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…
Archives For Essays
Essays from the magazine.
End of the summer and we hit the road to drive two hundred and fifty miles north: 287, 684, 84, 90, 290, 495 . . . if you know the roads, you know what I’m writing about. If you don’t, it’s all pretty much the same, not much to see, and there’s been a drought so the landscape is dry.
Strange now to think of you, gone without corsets & eyes,
While I walk on the sunny pavement of Greenwich
downtown Manhattan, clear winter noon, and I’ve been up
all night, talking, talking, reading the Kaddish aloud
listening to Ray Charles blues shout blind on the phono-
the rhythm the rhythm – and your memory in my head three
years after – And read Adonais’ last triumphant stanzas
aloud – wept, realizing how we suffer – Continue Reading…
Though largely overlooked in the study of Beat literature, Harold Norse remains a potent and prophetic figure in Twentieth Century poetics. As this year marks the centennial of his birth (July 6, 1916), it’s a fitting time to look back at the Bastard Angel from Brooklyn. The focus of politics in this issue of Beatdom offers a unique opportunity to examine Norse’s examine Norse’s life and poetry through the lens of his experience as an illegitimate child and a queer. Continue Reading…
There is much about the Beat Generation that is shrouded in confusion. Oftentimes it stems from wishful thinking on the part of Beat scholars and readers, and sometimes it emerges from the haze between the myths the Beats themselves created and their own reality. Partly, though, the confusion arises from the simple fact that the politics of the three best-known Beat Generation authors was in fact rather complicated, and no amount of simplification can detract from that fact. Allen Ginsberg was the face of the left for much of the late twentieth century, but was he was also critical of much of the left. Jack Kerouac was the hero of the left in the sixties, yet his personal politics then veered hard right. And William S. Burroughs… Well, his ideas concerning politics involve space travel, engrams, and word viruses. Continue Reading…
In her essay, “John Clellon Holmes and Existentialism”, Ann Charters leaves the reader with a question: To the degree that Holmes’ thought was influenced by existentialism, was he closer to the position of Sartre or Kierkegaard? The main theme of this essay is to answer the question we are left with after reading Charter’s discussion of Holmes’ existentialism. (1) Continue Reading…
If Brion Gysin had not existed, it probably would have been necessary to invent him, as the saying goes. Pre-eminent multimedia psychedelic shaman of the latter-half of the Twentieth Century, Gysin was something of a jack-of-all-trades: Artist, Calligrapher, Entrepreneur, Kinetic Sculptor, Novelist, Performance Artist, Photographer, Poet, Raconteur, Restaurateur, and Traveller in This-and-Other Worlds. Brion did it All. And even a brief list of the names he crossed paths with sounds like a veritable Who’s Who: Laurie Anderson, Francis Bacon, David Bowie, Paul Bowles, Ira Cohen, Ornette Coleman, Max Ernst, Marianne Faithfull, Leonor Fini, Jean Genet, Keith Haring, Billie Holliday, Brian Jones, Timothy Leary, Iggy Pop, Genesis P-Orridge, Patti Smith, Gore Vidal – and, of course, his long-term friend and collaborator, William Burroughs – are among the friends, fellow-travellers and sometimes collaborators that have spoken of their admiration for the Man and his Work. As his biographer, John Geiger, wrote:
The Beats as we know them are a New York City phenomena and walk hand in hand with Abstract Expressionism as one of the great defining moments of art in the second half of the 20th century. Just like Jackson Pollock and William DeKooning were all about reinterpreting what painting meant, so the Beats were trying to redefine linguistics in a way that made poetry and prose contemporary, or at least brought it up to date from the days of the Lost Generation, who expatriated to Paris after World War I. The Beats were the fallout of the existential crisis brought on by the nuclear bomb, and a seminal Beat poem by Gregory Corso called “Bomb” appeared on the page in the form of a mushroom cloud. The Beats were interested in writing from their wits and believed the concept of “first thought was the best thought,” even though they may not have lived by this credo it was a defining trait of their aesthetic stance. It was similar to an Abstract Expressionist looking for a perfect stroke on the canvas that somehow said everything about an internally troubled excited knowable state, even if he/she worked on the painting for weeks, months, or years. The goal of both movements, along with Be-Bop, was to express a moment of feeling without being restricted in time, even if this took years of practice. It might seem a quaint idea from a 2015 perspective but art was very tied to rules when the Beats wrote to the rhythm of their breath, or to the sounds of Charlie Parker’s alto sax, and it was a revolutionary act that scared a lot of critics and aesthetes into thinking the Beats were turning back the clock on poetry and were like modern day Neanderthals rather than the greatest minds of their generation. Yet that’s an image they would’ve been proud of in their inner circle, just like the Abstract Expressionists wanted to get back to primal thinking. The Beats were audacious but demanded to be taken seriously, which is probably why they earned the moniker of angry young men.
From On the Road’s initial publication in 1957 to the release of its original scroll manuscript in 2007, the most persistent issue critics have faced when discussing Kerouac’s most well-known novel has been first establishing it as something that’s worthy of criticism at all. In a 1974 essay, George Dardess cites Norman Mailer’s dismissal of Kerouac as a writer who lacks “discipline, intelligence, honesty, and a sense of the novel”. “Why do students still want to read Kerouac,” Joshua Kupetz quotes a colleague in another essay on the novel in 2007. The rebukes of On the Road – that it has no structure, no definitive ending, is incoherent, and only works as a pop-culture relic – have endured along with the work’s popularity. But perhaps most problems reading On the Road exist because this real-life tale, the story of Kerouac and his friend Neal Cassady, is not best served by seeing the work through a literary lens, but instead by embracing the idea that On the Road occupies a unique space between memoir and fiction. More accurately, On the Road is a story that fits into a literary genre that would eventually become New Journalism, a style of non-fiction writing that’s characterized by literary gymnastics and intense, immersive reporting delivered to the reader through the subjective prism of the author’s own point of view. Continue Reading…