The Beat Generation and Korea

Since coming to Korea I haven’t really heard much about the Beat Generation. It’s hardly surprising, of course. The Beats are popular around the world, but they remain at their most appealing in English language-speaking countries.

Gary Snyder is popular in Korea. When I first came here he offered to introduce me to a few of his friends, but sadly that hasn’t yet happened. I came across this short essay about the history of Snyder studies in Korea. It makes for interesting reading.

I spent many hours last month researching a long essay about the significance of the Beats in relation to travel, and charted the journeys each of them took around the world. Allen Ginsberg travelled the most, with William Burroughs clocking up more miles than most people would imagine.

Ginsberg travelled around the world numerous times, and made it to Seoul in 1991, for the 12th World Congress of Poets. I tried looking for more information on this event, but couldn’t find much through Google.

I have some of Ginsberg’s “Howl” tattooed on my left forearm, and I always encourage my students to read it and offer their interpretation. Invariably they will tell me, “Teacher, everyone goes crazy?”

I found a short biography of Ginsberg through the Korean search engine, Naver. He is called 앨런 긴즈버그 and is referred to as part of the 비트제너레이션.

I found a Ginsberg collection and a copy of Burroughs’ Naked Lunch at What the Book? English bookstore in Seoul, but you won’t find Korean translations of these.

What you can find is Kerouac’s On the Road. As one of the most famous American novels, it is published in numerous languages. Although it is stylistically not the easiest text to translate, the meaning of On the Road is certainly easier to convey than that of Naked Lunch or “Howl.”

In Korean it is called 길 위에서, which literally means “on top of the road.” In Korean, Kerouac’s name is 객 케루악. You can buy this book from a Korean website called Gmarket.

There is a Kerouac biography on the Korean version of Wikipedia.

You can read a Naver biography of William Burroughs (윌리엄 버로스) here.

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Author: David S. Wills

David S. Wills is the founder and editor of Beatdom magazine and the author of The Dog Farm. He travels a lot, and is currently working as a professor in China. His latest book is called Scientologist! William S. Burroughs the Weird Cult. You can read more about and by David at his blog, www.davidswills.com or on Tumblr.

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