene, who helped form their intellectual environment and provided the writers with much of their subject material: There was Herbert Huncke, a drug addict and petty thief met by Burroughs in 1946; and Hal Chase, an anthropologist from Denver who in 1947 introduced into the group Neal Cassady.Also important were the oft-neglected women in the original circle, including Joan Vollmer and Edie Parker. Their apartment in the upper west side of Manhattan often functioned as a salon (or as Ted Morgan puts it, a "pre-sixties commune") and Joan Vollmer in particular was a serious participant in the marathon discussion sessions.William Burroughs was born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1914; making him roughly ten years older than most of the other original beats. While still living in St. Louis, Burroughs met David Kammerer, presumbably an association based on their shared homosexual orientation. David Kammerer was a homosexual intellectual. As a boys' youthgroup leader in the mid-1930s, he became infatuated with Lucien Carr, a rich teenager in the group. They developed a friendship. Although Carr was not gay, he apparently enjoyed the attention of the older man and let Kammerer follow him to the various schools he was expelled from, Andower, then Bowdoin, and then (in the fall of 1942) the University of Chicago. That's where Kammerer introduced 17-year-old Lucien Carr to his old St. Louis friend William S. Burroughs.Burroughs was a Harvard-graduate who had been around the world and pretty much lived off his family, his grandfather having invented the Burroughs Adding Machine. After reading a book called You Can't Win, Burroughs was fascinated with the criminal underworld and in Chicago assosiated with thieves and the like, plotting to stick up a Turkish bath and rob an armored car. Nothing ever went past the planning stage.The three became good friends and madcap companions. Their pranks and escapades got Burroughs kicked out of his rooming house and culminated in an ambiguous suicide by Carr, which got him sent home to St. Louis.Soon, however, he moved on to Columbia University, where Kammerer followed, and shortly after (summer 1943), Burroughs as well. They became two dignified, respected elders of the Columbia group of friends Carr developed. One such friend was freshman Allen Ginsberg, whom Carr met in late 1943 and introduced to Burroughs and Kammerer. Edie Parker, another member of the crowd, introduced Carr to her boyfriend Jack Kerouac once he came back from his stint as a merchant marine. They became extremely close friends fast. In 1944 Carr introduced Kerouac and Burroughs, who also became good friends, though he was not quite a part of the Columbia student scene.The center of the attention was on the strange relationship between Kemmerer and Carr. Kammerer's fixation was becoming out of control, and in mid-August, 1944, Lucien Carr killed him with a boyscout knife in self defense after Kammerer allegedly claimed he'd kill Carr if they didn't make love immediately. The crime took place in a park on the Hudson River. Carr dragged the body into the river. He first went to Burroughs for advice, who told him to contact the police and his family immediately, and not to talk to anyone else. Instead, Carr went to Kerouac and told him about the murder. The two of them threw the knife into a drain, went drinking, and saw a movie. Carr turned himself in the next morning and Kerouac and

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Burroughs were both charged as accessories to the crime. Burrouyghs quickly got the money for bail, but Kerouac's parents refused to post it for him. Edie Parker and her family came through, with the condition that they be married immediately.

While Carr was in prison, Kerouac and Ginsberg began a close friendship, and soon the two of them and Burroughs formed a trinity.Burroughs had long had an interest in experimenting with criminal behavior, and gradually made contacts in the criminal underground of New York, becoming involved with dealing in stolen goods and narcotics and developing a decades long addiction to opiates. Burroughs met Herbert Huncke, a small-time criminal and drug addict who often hung around the Times Square area.The beats found Huncke a fascinating character. As Ginsberg put it, they were on a quest for "supreme reality", and somehow felt that Huncke, as a member of the underclass had learned things they were sheltered from in their middle/upper-middle class lives.Various problems resulted from this association: In 1949 Ginsberg was in trouble with the law (his apartment was packed with stolen goods, he had been riding in a car full of stolen goods, and so on). He pleaded insanity and was briefly committed to Bellevue, where he met Carl Solomon. When committed Carl Solomon was more eccentric than psychotic — a fan of Antonin Artaud, he indulged in some self-consciously "crazy" behavior: he stole a peanut butter sandwich in a cafeteria, and showed it to a security guard. If not crazy when he was admitted, he was arguably driven mad by the insulin shock treatments applied at Bellevue, and this is one of the things referred to in Ginsberg's poem "Howl" (which was dedicated to Carl Solomon). After his release, Solomon became the publishing contact that agreed to publish Burroughs first novel "Junky" (1953) shortly before another serious psychotic episode resulted in him being committed again.The introduction of Neal Cassady into the scene in 1947 had a number of effects. A number of the beats were enthralled with Cassady — Ginsberg had an affair with him; and Kerouac's road trips with him in the late 40s became a focus of his second novel, On the Road. Cassady is most likely the source of "rapping" the loose spontaneous babble that later became associated with "beatniks". He was not much of a writer himself, though the core writers of the group were impressed with the free-flowing style of some of his letters, and Kerouac cited this as a key influence on his invention of the spontaneous prose style/technique that he used in On the Road (the other obvious influence being the improvised solos of Jazz music). This novel (when it eventually appeared in 1957) transformed Cassady (under the name "Dean Moriarty") into a cultural icon: a hyper wildman, frequently broke, largely amoral, but frantically engaged with life.The time lags involved in the publication of Kerouac's On the Road often creates confusion: It was written in 1952 — around the time that John Clellon Holmes published "Go", and the article "This is the beat generation" — and it covered events that took place much earlier, beginning in the late 40s. Since the book was not published until 1957, many people received the impression that it was describing the late '50s era, though it was actually a document of a time ten years earlier. The legend of how "On the Road" was written was as influential as the book itself: high on speed, Kerouac typed rapidly on a continuous scroll of telegraph paper to avoid having to break his chain of thought at the end of each sheet of paper. Kerouac's dictum was that "the first thought is best thought", and insisted that you should never revise text after it is written — though there remains some question about how carefully Kerouac observed this rule.In 1950 Gregory Corso met Ginsberg, who

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was impressed by the poetry Corso had written while incarcerated for burglary. Gregory Corso was the young d'Artagnan added to the original three of the core beat writers, and for decades the four were often spoken of together; though later critical attention for Corso (the least proflific of the four) waned. Corso's first book The Vestal Lady on Brattle and Other Poems appeared in 1955.Then during the 1950s there was much cross-pollination with San Francisco area writers (Ginsberg, Corso, Cassady and Kerouac all moved there for a time). Ferlinghetti (one of the partners who ran the City Lights press and bookstore) became a focus of the scene as well as the older poet Rexroth, whose apartment became a Friday night literary salon. Rexroth organized the famous Six Gallery reading in 1955, the first public appearance of Ginsberg's poem Howl.An account of the Six Gallery reading forms the second chapter of Jack Kerouac's 1958 novel The Dharma Bums, a novel about another poet that read at the event: Gary Snyder (written about under the name of "Japhy Ryder"). Most of the people in the Beat movement had urban backgrounds and they found Snyder to be an almost exotic individual, with his backcountry and rural experience, and his education in cultural anthropology and Oriental languages. Lawrence Ferlinghetti has referred to him as 'the Thoreau of the Beat Generation". One of the primary subjects of The Dharma Bums is Buddhism, and the different attitudes that Kerouac and Snyder have towards it. The Dharma Bums undoubtably helped to popularize Buddhism in the West.

Women of the Beat Generation
There is typically very little mention of women in a history of the early Beat Generation, and a strong argument can be made that this omission is largely a reflection of the sexism of the time rather than a reflection of the actual state of affairs. The poet and anarchist Elsa Gidlow, who hitchiked from New York (where she had lived in Greenwich Village) to the San Francisco area in 1940, is representative of independent-minded women in the 'bohemian background' of the popularly recognized Beat Generation. Gidlow later became an integral member of the West Coast circle that included philosopher Alan Watts. Joan Vollmer (later, Joan Vollmer Burroughs) was clearly there at the beginning of the Beat Generation, and all accounts describe her as a very intelligent and interesting woman. But she did not herself write and publish, and unlike Neal Cassady, no one chose to write a book about her; she has gone down in history as the wife of William Burroughs, killed in an accidental (or perhaps "accidental") shooting. Gregory Corso insisted that there were many female beats, in particular, he claimed that a young woman he met in mid-1955 (Hope Savage, also called "Sura") introduced Kerouac and Ginsberg to subjects such as Li Po and was in fact their original teacher regarding eastern religion (this claim must be an exaggeration, however: a letter from Kerouac to Ginsberg in 1954 recommended a number of works about Buddhism). Corso insisted that it was hard for women to get away with a Bohemian existence in that era: they were regarded as crazy, and removed from the scene by force (e.g. by being subjected to electroshock). This is confirmed by Diane di Prima (in a 1978 interview collected in The Beat Vision): I can't say a lot of really great women writers were ignored in my time, but I can say a lot of potentially great women writers wound up dead or crazy. I think of the women on the Beat scene with me in the early '50s, where are they now? I know Barbara Moraff is a potter and does some writing in Vermont, and that's

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about all I know. I know some of them ODed and some of them got nuts, and one woman that I was running around the Village with in '53 was killed by her parents putting her in a shock treatment place in Pennsylvania ...However, a number of female beats have perservered, notably Joyce Johnson (author of Minor Characters); Carolyn Cassady (author of Off the Road); Hettie Jones (author of How I Became Hettie Jones); Joanne Kyger (author of As Ever; Going On; Japan and India Journals; Just Space); and the aforementioned Diane di Prima (author of This Kind of Bird Flies Backward, Memoirs of a Beatnik). Later, other women writers emerged who were strongly influenced by the beats, such as Janine Pommy Vega (published by City Lights) in the 1960s, and Patti Smith in the early 1970s. The Beatnik stereotype Beatnik The term Beatnik was coined by Herb Caen of the San Francisco Chronicle on April 2, 1958 as a derogatory term, and was probably a reference to the recent Russian satellite Sputnik. Caen's coining of this term appeared to suggest that beatniks were (1) "far out of the mainstream of society" and (2) "possibly pro-Communist". Caen's new term stuck and became the popular label associated with a new stereotype of men with goatees and berets playing bongos while women wearing black leotards dance. It should be noted that thousands of young people on college campuses and even in high schools came to regard themselves as beats or beatniks in the late 1950s and very early 1960s and many of them behaved in a manner very similar to that of the popular stereotype; indeed they comprised a cultural movement of sorts, apart from the literary beats, and often were proud to be called beatniks. Influences on Western culture There are many authors who can claim to be influenced by the beats (see the individual articles for each of the Beat writers); but the Beat Generation phenomenon itself has had a huge influence on Western Culture overall, larger than just the effects of some writers and artists on other writers and artists. In many ways, the Beats can be taken as the first subculture (here meaning a cultural subdivision on intellectual/artistic/lifestyle/political grounds, rather than on any obvious difference in ethnic or religious backgrounds). During the very conformist post-World War II era they were one of the forces engaged in a questioning of traditional values which produced a break with the mainstream culture that to this day people react to -- or against. There's no question that Beats produced a great deal of interest in lifestyle experimentation(notably in regards to sex and drugs); and they had a large intellectual effect in encouraging the questioning of authority (a force behind the anti-war movement); and many of them were very active in popularizing interest in Zen Buddhism in the West.

A quotation from Allen Ginsberg's A Definition of the Beat Generation as published in Friction, 1 (Winter 1982), revised for Beat Culture and the New America: 1950-1965:Some essential effects of Beat Generation artistic movement can be characterized in the following terms:* Spiritual liberation, sexual "revolution" or "liberation," i.e., gay liberation, somewhat catalyzing women's liberation, black liberation, Gray Panther activism.* Liberation of the

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word from censorship.* Demystification and/or decriminalization of some laws against marijuana and other drugs.* The evolution of rhythm and blues into rock and roll as a high art form, as evidenced by the Beatles, Bob Dylan, and other popular musicians influenced in the later fifties and sixties by Beat generation poets' and writers' works.* The spread of ecological consciousness, emphasized early on by Gary Snyder and Michael McClure, the notion of a "Fresh Planet."* Opposition to the military-industrial machine civilization, as emphasized in writings of Burroughs, Huncke, Ginsberg, and Kerouac.* Attention to what Kerouac called (after Spengler) a "second religiousness" developing within an advanced civilization.* Return to an appreciation of idiosyncrasy as against state regimentation.* Respect for land and indigenous peoples and creatures, as proclaimed by Kerouac in his slogan from On the Road: "The Earth is an Indian thing."The essence of the phrase "beat generation" may be found in On the Road with the celebrated phrase: "Everything belongs to me because I am poor."

Transition to the "Hippie" era
Some time during the 1960s, the rapidly expanding "beat" culture underwent a transformation: the "Beat Generation" gave way to "The Sixties Counterculture", which was accompanied by a shift in public terminology from "Beatnik" to "hippie".This was in many respects a gradual transition. Many of the original Beats remained active participants, notably Allen Ginsberg, who became a fixture of the anti-war movement -- though equally notably, Kerouac did not remain active on the scene: he broke with Ginsberg and criticized the 60s protest movements as "new excuses for spitefulness".The Beats in general were a large influence on members of the new "counterculture", for example, in the case of Bob Dylan who became a close friend of Allen Ginsberg.The year 1963 found Ginsberg living in San Francisco with Neal Cassady and Charles Plymell at 1403 Gough St. Shortly after that Ginsberg connected with Ken Kesey's crowd who was doing LSD testing at Stanford, and Plymell was instrumental in publishing the first issue of R. Crumb's Zap Comix on his printing press a few years later then moved to Ginsberg's commune in Cherry Valley, NY in the early 1970s. (The Plymells never lived at the Farm, just visited there; although they remained in Cherry Valley.)According to Ed Sanders the change in the public label from "beatnik" to "hippie" happened after the 1967 "Be-In" in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park (where Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder and Michael McClure were leading the crowd in chanting "Om").There were certainly some stylistic differences between "beatniks" and "hippies" — somber colors, dark shades, and goatees gave way to colorful "psychedelic" clothing and long hair. The beats were known for "playing it cool" (keeping a low profile) but the hippies became known for "being cool" (displaying their individuality).In addition to the stylistic changes, there were some changes in substance: the beats tended to be essentially apolitical, but the hippies became actively engaged with the civil rights movement and the anti-war movement. To quote Gary Snyder in a 1974 interview (collected in The Beat Vision):... the next key point was Castro taking over Cuba. The apolitical quality of Beat thought changed with that. It sparked quite a discussion and quite a dialogue; many people had been basic pacifists with considerable disillusion with Marxian revolutionary rhetoric. At the time of Castro's victory, it had to be rethought again. Here was a revolution that had used violence and that was apparently a good thing. Many people abandoned the pacifist position at that time or at least began to give more thought to it. In any case, many people began to look to politics again as having possibilities. From that follows, at least on some levels, the

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beginning of civil rights activism, which leads through our one whole chain of events: the Movement.We had little confidence in our power to make any long range or significant changes. That was the 50s, you see. It seemed that bleak. So that our choices seemed entirely personal existential lifetime choices that there was no guarantee that we would have any audience, or anybody would listen to us; but it was a moral decision, a moral poetic decision. Then Castro changed things, then Martin Luther King changed things ...

Drug usage
The original members or the Beat Generation group — in Allen Ginsberg's phrase, "the libertine circle" — used a number of different drugs.In addition to the alcohol common in American life, they were also interested in marijuana, benzedrine and, in some cases, opiates such as morphine. As time went on, many of them began using other psychedelic drugs, such as peyote, yage, and LSD.Much of this usage can fairly be termed "experimental", in that they were generally unfamiliar with the effects of these drugs, and there were intellectual aspects to their interest in them as well as a simple pursuit of hedonistic intoxication.Benzedrine at that time was available in the form of plastic inhalers, containing a piece of folded paper soaked in the drug. They would typically crack open the inhalers and drop the paper in coffee, or just wad it up and swallow it whole.Opiates could be obtained in the form of morphine "syrettes": a squeeze tube with a hypodermic needle tip.As the Beat phenomenon spread (transforming from Beat to "beatnik" to "hippie"), usage of some of these drugs also became more widespread. According to stereotype, the "hippies" commonly used the psychedelic drugs (marijuana, LSD), though the use of other drugs such as amphetemines was also widespread.The actual results of this "experimentation" can be difficult to determine. Claims that some of these drugs can enhance creativity, insight or productivity were quite common, as is the belief that the drugs in use were a key influence on the social events of the time. Historical context The postwar era was a time where the dominant culture was desperate for a reassuring planned order; but there was a strong intellectual undercurrent calling for spontaneity, an end to psychological repression; a romantic desire for a more chaotic, Dionysian existence.The beats were a manifestation of this undercurrent (and over time, a primary focus for those energies), but they were not the only one. Before Jack Kerouac embraced "spontaneous prose", there were other artists pursuing self-expression by abandoning control, notably the improvisational elements in jazz music, and the action paintings of Jackson Pollock and the other abstract expressionists. Also, there were other artists in the post-war period who embraced a similar disdain for refined control, often with the opposite intent of suppressing the ego, and avoiding self-expression; notably, the works of the composer/writer John Cage and the paintings and "assemblages" of Robert Rauschenberg. The "cut-up" technique that Brion Gysin developed and that William Burroughs adopted after publishing Naked Lunch bears a strong resemblance to Cage's "chance operations" approach.The beatniks were certainly not the only form of experimental writing in the post-war period. Various other movements/scenes can be identified that were happening roughly concurrently: * The Angries a group of post-war British writers with which the Beats are sometimes compared* The Black Mountain poets (which John Cage was also associated with)* The San

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Francisco Renaissance can be regarded as a separate movement of its own, with origins preceding the beats.There were many influences on the beat generation writers: Blake was a large intellectual influence on Allen Ginsberg and there are striking echoes of Walt Whitman's style in Ginsberg's work; the novel You Can't Win by Jack Black was a strong influence on William Burroughs; Marcel Proust's work was read by many of the beats, and may have inspired Kerouac in his grand scheme for a multi-volume autobiographical work. The full historical background arguably includes Henry David Thoreau, Imagism (especially Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams and H.D.), the Objectivists and Henry Miller. Some points to consider:* Gary Snyder read Pound early and was encouraged in his interests in Japan and China by Pound's work.* William Carlos Williams encouraged a number of beats and wrote a preface for Howl and other poems.* Pound was also important to Allen Ginsberg and to most of the San Francisco Rennaissance group (Charles Olson, Robert Creeley, etc). * H.D. was crucial to Robert Duncan. * Rexroth published with the Objectivists.

This social trend in mid-twentiethcentury American lifewas constituted by groups of alienated youths and younger adults, recognizable by their counterculture enthusiasms and defiance of then accepted norms of dress, deportment, and relation to the work ethic. Beat is the older term and it came into use to designate a self-marginalized social group of the late 1950s and early 60s that was influenced by existentialism and especially by the writers of the Beat Generation. The journalistic word "beatnik" is a pseudo-Slavic coinage of a type popular in the 1960s, the core element derivingfrom "beat" (generation), the suffix -nik being the formative of the noun of agent in Slavic languages. The term "hippie" was originally a slightly pejorative diminutive of the beat "hipster," which in turn seems to derive from 1940s jivetalk adjective "hep," meaning "with it, in step with current fashions." The original hippies were a younger group with more spending money and more flamboyant dress. Their music was rock instead of the jazz of the beats. Despite differences that seemed important at the time, beats and hippies are probably best regarded as successive phases of a single phenomenon. Although the media, which incessantly sensationalized the beats and hippies, did a great deal to foster recruitment, the phenomenon has older roots, stemming not only from its immediate prefiguration in the small circle of beat writers and their friends, but also from the established Bohemian lifestyle of Western Europe and North America. Bohemianism

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is typically the product of the confluence of outcast groups in inner cities. Yet beats and hippies, as part of the whole Counterculture trend, had also a rural contingent, manifested in the establishment of farms run communally. Here a striking forerunner is the English utopian socialist Edward Carpenter (1 844-1 9291, a bearded, sandalwearing man who lived with his male lover and other associates working a market garden and practicing various arts and crafts. Significantly,

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