Archives For Beatdom #17

I’m Watching You Watching Me: The Inversion of the Gaze in Ginsberg’s Photographs

“You never look at me from the place from which I see you.”

– Jacques Lacan

Introduction: The Photographs, The Beats, The Gaze

If we conceive of the photograph as something to be gazed at, what are the affects, then, if the gaze is inverted, and turned back onto its viewer? What happens when the viewer becomes the viewed? To explore these questions, I will analyze a series of five photographs that Allen Ginsberg took while travelling through Tangiers, Morocco, in 1961, from the University of Toronto archives. The photographs were donated by the Larry and Cookie Rossy Family Foundation of Montreal in January, 2014 and together compile the world’s largest collection of Ginsberg’s photographs, numbering 7,686. They are housed within the archives of the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library and the Art Centre. A selection of these images have been made publically accessible online through flickr and the Art Centre Online, and from which I am working from. Continue Reading…

Echoes of the Revolution: Diane di Prima and the Beat Generation

This essay originally appeared in Beatdom #17:

 

            “We are in the middle of a bloody, heartrending revolution / Called America, called the Protestant reformation, called Western man, / Called individual consciousness”

—Diane Di Prima “Rant, from a Cool Place”

The Beat Generation sought revolution on a number of levels: social, personal, political, and artistic. Periodically, a literary group, a counterculture, emerges that exists in stark contrast to the prevailing culture of its time. The Beats are a relatively recent manifestation of a recurring historical tendency including the Romantics and Transcendentalists rather than a discrete movement of singular occurrence. Since a comprehensive examination of the entire Beat movement within the context of revolution is difficult in a format of limited length, using a single author to illustrate the larger whole seems most appropriate. Additionally, focusing on a woman to discuss the entirety of the Beat movement is, while not quite revolutionary, decidedly different, possibly even subversive. As a Beat, a woman, and an artist, Diane di Prima considers revolution in all of its various manifestations and possibilities. Continue Reading…

Defining Beat: Era, Location, and the Importance of Considering Women

 

The Beat Generation, though small in numbers, had a profound effect on the American literary tradition. Coming into existence just after World War II, Beat writers sought to examine post-war capitalism and materialism, coupled with hints of Cold War anxiety. These writers were reacting to many of the high modernists, such as T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound, attempting to reclaim literature from academics that often sounded pretentious, detached, and largely inaccessible; the works of Beat authors tend to be closer to confessional, intimate, and, in general, more in touch with the self. Due to the nature of their surrounding social circumstances, many of the Beat authors tended to have similar themes in their works: drug use, restlessness, sexual freedom, and, ultimately, a rebellion against social norms; however, these characteristics do not make a generation—Beat implies time and place as well, largely New York City and San Francisco in the 1950s. Though the “big” Beat authors are male—Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti—several female writers also existed in the Beat movement, including Diane di Prima and Joyce Johnson. In Johnson’s memoir Minor Characters, as well as di Prima’s collection of poetry, Pieces of a Song, and her memoir, Recollections of my Life as a Woman, Beat themes and locations are prevalent, similar to any of the other canonical Beat writers; therefore, di Prima and Johnson should be understood as Beat writers, offering female voices to a male-dominated movement. Continue Reading…

The Flying Dutchman:

An Overview of LeRoi Jones’ Greatest Commentary on the Struggle of the Black Man and Racial Relations in Post-World War America

Before Amiri Baraka changed his name, he was LeRoi Jones: poet, playwright, and husband to Hettie Cohen, a white Jewish woman. Together LeRoi and Hettie edited the avant-garde literary magazine Yugen, which later published such literary icons as the Beat Generation’s Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac. The couple’s relationship strained as Jones fell in with the ideology of Malcolm X, breaking away from the Beat Generation and into movements such as Black Nationalism and the Black Arts Movement. Baraka’s play Dutchman, written as LeRoi Jones, opened at Cherry Lane Theatre in New York City on March 24, 1964 to intriguing acclaim for an off-Broadway production. This initial production sparked the beginning of Baraka’s revolutionary immersion into Black Nationalism, political theatre, and the eventual name change from LeRoi Jones to Amiri Baraka. Dutchman examines race relations in post-World War America and also commentates on the relationship between white women and black men and the implicit stereotypes presented. Amiri Baraka’s Dutchman presents the suffering of the Black man in America in order to emphasize an illicit political agenda that caters to Black Nationalism. Continue Reading…

World Citizen: How Politics Shaped the Travels of Allen Ginsberg, and How Travel Shaped his Politics

This essay first appeared in Beatdom #17, which you can find on Amazon.

As a child, Allen Ginsberg didn’t get to travel much; however, that wasn’t particularly unusual. Although the motorcar was becoming popular with the middle classes around the time he was born, and would boom in popularity during his childhood, most travel was still conducted within a relatively short distance of the family home. Route 66 was established five months after Ginsberg’s birth, connecting Chicago with California, and making it possible for Americans to drive across the continent, but due to the Great Depression and World War II, intercity car travel actually decreased between 1930 and 1944. Great leaps in transportation were making the world a smaller place, but young Allen only travelled as far as Belmar Beach, in New Jersey during his childhood. His father, Louis, didn’t travel abroad until 1967 – 19 years after his son’s first steps on foreign soil.

How, then, did he end up becoming such a renowned traveler, visiting almost 60 countries and visiting every continent except Antarctica?[1] Continue Reading…

Turtle Island: An Eco-Critique of Capitalism

In the modern era the sustainability of both our daily lives and global systems has become an increasingly important issue. The world finds itself in sight of, and surpassing, certain “planetary boundaries” which mark the limits of a planet which will continue to be inhabitable by humans.[1] These boundaries include ocean acidification, climate change, and biodiversity loss, and they mark a complete break from planetary sustainability. Although personal choice and advancement in resource production may take some steps towards a sustainable future many critics have noted that the blame can be placed primarily on the dominant economic system, capitalism (Foster, 18). For this reason, among others, environmental concerns have increasingly entered into the political sphere. Continue Reading…

Ginsberg and the Machinery of Capitalism: A Political Reading of Howl

In this essay, I use a Marxist lens to examine Allen Ginsberg’s controversial and groundbreaking 1956 poem, Howl. Ginsberg, I argue, was surprisingly sensitive to the politics of class in this poem, setting up a dual class system which divided those who were part of Moloch from the “angelheaded hipsters,” who I argue were analogous to Marx’s proletariat. Ginsberg imagined himself as a revolutionary leader for the class of people oppressed by Moloch, who, like Marx’s proletariat, were working together towards the goal of a political revolution. Ginsberg’s angelheaded hipsters were oppressed by Moloch, Ginsberg’s trope for the machinery of Capitalism, which I explore along two political axes: sexual conformity and psychiatry. Continue Reading…

Review: The Green Ghost

In recent years, William S. Burroughs’ work and life has been examined from various vantage points. In my own 2013 book, I explored his relationship with the Church of Scientology and pored over his work for references to the religion. That same year, Jorge Garcia-Robles looked at Burroughs’ time in Mexico. In 2014, Matthew Levi Stevens looked at Burroughs in terms of magic and the occult, while a plethora of work appeared across the spectrum in celebration of the author’s hundredth birthday. One even focused on his work as a photographer. Then 2015 saw the release of Barry Miles’ superlative biography, which surpassed any of the earlier efforts, including Ted Morgan’s Literary Outlaw. Continue Reading…