“A Fleeting Moment in a Floating World”: The Women of the Beat Generation Through Allen Ginsberg’s Eyes

“The whole Beat scene had very little to do with the participation of women as artists themselves.

The real communication was going on between the men,

and the women were there as onlookers…

You kept you mouth shut,

and if you were intelligent and interested in

things you might pick up what you could.

It was a very masculine aesthetic.”[1]

-Joyce Johnson

 

 

Inception: Recognizing Absence

“The poignancy of the photograph comes from looking back to a fleeting moment in a floating world.”[2] Upon Allen Ginsberg’s reflection on nearly a lifetime of capturing photographs, his remark seems most fitting when considering those less visible, but equally significant writers of the Beat Generation. Gazing through Ginsberg’s lens of cultural history exposes complex narratives, both fleeting and lasting, of nonconformity, rebellion, and artistic spirit. Though it also reveals a powerful void; an absence of silence and omission. At a time when women’s independence was either limited or non-existent, such spaces enveloped female artists striving for personal freedom amid male dominated society. The women of the Beat Generation were active counterparts within this subculture, yet their lack of visual representation exposes a fissure in Ginsberg’s photography.

The iconoclastic, masculinist community of the Beat Generation is typically associated with the three men considered to be its primary figures: Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and William Burroughs. It was the movement that helped reshape the cultural and literary landscape of America, first capturing national attention and then gaining a public audience by challenging the publishing standards of the era.[3] At a time when social, political, and cultural expectations were rapidly changing, Beat writers sought to resist mainstream pressures. They refused to conform to modernist ideologies, which were pervading the nation, as they believed to them to be stifling their creativity.

Cast in the shadows of the leading men, female writers struggled to maintain a place within the innermost Beat circle. The 1940s and 1950s saw women as belonging to their parents first and their husbands second, subsequently restricting their creative pursuits, and leaving their individuality limited or nonexistent. Struggling to navigate this tumultuous terrain, female Beats looked to their predecessors and contemporaries to forge cross-generational bonds. They heeded the Beat ethos and built extended family communities amongst themselves. United in their exclusion from Ginsberg’s innermost circle of male writers, they sustained these networks to help support their dissent from literary and social convention. Often disregarded or excluded from Beat discourse, these women played significant roles as the supporters and muses of creative male “genius,” and more importantly, as artists themselves. While they were involved in propelling the movement forward, their omission from such discourse is subsequently reflected in the University of Toronto’s archive of Ginsberg’s photography.

There are numerous volumes dedicated to the Beat Generation, yet the women are given minimal space (if any), and information about them is often conveyed as an aside to the men, or told from the male perspective. For instance, seminal texts by Bill Morgan, Arthur and Kit Knight, Jennie Skerl, and James Campbell primarily focus primarily on the male writers. The women’s exclusion can be read as an erasure from cultural history, as they have been written out of Beat discourse. To date, female Beat scholarship works toward giving them a voice by reconstructing the parameters of Beat, reconsidering how such a category can be identified, and opening up the definitions that have been carved out thus far. Scholars such as Richard Peabody, Brenda Knight, Ronna C. Johnson, Nancy M. Grace, and Ann Charters are working to “redress the long eclipse of women Beats”[4] within male-centered scholarship.

While these texts effectively strive to rewrite women into literary and cultural history, there has yet to be scholarship which examines their visual representations. The University of Toronto’s archive of Ginsberg’s photography offers this opportunity. Though a number of his photographs have been published in books, such as Sarah Greenough’s Beat Memories: The Photographs of Allen Ginsberg (2013) and Allen Ginsberg’s Photographs: Allen Ginsberg (1991), the archive is the world’s largest collection of his photographs. Donated to the university in the spring of 2012 by the Larry and Cookie Rossy Family Foundation of Montreal, it is composed of 7,686 prints that range from the early 1950s to the late 1990s. The collection is significant for providing a visual record of the Beat Generation, through the lens of one of its primary leaders. As there has yet to be scholarly work that critically engages with the archive, this unique vantage point provides a tool for revisiting this past, and revising Beat history. By first acknowledging its critical omissions, these photographs can then be used to piece together the female’s fragmented presence, and fill in the missing pieces of this history.

Using firsthand archival research as its framework,[5] this project examines the marginalization of the women of the Beat Generation. It argues that the relative absence of female artists within the Ginsberg photography archive parallels their marginalized status within the Beat movement. Founded upon male camaraderie, the men forged an exclusive community that was catalyzed through a shared set of beliefs, late night gatherings infused with alcohol and narcotics, writing and discussing literature, and travelling together, all while using photography to make visible and further deepen these bonds. Less visible, but no less significant, the women formed their own cross-generational bonds through the shared experiences of their marginalization. This project utilizes Barbara Ehrenreich for discussing the social binaries and expectations of 1950s America, in addition to Peter Stallybrass and Allon White’s theory of displaced abjection for explicating the men’s assertion of power over the women as a marginalized group themselves. Simone de Beauvoir’s Second Sex (2011) is drawn on for elucidating the ways in which women were positioned as the “Other,” in relation to the male “Subject,” or “Absolute.” This project also utilizes the photographic theories put forth by Marianne Hirsch and Leo Spitzer in Feeling Photography (2014) to discuss affect as a key component to keeping the archive active and open to interrogation, while also emphasizing the supportive properties of community that underpin this project. Tina Campt’s discussion of the archive provides a lens through which Ginsberg’s photographs can be analyzed in relation to family photography and concepts of belonging, as well as the cross-generational bonds between the Beats, as evidenced in the images. Peggy Phelan’s Unmarked: The Politics of Performance (1993) will be used for unravelling identity politics against the backdrop of American postwar society, as they develop in Ginsberg’s photographs. Phelan’s theories of visibility/invisibility will also be used in support of female agency, in relation to community building among male and female Beats.

 

 

The Women of the Beat Generation: Rebellious Spirits

The Beat Generation was founded against a backdrop of male domination and modernist conformity; a stiffing social climate that restrained women’s creative pursuits and their attempts at independence. Particular to this moment in time, the inception of the Beats saw an influx of rapid social, political, and cultural changes. For instance, a surge in economic prosperity that led to rising birthrates and suburbanized family standards, the domination of mass consumer culture, and complex military advancements that led to increased governmental power and control[6]—all of which the Beats rejected in favour of subversive personal relationships,[7] transitory employment, and drug and alcohol (ab)use. Such unprecedented upheaval helps to locate Beat writers in postwar literary and cultural history. Similar to their predecessors female Beats “and most of their contemporaries were expected to marry a wage-earning male as soon as possible and settle down to raise a family.”[8] Beat memoirist Joyce Johnson, writes however, that they “were the ones who dared to leave home.”[9] Johnson, among fellow artists, strove for personal fulfillment beyond the domestic realm, aspiring to break from the conventional and subscribe to nonconformity. At a time when the stakes for social condemnation were high, female resistance was particularly shocking, for it was more acceptable for the men to rebel, than it was for the women.

Many female artists of the Beat Generation realized at a young age that they wanted more than just the suburban family life that had been set out before them.[10] While recognizing its failure to grant their rebellious spirits the personal fulfilment they desired, they were also trapped in the gender binaries of 1950s America. For those brave writers who left home against their family’s wishes, they were often faced with minimal prospects outside of the home. Since they were not expected to stray from the “rigidly typed female activities,”[11] they often relied on part time “female” jobs to sustain themselves while striving toward their artistic goals. In most instances, they “could expect to enter the labour market as a saleswoman or waitress earning something near the minimum wage.”[12] Though these oftentimes “dreary secretarial jobs”[13] supplemented their independent lifestyles, they were typically of indefinite status, bearing limited marketability for prospective careers.[14] Beat women would be “hard pressed to make a living on [their] own at all,”[15] despite the surge of economic growth that brought more women into the workplace at this time. For instance, to help support themselves, Johnson and Elise Cowen both worked as typists for editorial firms, Diane di Prima worked part time in bookstores and as a live model for artists, and Joanne Kyger taught English and accepted small parts in low-budget, English-speaking films while living in Kyoto, Japan. However, with financial hardship threatening their independence, economic necessities left most of the women to fall dependent on the men in their lives.

For the female artists who dared to lead a life of independence, they were not only left under-supported financially, but also psychologically. Women such as Hettie Jones were faced with severe repercussions for defying mainstream ideologies, as set forth by their previous generation. The poet/editor/publisher severed ties with her family after her marriage to black poet/publisher LeRoi Jones. The couple, and their family of two children, were not accepted by Jones’s family, leading to her permanent renunciation of them. Radical ramifications such as this detracted most women from challenging conformist ideologies; however, participating in the Beat movement, and adhering to its ethos, spurred their rebellious spirits. Though some women were consequently abandoned by their biological families, the families that they chose to create, including the extended family of Beats, helped provide them with the emotional support that was lost with their parents.

Struggling to achieve the same goals as the men, female Beats were stilted by their social climate. And while the Beats are often accused of “having no respect for creative women,”[16] this insolence was not specific to their community. As an exceedingly pervasive mindset throughout postwar American culture, “women did not even question it.”[17] As Johnson writes in her 1983 Beat memoir, Minor Characters: “We did not expect to be rebels all by ourselves…Once we had found our male counterparts, we had too much blind faith to challenge the old male/female rules.”[18] Situated between the Silent Generation of the 1920 to 1940s, and the Revolutionary of the 1960s to 1970s, the women were trapped in the ambivalent position of being aware of, and resisting, their marginalization, yet lacking solutions to these problems. As a by-product of “widely held, unproblematized assumptions about gender, literary production, and artistic authority,”[19] the male-defined social climate forced the women to participate in these gender binaries, thereby reinforcing them.

Gender problematics effectually led to the relegation of women to the domestic sphere. This meant that they often exerted their energies into supporting the men in their lives, rather than their own artistic production. As a literary descendant of the Beat Generation, poet Anne Waldman remarks that Beat women were “troubled characters—driven, desperate, fighting against the constraints of culture, family, education and often dwelling in the twilight of a ‘great’ man’s personality or career.”[20] Not merely restrained by the social ideologues of their time, Beat women were also often challenged by their male counterpart’s success. Poet, Elise Cowen, is such an example. Pushing against her parent’s wishes to live independently, she spent her time writing emotionally fraught, autobiographical poetry in secret.[21] She ceaselessly supported the various men with whom she was involved, rather than focusing on her writing, or endeavoring to publish her own poetry. Shortly after meeting Ginsberg, whom she referred to as her “twin soul,”[22] they entered into a brief relationship. During this time, for her, “everything was Allen,”[23] and she supported the poet-photographer by typing “Kaddish”[24] for him. Cast in the shadow of Ginsberg’s brilliant spotlight, Cowen is more commonly remembered for her relationship with him, than for her poetry.[25]

As forerunners of the women’s movements of the late 1960s, their unarticulated grievances forced them to find their own use of the term “Beat.” In recognition of their marginalized position, they transformed their version of individuality into a “revolt for personal freedom enacted by and in their writing.”[26] While relegated to spaces of domesticity, they used literature to problematize the impact of restrictive social binaries, and insert female-centered subject matter into Beat discourse. The women played crucial roles in the movement while it was burgeoning underground, and continue to be some of its most prolific writers today.[27] However, their participation extends beyond their role as artists. Scholar, Brenda Knight, acknowledges their contributions to the movement as influential figures for the community of female artists, as well as the male writers in Women of the Beat Generation: The Writers, Artists, and Muses at the Heart of a Revolution (1996). Unlike most Beat literature, this seminal text shines a light on the female artists who served as precursors for Beat women, the muses that inspired the men, and the female writers themselves—those who made significant contributions to Beat discourse, and the lesser known artists who have often been forgotten or excluded. Considering the cross-generational communities of female artists necessitates an acknowledgement of the various times, and ways in which, women participated in the Beat Generation. No less important, these invisible networks were created alongside the masculine community from which they were excluded from, and helped to reinforce their invigorating bonds.

 

The Beat Generation: Social Climate

American postwar ideologies not only stifled female artists’ licence for creativity, but also excluded them from the innermost circle of male Beat writers. Despite women being present as supporters and inspirational muses, the movement was underpinned with what Ginsberg called an “intimacy”[28] of close male friends. Such intimacy promoted the development of their lifelong bonds, while simultaneously reinforcing the camaraderie among Ginsberg’s initial innermost circle. The exclusion of the female writers, artists, and muses who were indeed present was thus a marginalization from a group that was itself marginal.

Liminal to mainstream society, the Beats occupied a position of opposition and rejection. In addition to defying traditional literary forms, they used this position to forthrightly resist the occupational and familial expectations of postwar society. Entwined together, these conventions are used by feminist historian, Barbara Ehrenreich, to help set the parameters of “Beat”:

Dropping out from their own mostly lower-middle-class backgrounds, they worked, when they worked at all, as manual laborers, seamen or railway workers, and hung out in a demimonde inhabited by drifters, junkies, male prostitutes, thieves, would-be poets and actual musicians.[29]

Their lowly social stature was partly the result of their need to “circumvent what they felt were the insufferable pressures of conventional family life in a consumer society.”[30] According to Ehrenreich, they used male camaraderie as an instrument for protesting against the “white-collar work world.”[31] Their contempt toward consumer culture was an outright refusal to adhere to the consumption of production, and the necessity to therefore obtain steady employment for the mere “privilege” of consuming.[32] Unlike female Beats, the men abstained from steady employment—and thus incomes—by adherening to the “bohemian lifestyle.”[33] In the formative years of the movement, they supported themselves with sporadic literary paycheques, petty crime,[34] and a variety of transitory general labour positons.[35]

Additionally, the Beats’ open homosexuality bolstered their conceptualization of subversive masculinity, as it underpinned their male camaraderie. Ginsberg’s initial circle—Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs, Lucien Carr, John Clellon Holmes, and Herbert Huncke, which later expanded to include Neal Cassady, Gregory Corso, Gary Snyder, and Ginsberg’s lifelong partner, Peter Orlovsky—explicitly critiqued “the suburbanized family life that work was supposed to support.”[36] It was a rejection of the “firm expectation…that required men to grow up, marry and support their wives.”[37] This notion was perpetuated within popular culture and academia;[38] both of which the Beats were absorbed into once emerging from New York City’s and San Francisco’s underground poetry circles, where they conceptualized their “Vision” to recreate the art of literature that they felt had been lost in the harsh brutalities of society between wars.[39] The Beats used innovative literature to challenge the encapsulating conformist lifestyle of mainstream society, underpinned with their exclusive male camaraderie.

Through this subversive masculinity, and refusal to adhere to conformist expectations, derived the female Beats’ exclusion. Not only disregarded from Ginsberg’s male-dominated literary circle, but consequently from his community of bonding. Ehrenreich notes that the “Beat pioneers were deeply, if intermittently, attached to each other. Women and their demands for responsibility were, at worst, irritating and more often just uninteresting compared to the ecstatic possibilities of male adventure.”[40] That is, the conventional suburban life, and its foundation in American consumer culture, was further rejected in place of being swept up by inner-city and international explorations; all of which were documented with spontaneous note- and picture-taking.

With few exceptions, their female counterparts were abandoned in favour of the men’s own literary pursuits. Ginsberg remarks upon this, making a claim for the “genius” of his contemporaries, while devaluing the literary contributions of the women:

Yes, it’s all right to blame the men for exploiting the women—or, I think the point is, the men didn’t push the women literally or celebrate them…But then, among the group of people we knew at the time, who were the writers of such power as Kerouac or Burroughs? Were there any? I don’t think so…Were we responsible for the lack of outstanding genius in the women we knew? Did we put them down or repress them? I don’t think so….[41]

Although the female Beats simultaneously grappled to defy convention in pursuit of personal freedom, Ginsberg’s failure, or refusal, to recognize their literary merit was a utilization of his gendered power. In accordance with his statement, Beat women can be viewed in relation to Peter Stallybrass and Allon White’s concept of displaced abjection. It is “the process whereby ‘low’ social groups turn their figurative and actual power, not against those in authority, but against those who are even ‘lower.’” [42] This concept elucidates the men’s necessity to stand above the women as a mechanism for asserting power. Considered to be a liminal group themselves, Beat men turned to the women to assume a role of gender privilege, granting them some degree of leverage over a group that was already marginalized.

Despite evidence suggesting Ginsberg’s devaluation of female talent, Beat poet Gregory Corso acknowledged the women’s rebellious, yet seemingly indiscernible, presence later in 1994:

There were women, they were there, I knew them, their families put them in institutions, they were given electric shock. In the 50s if you were male you could be a rebel, but if you were female your families had you locked up. There were cases, I knew them, someday someone will write about them.[43]

Corso is one of the few males to recognize the women’s participation in the movement, and he further illuminates their abjection among male Beat writers, subsequently, in Ginsberg’s photographs. Despite that the Beats themselves held low social stature, Corso’s assertion further explicates the postwar gender binaries that worked to support the defiant male spirit, while restricting female independence. The women’s displaced abjection resulted in their work, and their presence, being undervalued.

 

The Archive: Two Portions

The University of Toronto’s archive of Ginsberg’s photography is comprised of nearly 8,000 prints that range from 1953 to 1969,[44] and from 1981 to 1997. The photographs can be viewed in two such parts, with the first portion as a visual record of the early Beat days, and the second as documentation of Ginsberg’s everyday experiences. Throughout the early to mid-1950s, Ginsberg visually documented the inception of the Beat movement, which was derived from his own “personal interest in intimate friends.”[45] These early “keepsakes,”[46] as he called them, illustrate the male dominated environment, while simultaneously normalizing, and emphasizing, the male camaraderie that underpinned the Beat movement. These early images also illuminate the female Beats’ exclusion, for only a fragment of the photographs represent them. The second portion of the photographs shows the evolution of Ginsberg’s practice, as his picture-taking transformed into a “continual reportage”[47] of his everyday experiences.

 

The Photographs: 1953-1962

Entwined within the formative years of the Beat movement were the close relationships between male writers. While using literature as a means of “trying to look at the world in a new light, trying to look at the world in a way that gave it some meaning…to find values…that were valid,”[48] the men were also generating a sense of belonging amongst their small community. These early foundational moments helped create their lifelong bonds, which are evidenced in Ginsberg’s earliest photographs. Upon later reflection of these images, in 1993 Ginsberg commented:

We all enjoyed fooling around with the Kodak Retina in the fall of ’53 when Burroughs was staying at my apartment and Jack came to visit us frequently. The photo sessions never lasted for more than five or ten minutes, though. We took them while we were in the middle of other matters, like writing or just gossiping, so the picture taking was not very conspicuous at the time, or unusual.[49]

Bonded together on the fringes of mainstream society, the men formed their own communities of extended families. Captured within the various transitory apartments they called home, the intimacy amongst the group is further shown by the photographs’ private settings. As such, these early snapshots can be viewed in relation to family photography. According to Tina M. Campt, the earliest family portraiture was framed around the domestic, and was perceived as “a medium through which the family expresses and projects its desires and aspirations for social status and self-creation.”[50] Captured spontaneously in the midst of leisurely visits, these images “[function] as a vernacular practice through which the family constructs and reproduces itself, not necessarily as it is or was, but rather as it would like to be seen.”[51] Ginsberg took these photographs not as art objects, or to show others, but rather, as “sacramental” keepsakes for himself and his “intimate friends.”[52] The men used these photographs to “actively produce the relationships pictured within them through.”[53] Illuminating their relationships, while emphasizing the importance of male bonding, these photographs are evocative markers of the exclusive male Beat community. Moreover, these photographs serve as evidence of the extended families that they created for themselves, providing a tangible record of their exclusive tight-knit bonds.

Allen Ginsberg, “William Burroughs and Jack Kerouac mock fighting 206 E 7th street,” 1953,

 

Ginsberg further elucidates the exclusivity of his close circle of writer-friends, naming only Burroughs and Kerouac as the intimate friends who were involved in these photo sessions. His description also presumes the women’s position within this community. Had Ginsberg and the other males considered the female artists to be a part of their intimate group, they may have been included in the photographs. As they were not participants in these private gatherings, however, they were not granted such an opportunity. Marianne Hirsch and Leo Spitzer note that “photos serve as evidence of belonging that can become a powerful confirmation in shifting political circumstances.”[54] While the female Beats are not shown in Ginsberg’s photographs, these images further perpetuate the exclusionary male camaraderie, while simultaneously facilitating the women’s marginalization.

Allen Ginsberg, “Self-portrait,” 1985, Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto Collection.

Whereas photography worked to generate social bonds amongst the men, at the same time, it further marginalized the female artists. Dominated by male subjects, the photographs feature images from the Beats’ international travels, mirrored self-portraits that show Ginsberg’s interest in recording his aging body, and experimentations in photographic processes, such as double-exposed photographs that merge Ginsberg’s portrait with Gregory Corso’s, amongst numerous others. Despite the wide scope of subject matter, there remains a limited presence of female Beat artists.[55]

Allen Ginsberg, “Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso, multiple exposure,” 1953, Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto Collection.

For the women who are present in this portion of the archive, the ways in which they are represented and identified differs from the men’s. They are often not the focal point, labelled as “women friends” with the other known males, “unidentified,” “homeless panhandler,” “peasant woman,” or simply, “woman” or “female.” Most of these were photographed during Ginsberg’s travels throughout India, Mexico, and Japan, and do not feature the female Beat writers. These images appear to be captured as objects of fascination, rather than as keepsakes of personal experiences with intimate friends, in the way that Ginsberg described his earlier photographs with his male comrades.

Allen Ginsberg, “Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso, multiple exposure,” 1953, Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto Collection.

Poet Joanne Kyger is one of the few exceptions to the absence of Beat women in the earlier portion of Ginsberg’s photographs. A writer all her life, she had her first book of poems published in 1965, with the second following five years later.[56] Though she garnered success through her literary agency, her marriage to Beat poet Gary Snyder appears to account for her inclusion in the photos, for they are primarily captured together. While Kyger was initially a part of the San Francisco Renaissance, this poetry movement merged with the Beats after Ginsberg’s move to the West coast in 1953. Kyger used poetry to confront the burdens of gender conventions as she saw them, while addressing female experiences and perspectives from this time. Involved in various underground literary circles, she met Ginsberg through her marriage to Snyder. The three of them, along with Orlovsky, travelled throughout India together in 1962, extensively documenting their journeys with Ginsberg’s camera. Kyger’s photographic presence in the archive is primarily from this trip, and she is the most photographed female Beat in it. Numerous images show her with Snyder, hiking through the mountainous landscapes of Kausani, India; romping through the shorelines of seaside Japan; and seated at Ginsberg’s kitchen table, happily entwined in each other’s arms. The sole image of Kyger alone is a captivating print from their trip to India. Snapped in Almora, the 5” x 10” black and white print illuminates her profile, sitting beneath a tree absorbed in a book. Seemingly unaware of the lens, Kyger appears perfectly poised atop a ledge that overlooks a mountainous landscape. This portrait deviates from Ginsberg’s snapshot aesthetic, for she is centrally framed as the focal point. Perhaps it was Ginsberg’s intent to capture the intellectual mind of his female writer friend, or perhaps it was captured like the others, in a moment of spontaneity, in which he was merely recording the scene’s aesthetics.

Allen Ginsberg, “Joanne Kyger and Gary Snyder (embrace) 3,” 1963, Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto Collection.

Allen Ginsberg, “Joanne Kyger sitting on ledge with book, in Almora, visiting Lama Govinda, March,” 1962, Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto Collection.

Images of Alene Lee appear as an unexpected inclusion to the Ginsberg photography collection. Often associated with the Beats for her relationship with Kerouac, she was an unpublished poet who had demanded anonymity and requested to be excluded from all Beat discourse. Until recently, she was the only Beat writer who had not been revived by any of the movement’s biographers, with neither her name, nor her writing, appearing in Beat anthologies or literature. As one of Kerouac’s numberless female muses, she primarily existed in his autobiographical novels under various pseudonyms,[57] until the influx of emerging scholarship that now works toward placing her in history.[58] That there are few tangible traces of Lee remaining, and that she is one of the few Beat women represented within the archive, her presence is therefore quite significant. Two undated, small black and white prints show different views of Lee seated closely next to Burroughs on a balcony in New York City. The first photograph shows them leaning toward each other as they intimately touch hands, with Lee seemingly mid-laugh, and Burroughs attentively observing. The second image shows the smirking pair sharing a knowing gaze. These rare photographs suggest that Lee had a close relationship with Burroughs, and likely the other Beat men.[59]

Allen Ginsberg, “William Burroughs and Alene Lee,” date unknown, Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto Collection.

The photographs of Kyger and Lee are exceptional for demarcating a departure from Ginsberg’s omission of female subject matter. Perhaps their inclusion points toward a closeness that cannot be fully evidenced by the photographic gaze. In accordance with Campt, “what we have ‘seen’ is that photographs illuminate in equal parts what is visible in the image, as well as what is hidden within it, and that revelation is never a transparent process.”[60] Perhaps it is the case that the intimate relationships that these women had with Ginsberg and Burroughs respectively, granted them a select, or privileged, inclusion to this “boy gang.”[61] Though Ginsberg emphasized the normalcy of “sacramental” [62] male friendship, these images suggest that the defining borders between pre-existing gender binaries, were indeed permeable. The images of Kyger and Lee reveal a set of concealed bonds that had predominantly escaped the eye of the camera. As a medium that documents and displays the personal relations amongst it subjects, it also then functions as an instrument for producing the “linkages and attachments it depicts by visually and affectively suturing individuals to one another.”[63] These photographs thus work toward placing female Beats into such discourse. By making them visible, and illuminating their presence as participants in this movement, these images evidence an exception to Ginsberg’s photographic emphasis on male Beat camaraderie.

Allen Ginsberg, “William Burroughs and Alene Lee,” date unknown, Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto Collection.


The few photographs of Beat women from this portion of the collection invite an interrogation of their individual experiences based on their appearance—or lack thereof. As a marginalized group that was confronted with an active exclusion from a group that was itself liminal to mainstream society, the minimal female presence underscores the environment in which they were captured. Other women, such as Cowen, poet/memoirist/publisher Hettie Jones, poet/memoirist Brenda Frazer (Bonnie Bremser), and memoirist Joyce Johnson are among the other female Beat writers who have made significant contributions to Beat discourse, yet are not represented in the archive.

Though more recent scholarship has accredited the women’s position within the Beat Generation as writers and inspirational muses, their initial omission from early postwar scholarship can be read as an erasure from history. More specifically, Cowen is a tragic example of the women’s erasure; though hers is quite literal. After a lifelong battle with depression, she ended her life early by throwing herself from her parent’s seventh floor New York City apartment at the age of twenty-nine. Afterward, her parents, who had never supported her vocation as a writer, burned all but eighty-three of her poems. These were not published until 2014, when her close friend and biographer Leo Skir compiled the surviving poems in Elise Cowen: Poems and Fragments. As a consequence of the extensive gap between her works’ composition and publication, Cowen is often left out of Beat discourse. Since there is minimal scholarship written about her, much of what is known about her short but meaningful life has been gained subjectively through other artists’ biographies.[64]

In addition to the female artists’ marginalization by their male counterparts, with whom they shared the same postwar anxieties, they were also written out of Beat history. Accordingly, the women’s alterity “appears to be an absolute.”[65] According to Simone de Beauvoir, “there have always been women…as far back as history can be traced, they have always been subordinate to men; their dependence is not the consequence of an event or becoming, it did not happen.”[66] Rather, the female Beats’ position was an assumed marginalization; an assumption that male domination remained unquestioned. De Beauvoir elaborates this notion, writing that “[t]his is the fundamental characteristic of women: she is the Other at the heart of a whole whose two components are necessary to each other.”[67] That is, the men required women to assert their dominance as the Absolute Subject, for which they gained some degree of power over as a liminal group of artists cultivating the definition of 1950s American counterculture. The women are required as the Other, positioned as a marker for the males to define themselves against—i.e., to assert their power. Poet Anne Waldman also utilizes this concept for articulating the particular position of female Beats in her introduction to Women of the Beat Generation: The Writers, Artists, and Muses at the Heart of a Revolution: “[H]ere we may be privy to what else—what ‘other’—was going on at the same time, in parallel time, and how the various lives—of both men and women—interwove and dovetailed with one another.”[68] Waldman identifies the women’s position as Other, while underscoring their presence as active, yet neglected. As elucidated by the images, the women of the Beat Generation had minimal presence in the formative years of the movement, coinciding with Ginsberg’s photographic practice, and the male defined social climate.

 

The Photographs: 1983-1997

By the 1980s, after nearly two decades of feminist scholarship, the complex role of women writers within the Beat Generation finally came to light.[69] This is a turning point that appears to coincide with Ginsberg’s photography, and is subsequently reflected in the archive. Of the nearly 8,000 photographs, the women can primarily be found in the photographs from 1983 to 1997. Though these images show an increase in the number of women represented, they remain scarce when compared to the men, and feature the same few writers: Diane di Prima, Anne Waldman, Carolyn Cassady, and Ann Charters. These prints illustrate less of the spontaneous, snapshot aesthetic that characterize Ginsberg’s earlier photographs that take place in private settings. Rather, they convey his interest in using the camera as an observational tool for reportage, often showing everyday scenes.

It is evidenced that the women have minimal visual presence, yet this was a time when the women became agents of their own recovery, writing themselves into Beat and postwar literary history. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, many of them wrote memoirs that document the complexities of their position, effectively recording their claims to Beat culture.[70] The women have thus utilized their agency and granted themselves visibility by way of their literature, rather than Ginsberg’s photographs. As unseen, “ubiquitous ghost[s],”[71] they persistently, and passionately, inserted their stories into Beat history.

After a nearly twenty-year break, photography became increasingly important to Ginsberg, and by 1983, he had revived his practice. The images from this point forward show the evolution of his work, as he became more enthralled by the possibilities that the lens offered him. Ginsberg effectively replaced his pen and paper with a Kodak Retina camera, transforming his “peripatetic notes”[72] into visual imagery. His photographs became a continual documentation of his everyday experiences, capturing his astute observations of (in)significant people and events, as he navigated between the East and West Coasts; as well as his journeys around the globe. The achievements that second-wave feminism brought with them included an influx of literary production and publication by female Beats, in addition to a shift in Ginsberg’s photographic gaze.

Allen Ginsberg, “Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Diane di Prima, Philip Whalen and Allen Ginsberg,” 1990, Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto Collection.

The most well-known female writer of the Beat Generation, Diane di Prima, is a seminal figure in the movement. A fervent writer since the age of seven, she has over 750 publications to date,[73] extending far beyond her fame as a Beat author. She withstands, however, a peculiar position within Beat discourse, as well as the archive. Di Prima is exceptional as one of the few women accredited by Ginsberg for her literary merit,[74] yet there are no images of her in the first portion of the collection that document her involvement in the Beats’ formative years. It was not until 1989 that she was included in his subject matter. Her connection to the Beats ensued from her influential relationship with Ezra Pound that began in 1953, and led her to fellow poets Ginsberg, Kenneth Patchen, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Like Kyger, di Prima wrote poetry from her own perspective to addresses the gender binaries of her generation, and problematize its restrictions; though her pronouncements are bolder than Kyger’s. More specifically, di Prima inimitably addressed female agency through her critique “of the idea that women are content with subordination and the conviction that women desire and are fit for self-determination, sexual liberation, and independence.”[75] Living independently, she gained the attention of Ginsberg through the strength of her poetic voice, ultimately earning his recognition as the only “strong writer who could hold her own,”[76] among his male dominated community. Along with his commendation, Ginsberg deflects the blame for the “lack of outstanding genius in the women [he] knew.”[77] He simultaneously praises di Prima, while further marginalizing the other female Beats. This poignant statement speaks to the extent to which patriarchal structures could be resisted. As one of the few women who has a strong presence within Beat discourse, di Prima’s absence seems amiss in Ginsberg’s earlier photographs. It may be that the societal restrictions, in conjunction with her lack of an intimate connection, such as Kyger’s and Lee’s, thwarted her participation in his photo sessions. That is, those invisible attachments, linking particular relations, sutured the women into Ginsberg’s frame.

Unlike the other women from this portion of the collection, di Prima has not been captured as a single portrait. Rather, she is shown with Ginsberg, and fellow Beats Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Philip Whalen, in 1990; as well as her partner Sheppard Powell in 1989. These photographs were posed during particular events, such as a trip to the Buddhist private college, Naropa University, Boulder, CO, which correlates with Ginsberg’s observational, rather than intimate, picture-taking from this time. Di Prima has also been captured in two photographs with fellow female writer, Waldman, and one with singer/songwriter Marianne Faithfull in 1989. Although di Prima does not appear to have an intimate relationship with the male Beats, these three images are significant for illustrating the women’s bonds. Excluded from the male dominated subject matter of Ginsberg’s earlier photographs, di Prima’s pose with Waldman shows the cross-generational ties that spanned beyond the Beat years.

Allen Ginsberg, “Diane di Prima and Anne Waldman at Naropa,” 1989, Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto Collection.

Anne Waldman has the strongest presence in the archive, appearing in more photographs than any other women. She was actively involved in the later generation of East Coast poets, after the dissolution of the Beats in the early 1960s, receiving her first book publication in 1968. Her writing combines the Beat Generation’s “antiestablishment impulses” with the “resistance of second-wave feminism.”[78] Waldman was not writing with the Beat Generation, yet she is often associated with it for her close relationship with Ginsberg. Mentored by the poet-photographer, she remarks that she was “flattered to say that he regarded her as his ‘spiritual wife.’”[79] This tight bond seems to have granted Waldman admittance into his picture plane. She is often captured amongst Ginsberg’s intimate male comrades in various public venues: dressed elegantly and seated across from Orlovsky in an upscale restaurant; tucked into a corner booth with Burroughs, sharing similar grimaces; and with Ginsberg and Corso, as the sole women in their social gatherings. In all of the photographs, Waldman looks to the camera straight-faced, and offers only the hint of a smile in a fragment of the photographs. These images show her as holding a unique position within the archive, for she vacillates between the community of men, and the women.

Allen Ginsberg, “Anne Waldman and William Burroughs,” 1985, Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto Collection.

Allen Ginsberg, “Peter Orlovsky seated at table with Anne Waldman, Naropa,” 1985, Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto Collection.

Carolyn Cassady is most famously known as the wife of Neal Cassady.[80] She is among the women who effectually staked claims in Beat discourse by writing themselves into history. Her memoirs, Heart Beat: My Life with Jack and Neal (1976) and Off the Road (1994), document her emotionally wrenched relationship between her husband and his best friend Kerouac, as they continually left her to tend to their home and children while they traversed the country in search of “kicks,”[81] independence, and any experiences that might have inspired Kerouac’s writing. Cassady participated in the Beat community by way of these romantic relationships,[82] writing her side of the story after the Beat movement had dissolved. Six colour-printed photographs from 1988 show her seated across from Ginsberg at his E 12th Street kitchen table having lunch. She addresses the camera straight on, yet she appears to be caught off guard, expressing a stern expression amid a sentence or a (dismissive) wave of a hand. Swept up by Cassady and Kerouac in the early Beat days, there is no evidence to suggest that her and Ginsberg had a similarly close relationship. Correlatively, the prints of Cassady appear to be taken in the documentary style that characterizes Ginsberg’s photographs from this time. Moreover, her surly countenance suggests that she does not welcome the camera’s gaze.

Allen Ginsberg, “Carolyn Caassady, E 12th St.” 1988, Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto Collection.

Scholar Ann Charters appears in three photographs that are similar to those of Cassady—seated at Ginsberg’s kitchen table in 1988. However, Charters appears jovial, in the midst of writing. Papers, books, and pencils are strewn across the table, suggestive of her substantial contributions to Beat scholarship, and personal connections to its fundamental figures. She is the only scholar who is shown within the archive, and the setting of the photographs points toward a close relationship with Ginsberg. Perhaps she was interviewing him for future scholarship, or perhaps this was a casual meeting between friends. These photographs may also indicate an attempt by Ginsberg to illuminate Charters as an intellect among the Beats. Her cheerful expression, captured mid-laugh, suggests that the photographs were not staged, but rather a welcoming of Ginsberg’s lens. Charters is significant for her ability to vacillate between academia and the subcultural realm of Beat writers as a female intellect, making her an “anomaly”[83] within this discourse. She has been reading and writing about the Beats extensively since she attended a repeat performance of the Six Gallery poetry reading[84] while completing her English undergraduate degree at the University of California, Berkeley in 1956.[85] She worked directly with Kerouac while writing Kerouac: A Biography, which was published posthumously in 1978. In 1983, Charters helped mark a pivotal turning point for Beat scholarship with her foundational work in The Beats: Literary Bohemians in Postwar America. This was the first institutionalization of female writers into the Beat canon, providing the “first reliable scholarly study of women Beat writers.”[86] As a key scholar on the Beat Generation, Charters continually works to open up and reconsider the Beat canon for the inclusion of more female writers.

Allen Ginsberg, “Ann Charters, E 12th St.” 1988, Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto Collection.

By the 1980s and 1990s, feminist studies had been well underway. As noted by Charters, this was a time when female intellects began challenging the question of whether women played an important role in the literature of the Beat Generation.[87] Such advancements in scholarship appear to coincide with Ginsberg’s photographs from this time. Although female Beats “never got the chance to literally go on the road”[88] with the men, traversing the country in search of kicks, these images illustrate progressions in feminist scholarship, coinciding with Ginsberg’s perspective. Captured in a divergent aesthetic than that of the earlier portion of photographs, they nonetheless show an increase in female representation.

 

Female Beat Community: Extended Family Networks

The archive elucidates the limited presence of women in Ginsberg’s photographs. As they were passionately writing about their own lived experiences, both in academic and domestic realms, they were neglected by his camera’s lens. If photographs indeed have the ability to “illuminate in equal parts what is visible in the image, as well as what is hidden within it,” then they not only have the capacity to show the flourishing relationships among the Beats, but also that which was absent. According to Campt, the “revelation [of the photograph] is never a transparent process.”[89] That is, female Beats’ presence is illuminated by their absence. Their position in the archive is marked by this apparent fissure in history. Despite that their visual representation is scarce, their presence remains an unwavering force that can be traced throughout literature.

While male camaraderie worked to reinforce the bonds amongst Ginsberg’s inner circle of writer-friends, the women were forging their own communities. While excluded from the masculine domain, female Beats coalesced to create cross-generational bonds through the shared experiences of their marginalization. They were writing at varying times throughout cultural history in accordance with individual circumstances, yet “intersecting at crucial moments.”[90] Waldman brings forth Clifford Geertz’s notion of “consociates” as a useful paradigm for examining the expansive range of time cycles that are associated with female Beat writers.[91] Waldman explains that it,

touches on the interconnectedness of shared and experienced realities. It takes into consideration the influences of time, place, mutually informed circumstances on individuals existing in proximity—yet not necessarily intimates—to create a larger cultural context for action and art.[92]

Primarily associated with the late Beat bohemian circles, Waldman notes the importance for her generation to have earlier examples for modelling their creativity and assertiveness after in the artistic and liberal heritage of New York City.[93] The female artists of Waldman’s generation “looked to maternal or female deities for spiritual guidance and inspiration and to women writers for models.”[94] She elucidates the invisible links between the women that facilitated their supportive artistic environment. Reinforced by their shared experiences, these foundational bonds forged female communities that were liminal to the masculine domain.

The women also utilized these cross-generational communities for creative education among Beat predecessors and descendants. In an interview between Waldman and di Prima, the women speak about the dissemination of knowledge and creative influences. Di Prima advises, “[d]on’t forget, however great your visioning and your inspiration, you need the techniques of the craft and there’s nowhere, really, to get them because these are not passed on in schools. They are passed on person to person.”[95] These interpersonal relations contributed to the community building that took place in 1950s New York among its emerging artists. Di Prima articulates that they were, and made, the community; they depended on each other just as a family would.[96] The women created their own network of extended families to faithfully support and take care of each other. As a marginalized group, they assumed a defiant position that di Prima describes as “a strong sense of us against the world.”[97] This stance was persistently maintained across the intergenerational female Beat artists. Such inimitable bonds helped to lay the foundation of artistic expression clearly and concretely, particularly when facing the oppressive forces of patriarchal postwar society.

While there is minimal evidence of the women’s communities in Ginsberg’s photographs, their enduring relations can be traced throughout literature and now more recently, Beat scholarship. Despite that their bonds are not visible like the men’s, they are no less significant. Feminist scholar Peggy Phelan substantiates this argument by falsifying the disempowerment of marginalized groups. She suggests that “continued invisibility is the ‘proper’ political agenda for the disenfranchised, but rather that the binary between the power of visibility and the impotency of invisibility is falsifying.”[98] Phelan elaborates to suggest the benefits of invisibility, identifying visibility as a “trap” that “summons surveillance.”[99] Such visibility leaves visual imagery open for interrogation, and subsequently, “voyeurism, fetishism,” and the “appetite for possession.”[100] Without such limitations, women of the Beat Generation gain independence, and thus authority over their own perceptibility. That the women, “with rare exception, escaped the eye of the camera,”[101] they were afforded a concealed liberty that the men relinquished in the camera’s gaze.

 

Dissolution: Looking Toward the Future

The University of Toronto’s archive of Allen Ginsberg photography is significant for providing a visual narrative of the Beat Generation as a supplemental record for current understandings of the literature and culture of this time. As male Beats employed writing as a reaction against the established mainstream ideologies, so too did their female counterparts; however, they remained largely excluded from Ginsberg’s innermost circle of intimate friends. This subsequently led to their marginalization within the realms of academia and popular culture when the Beats achieved widespread literary success, despite that they were indeed “present as the most observant and sober witnesses.”[102] As independent writers who equally endured their generation’s tumultuous social upheaval, the women’s literature provides an instrumental and a necessary perspective for a comprehensive understanding of the Beat movement. With few exceptions, however, the women failed to earn recognition because to their marginalized status. Thus, a significant portion of the female Beats’ work is out of print, not readily available, or simply inaccessible. An incalculable amount has been permanently lost from the record due to author anonymity or the work’s destruction. Johnson and Grace note that “even as they did write, both privately and for publication, women Beat writers continued to be unacknowledged and excluded from historical concepts and literary considerations of the movement.”[103] This means that to fully comprehend Beat history, scholars must “track dispersed, uncollected, and sometimes unpublished sources.”[104]

Despite the women’s literary persistence, they remained primarily invisible to the photographic gaze. While the (in)famous male writers were absorbing the literary and visual limelight, female Beats “stayed underground, writing.”[105] Relative to their inherent marginalization, “the negation of women Beat writers by critics exemplifies the way a literary school and the roster of its adherents are usually recognized after the fact and founded on exclusion.”[106] Beat women have effectively been written out of this this discourse, and can thus be read as an erasure from cultural history. Peabody identifies the “male-defined misogynist social climate of the fifties and sixties”[107] as the “primary culprit”[108] for the women’s marginalization. The perception of women at this time, in combination with their lack of recognition as writers, has resulted in their lack of representation in Ginsberg’s photographs, and thus the archive.

While excluded from the male community, Beat women forged their own cross-generational bonds. Less visible than the men’s, these extended families effectively provided inspiration and support for emerging female artists. More significant than “that which stood before the lens,”[109] the women formed lifelong bonds through these invisible networks. Their concealment from the photographic gaze provided them with an independent liberty that the men were forced to surrender once cast into mainstream’s spotlight. The women instead used writing as a means of literary visibility, writing themselves into Beat history.

The goal of this project is to help create a fuller picture of this past. Recalling one of Jacques Derrida’s notions regarding the deconstruction of the archive: the archive does not point to the past, but to a particular past.[110] This concept relates to the female Beats, who receive limited representation within Ginsberg’s photographs, and subsequently the archive. Though scholars are working to redress the absence of female writers within Beat scholarship, such literature has been founded upon socially constructed notions of hegemonic gender binaries. Accordingly, continuing to solely examine it from the male perspective only risks further perpetuating this past. In understanding Beat literature, and thus the photographs, in relation to their particular moment in time, we can now look back to re-examine and revise this past with consideration to the advancements of second-wave feminist scholarship.

According to Derrida, the archive is based on collective memory; it shows not only what is present, but also what is not.[111] Rewriting this history, and making the women visible, is first reliant upon the recognition of their absence. Without this recognition, their traces slowly risk becoming lost and unrecoverable, leaving our collective memory to be based on erasure. As stated by Johnson, “the literature produced by the canonical male Beat writers has always assumed the presence of women Beats by their refusal to recognize them.”[112] Acknowledging this absence is crucial for a comprehensive understanding of the Beat Generation. Without such work, the women’s erasure is only further perpetuated. As stated by Derrida, the question of the archive is a “question of the future, the question of the future itself, the question of a response, of a promise and of a responsibility for tomorrow.”[113] That is, if we want to know what the archive of Ginsberg’s photographs means, we will only know them to revisit them, to know what they meant in a particular past. As scholars work toward redressing the absence of females in Beat history, so too does this project. Using the visual imagery of Allen Ginsberg’s photographs, this work’s aim is to create a fuller picture of this past; to perhaps illuminate the women as more than just fleeting moments in this floating world.

 

 

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This essay originally appeared in Beatdom #18, which is available on Amazon. We like to make most of our essays available for free through this website so everyone can enjoy it, but we do rely on the tiny income generated through Amazon to keep Beatdom running.

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Bibliography

 

Burroughs, William. Naked Lunch. Paris, Fance: Olympia Press, 1959.

 

­­­­­­______. Junky. New York: Penguin Books, 2003.

 

______. Queer. New York: Viking Press, 1985.

 

Campbell, James. This is the Beat Generation. London: Secker & Warburg, 1999.

 

Campt, Tina M. “Family Matters: Diaspora, Difference, and the Visual Archive.” Social Text 27, no. 1 (Spring 2009): 83-114.

 

Cassady, Carolyn. Heart Beat: My Life with Jack and Neal. Berkeley, CA: Creative Arts Book Co., 1976.

 

______. Off the Road. London: Black Spring Press Ltd., 1990.

 

Charters, Ann (ed). The Portable Beat Reader. New York: Penguin Group, 1992.

 

de Beauvoir, Simone. The Second Sex. Translated by Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany-Chevallier. New York: Vintage Books, 2011.

 

Derrida, Jacques. Translated by Eric Prenowitz. Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1996.

 

Di Prima, Diane. Recollections of My Life as a Woman: The New York Years, A Memoir by Diane di Prima. New York: Penguin Books, 2001.

 

“Diane di Prima: Poet, Prose Writer, Playwright and Teacher.” Internet Archive Wayback Machine. Last modified March 6th, 2013. Accessed May 28th, 2016. https://web.archive.org/web/20130306115009/http://dianediprima.com/books.html.

 

Ehrenreich, Barbara. The Hearts of Men: American Dreams and the Flight from Commitment.  New York: Anchor Books/Doubleday, 1983.

 

Gifford, Barry, and Lawrence Lee. Jack’s Book: An oral Biography of Jack Kerouac. New York: Saint Martin’s Press, 1978.

 

Ginsberg, Allen. Howl and Other Poems. San Francisco, CA: City Lights Publishers, 1956.

 

______. Photographs: Allen Ginsberg. Santa Fe, NM: Twelvetrees Press, 1991.

 

______. Snapshot Poetics: A Photographic Memoir of the Beat Era. San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books, 1993.

 

Greenough, Sarah. Beat Memories: The Photographs of Allen Ginsberg. New York: Prestel, 2013.

 

Hirsch, Marianne, and Leo Spitzer. “School Photos and Their Afterlives.” In Feeling Photography, edited by Brown, Elspeth and Thy Phu, 252-273. London: Duke University Press, 2014.

 

Johnson, Joyce. Minor Characters. New York: Penguin Books, 1983.

 

Johnson, Ronna C., and Nancy M. Grace (eds). Breaking the Rule of Cool: Interviewing and Reading Women Beat Writers. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2004.

 

______. Girls Who Wore Black: Women Writing the Beat Generation. London: Rutgers University Press, 2002.

 

Kerouac, Jack. Big Sur. New York: Farrar, Straus and Cudahy, 1962.

 

______. On the Road. London: Penguin Books, 2008.

 

______. The Subterraneans. New York: Grove Press, 1958.

 

Knight, Arthur, and Kit Knight (eds). Kerouac and the Beats. New York: Paragon House, 1988.

 

______. The Beat Vision: A Primary Sourcebook. New York: Paragon House Publishers, 1987.

 

Knight, Brenda. Women of the Beat Generation: The Writers, Artists, and Muses at the Heart of a Revolution. Berkeley, CA: Conari Press, 1996.

 

Kyger, Joanne. Places to Go. Los Angeles: Black Sparrow, 1970.

 

______. The Tapestry and the Web. California: Four Seasons Foundation, 1965.

 

Johnson, Joyce. “Beat Women: A Transitional Generation.” In Beat Culture: The 1950s and Beyond, edited by Minnen, Cornelis A, and Jaap Van Der Bent, Mel Van Elteren, 211-221.Amsterdam: Vu University Press, 1999.

 

Morgan, Bill. The Typewriter is Holy: The Complete, Uncensored History of the Beat Generation. New York: Free Press, 2010.

 

Mortenson, Erik. Capturing the Beat Moment: Cultural Politics and the Poetics of Presence. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 2011.

 

Peabody, Richard (ed). A Different Beat: Writings by Women of the Beat Generation. New York: High Risk Books, 1997.

 

Phelan, Peggy. Unmarked: The Politics of Performance. London: Routledge, 1993.

 

“Poet: Allen Ginsberg.” Academy of American Poets. Accessed December 7, 2015. https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poet/allen-ginsberg.

 

Skerl, Jennie (ed). Reconstructing the Beats. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.

 

Skir, Leo. Elise Cowen: A Brief Memoir of the Fifties. New York: Evergreen Review Inc., 1967.

 

Stallybrass, Peter, and Allon White. The Politics and Poetics of Transgression. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1986.

 

Wills, David S. (ed). Beatdom. Accessed May 17th, 2016. http://www.beatdom.com/about-2/.

 

Wolfe, Tom. The Electric Kool-Aid Test. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1968.

 

 

 

 

Footenotes

[1].  Barry Gifford and Lawrence Lee, Jack’s Book: An oral Biography of Jack Kerouac (New York: Saint Martin’s Press, 1978), 235-236.

[2]. Allen Ginsberg, Snapshot Poetics: A Photographic Memoir of the Beat Era, (San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books, 1993), 10.

[3]. The Beats burst into mainstream society with the overnight success of Kerouac’s novel, On the Road, earning him a lauding review by guest editor, Gilbert Millstein, in the New York Times; and with the national attention garnered from Ginsberg’s obscenity trial for Howl and Other Poems, both in 1957.

[4]. Ronna C. Johnson and Nancy M. Grace, Breaking the Rule of Cool: Interviewing and Reading Women Beat Writers (Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2004), ix.

[5]. All images in this project are taken from firsthand research in the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library at the University of Toronto. The University of Toronto Art Centre holds 236 photographs, though they are duplicates of the photographs in the Fisher Library. These images are also publically accessible online through their website, in addition to a flickr site that features a fragment of the photographs. However, it is an accurate representation of the entirety of the archive, for it too is male dominated in its subject matter. 

[6]. Erik Mortenson, Capturing the Beat Moment: Cultural Politics and the Poetics of Presence (Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 2011), 4.

[7]. Including polygamy and homosexuality—both of which were perceived as socially unacceptable at a time when familial beliefs became increasingly important.

[8]. Brenda Knight, Women of the Beat Generation: The Writers, Artists, and Muses at the Heart of a Revolution (Berkeley, CA: Conari Press, 1996), 167-168.

[9]. Ibid., 177.

[10]. For instance, Joyce Johnson, Diane di Prima, and Joanne Kyger.

[11]. Barbara Ehrenreich, The Hearts of Men: American Dreams and the Flight from Commitment (New York: Anchor Books/Doubleday, 1983), 8.

[12]. Ibid.

[13]. Joyce Johnson, “Beat Women: A Transitional Generation,” in Beat Culture: The 1950s and Beyond, ed. Cornelis A. Van Minnen, Jaap Van Der Bent, Mel Van Elteren (Amsterdam: VU University Press, 1999), 215.

[14]. Joyce Johnson, “Beat Women: A Transitional Generation,” in Beat Culture: The 1950s and Beyond, ed. Cornelis A. Van Minnen, Jaap Van Der Bent, Mel Van Elteren (Amsterdam: VU University Press, 1999), 215.

[15]. Ibid., 2.

[16]. Joyce Johnson, “Beat Women: A Transitional Generation,” in Beat Culture: The 1950s and Beyond, ed. Cornelis A. Van Minnen, Jaap Van Der Bent, Mel Van Elteren (Amsterdam: VU University Press, 1999), 214.

[17]. Ibid., 214.

[18]. Joyce Johnson, Minor Characters (New York, Penguin, 1983), xv.

[19]. Ronna C. Johnson and Nancy M. Grace (eds), Girls Who Wore Black (London: Rutgers University Press, 2002), 10.

[20]. Brenda Knight, Women of the Beat Generation: The Writers, Artists, and Muses at the Heart of a Revolution (Conari Press: Berkeley, CA, 1996), ix.

[21]. Ibid., 142.

[22]. Ibid.

[23]. As quoted by Cowen’s friend Sheila in Leo Skir’s biography, Elise Cowen: A Brief Memoir of the Fifties (1967). Ibid., 151.

[24]. “Kaddish” is an extensive autobiographical poem that Ginsberg wrote about his mentally ill mother, Naomi, with whom he had a tumultuous relationship. Witnessing her mental illness had a traumatic effect on Ginsberg, and he continued to write about her for the remainder of this life as a working through of his own emotions.

[25]. After her split from Ginsberg, from which she was never fully able to move on, she entered into a relationship with her philosophy professor, Alex Greer. While with him, she also committed her time to taking care of him and his two-year-old son, rather than herself. Ibid.

[26]. Ronna C. Johnson and Nancy M. Grace (eds), Girls Who Wore Black (London: Rutgers University Press, 2002), 7.

[27]. Brenda Knight, Women of the Beat Generation: The Writers, Artists, and Muses at the Heart of a Revolution (Conari Press: Berkeley, CA, 1996), 1. Writers such as Diane di Prima, Hettie Jones, Joyce Johnson, Ann Charters, and Anne Waldman continue to write, and in some instances lecture, today.

[28]. Allen Ginsberg, Snapshot Poetics: A Photographic Memoir of the Beat Era (San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books, 1993), 10.

[29]. Barbara Ehrenreich, The Hearts of Men: American Dreams and the Flight from Commitment (New York: Anchor Books/Doubleday, 1983), 56.

[30]. Ann Charters (ed), The Portable Beat Reader (New York: Penguin Group, 1992), xxxiv.

[31]. Ehrenreich, The Hearts of Men: American Dreams and the Flight from Commitment, 52.

[32]. Ibid.

[33]. The term “bohemian” is used throughout scholarship to describe the Beats. Derived from the lumpen proletariat, it takes its grounding from 1920s Parisian bohemianism.

[34]. William Burroughs is notorious for his escapades in drug dealing, theft, and various other petty acts, which he writes extensively about in autobiographical texts such as Junkie, Queer, and Naked Lunch.

[35]. For instance, Neal Cassady and Jack Kerouac worked intermittently as railroad brakemen. Kerouac also held a brief stint as a fire lookout on Desolation Peak, WA, in 1956.

[36]. Barbara Ehrenreich, The Hearts of Men: American Dreams and the Flight from Commitment (New York: Anchor Books/Doubleday, 1983), 52.

[37]. Ibid., 11-12.

[38]. Ibid., 12.

[39]. “Poet: Allen Ginsberg,” Academy of American Poets, accessed May 21st, 2016. https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poet/allen-ginsberg.

[40]. Barbara Ehrenreich, The Hearts of Men: American Dreams and the Flight from Commitment (New York: Anchor Books/Doubleday, 1983), 54.

[41]. Richard Peabody, A Different Beat: Writings by Women of the Beat Generation (New York: High Risk Books, 1997), 1.

[42]. Peter Stallybrass and Allon White, The Politics and Poetics of Transgression (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1986), 53.

[43]. Brenda Knight, Women of the Beat Generation: The Writers, Artists, and Muses at the Heart of a Revolution (Conari Press: Berkeley, CA, 1996), 141.

[44]. In Allen Ginsberg, Snapshot Poetics: A Photographic Memoir of the Beat Era, Ginsberg states that he stopped taking photographs in 1962 or 1963 after either losing or giving away his camera at a poetry conference in Vancouver in 1963. The photographs dated from this point until 1983 were labelled as such after Ginsberg was convinced by renowned American photographer, Robert Frank, to have the images reprinted in high quality archival format, and to include hand-written captions that reflect on the subject matter.

[45]. Allen Ginsberg, Snapshot Poetics: A Photographic Memoir of the Beat Era (San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books, 1993), 10.

[46]. Ibid.

[47]. Ibid., 11.

[48]. Ann Charters (ed), The Portable Beat Reader (New York: Penguin Group, 1992), xviii.

[49]. Allen Ginsberg, Snapshot Poetics: A Photographic Memoir of the Beat Era (San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books, 1993), 8.

[50]. Tina M. Campt, “Family Matters: Diaspora, Difference, and the Visual Archive,” Social Text 27, no. 1 (Spring 2009): 90.

[51]. Ibid.

[52]. Ginsberg, Snapshot Poetics,10.

[53]. Tina M. Campt, “Family Matters: Diaspora, Difference, and the Visual Archive,” Social Text 27, no. 1 (Spring 2009): 91.

[54]. Marianne Hirsch and Leo Spitzer, “School Photos and Their Afterlives,” in Feeling Photography (London: Duke University Press, 2014), 247.

[55]. It is also important to note that the Beats were not the only women ignored by Ginsberg’s lens; the collection as a whole features a fragment of female subjects in comparison to male.

[56]. The Tapestry and the Web (1965) and Places to Go (1970).

[57]. Such as Mardou Fox in The Subterraneans (1958) and Book of Dreams (1960), and Irene May in Big Sur (1962 ).

[58]. The minimal information available on Lee is from Beatdom, a journal that is solely dedicated to publishing work on the Beat Generation, available online and in printed form.

[59]. The exact date of these photographs is yet to be known, for they were placed within uncatalogued binders in the Fisher Library.

[60]. Tina M. Campt, “Family Matters: Diaspora, Difference, and the Visual Archive,” Social Text 27, no. 1 (Spring 2009): 110.

[61]. Joyce Johnson uses this term to describe the male dominated group of writers in her memoir, Minor Characters; which was first published in 1983 by Houghton Mifflin Co.

[62]. Ginsberg referred to himself, Burroughs, and Kerouac as “the Marx Brothers or The Three Stooges.” He further states: “What was unusual though was the trust of our relationship. We took it for granted that the world was a little crazy if it saw our friendship and send of sacramental respect for each other to be neurotic, sick, weird, or strange.” Allen Ginsberg, Snapshot Poetics: A Photographic Memoir of the Beat Era (San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books, 1993), 8.

[63]. Tina M. Campt, “Family Matters: Diaspora, Difference, and the Visual Archive,” Social Text 27, no. 1 (Spring 2009): 91-92.

[64]. For instance, Cowen’s close friend, Joyce Johnson’s account of her and their relationship in Minor Characters (1983), and Leo Skir’s biography, Elise Cowen: A Brief Memoir of the Fifties (1967).

[65]. Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, trans. Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany-Chevallier (New York: Vintage Books, 2011), 8.

[66]. Ibid.

[67]. Ibid., 9.

[68]. Brenda Knight, Women of the Beat Generation: The Writers, Artists, and Muses at the Heart of a Revolution (Conari Press: Berkeley, CA, 1996), xi.

[69]. Ronna C. Johnson and Nancy M. Grace (eds), Girls Who Wore Black (London: Rutgers University Press, 2002), ix.

[70]. For instance, di Prima’s Recollections of My Life as a Woman: The New York Years (2001), Carolyn Cassady’s Heart Beat: My Life with Jack and Neal (1976) and Off the Road (1994), and Joyce Johnson’s Minor Characters (1983). These books were used to voice their desire for personal freedom, as they often felt trapped within the domestic sphere.

[71]. Peggy Phelan, Unmarked: The Politics of Performance (London: Routledge, 1993), 6.

[72]. Allen Ginsberg, Snapshot Poetics: A Photographic Memoir of the Beat Era, (San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books, 1993), 11.

[73]. This number includes books of poetry and memoirs, as well as magazine, newspaper, anthology, and lecture publications. Di Prima was also involved in theatre from 1961 to 1982, has been featured in 11 films and videos, has participated in group and solo art shows, and has extensive publication and teaching experience. Source: archived version of official Diane di Prima website. “Diane di Prima: Poet, Prose Writer, Playwright and Teacher,” Internet Archive Wayback Machine, last modified March 6th, 2013, accessed May 28th, 2016, https://web.archive.org/web/20130306115009/http://dianediprima.com/books.html.

[74]. A letter from Mexico, 1956, shows Ginsberg to have a rare respect for Denise Levertov as well, as a person and a writer.

[75]. Ronna C. Johnson and Nancy M. Grace (eds), Breaking the Rule of Cool: Interviewing and Reading Women Beat Writers (Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2004), 84.

[76]. Richard Peabody, A Different Beat: Writings by Women of the Beat Generation (New York: High Risk Books, 1997), 3.

[77]. Ibid.

[78]. Ronna C. Johnson and Nancy M. Grace (eds), Breaking the Rule of Cool: Interviewing and Reading Women Beat Writers (Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2004), 256.

[79]. Ibid., 18.

[80]. Though Neal Cassady was never a writer, he was an influential figure among the Beat community, and a common character in Beat novels. For instance, Go (1952) by John Clellon Holmes, On the Road (1957) by Jack Kerouac, and The Electric Kool-Aid Test (1968) by Tom Wolfe.

[81]. This term is used throughout Beat literature in reference to male adventure, and can be predominantly found in Kerouac’s novels.

[82]. Kerouac and the Cassidy’s are infamous for their three-way relationship. Neal’s frequent infidelity led Carolyn to pursue her romantic interest in Kerouac while Cassady pursued intimate relationships with other women.

[83]. Ronna C. Johnson and Nancy M. Grace (eds), Breaking the Rule of Cool: Interviewing and Reading Women Beat Writers (Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2004), 12.

[84]. The Six Gallery poetry reading was a pivotal event for the Beat Generation, which took place on October 7th, 1955 in San Francisco, CA. It was the first public manifestation for the Beats, and featured readings by Ginsberg, Philip Lamantia, Michael McClure, Gary Snyder, and Philip Whalen. Among its attendants were literary figures Kerouac and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, as well as the influential Neal Cassady. After reading an early draft of “Howl” for the first time, this moment launched Ginsberg’s career as a poet.

[85]. Ann Charters (ed), The Portable Beat Reader (New York: Penguin Group, 1992), 1.

[86]. Johnson and Grace (eds), Breaking the Rule of Cool, 12.

[87]. Ronna C. Johnson and Nancy M. Grace (eds), Girls Who Wore Black (London: Rutgers University Press, 2002), ix.

[88]. Joyce Johnson, “Beat Women: A Transitional Generation,” in Beat Culture: The 1950s and Beyond, ed. Cornelis A. Van Minnen, Jaap Van Der Bent, Mel Van Elteren (Amsterdam: VU University Press, 1999), 215.

[89]. Tina M. Campt, “Family Matters: Diaspora, Difference, and the Visual Archive,” Social Text 27, no. 1 (Spring 2009): 110.

[90]. Brenda Knight, Women of the Beat Generation: The Writers, Artists, and Muses at the Heart of a Revolution (London: Rutgers University Press, 1996), xi.

[91]. Brenda Knight, Women of the Beat Generation: The Writers, Artists, and Muses at the Heart of a Revolution (Conari Press: Berkeley, CA, 1996), xi.

[92]. Ibid.

[93]. Ibid., x.

[94]. Ronna C. Johnson and Nancy M. Grace (eds), Breaking the Rule of Cool: Interviewing and Reading Women Beat Writers (Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2004), 18.

[95]. Knight, Women of the Beat Generation, 124.

[96]. Brenda Knight, Women of the Beat Generation: The Writers, Artists, and Muses at the Heart of a Revolution (Conari Press: Berkeley, CA, 1996), 124.

[97]. Ronna C. Johnson and Nancy M. Grace (eds), Breaking the Rule of Cool: Interviewing and Reading Women Beat Writers (Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2004), 87

[98]. Peggy Phelan, Unmarked: The Politics of Performance (London: Routledge, 1993), 6.

[99]. Ibid.

[100]. Ibid.

[101]. Brenda Knight, Women of the Beat Generation: The Writers, Artists, and Muses at the Heart of a Revolution (Conari Press: Berkeley, CA, 1996), 1.

[102]. Ibid. xi.

[103]. Ronna C. Johnson and Nancy M. Grace (eds), Girls Who Wore Black (London: Rutgers University Press, 2002), 5.

[104]. Ibid., 4. Some of these women were published in LeRoi Jones and di Prima’s subscription newsletter, The Floating Bear, which featured legendary and unknown Beat writers. It ran from 1961 to 1971 in New York City. By the 25th issue, it was managed solely by di Prima.

[105]. Brenda Knight, Women of the Beat Generation: The Writers, Artists, and Muses at the Heart of a Revolution (Conari Press: Berkeley, CA, 1996), 1.

[106]. Johnson and Grace (eds), Girls Who Wore Black, 18.

[107]. Richard Peabody, A Different Beat: Writings by Women of the Beat Generation (New York: High Risk Books, 1997), 3.

[108]. Ibid.

[109]. Tina M. Campt, “Family Matters: Diaspora, Difference, and the Visual Archive,” Social Text 27, no. 1 (Spring 2009): 92.

[110]. Jacques Derrida, trans. Eric Prenowitz. Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1996), 36.

[111]. Ibid.

[112]. Ronna C. Johnson and Nancy M. Grace (eds), Breaking the Rule of Cool: Interviewing and Reading Women Beat Writers (Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2004), 5.

[113]. Jacques Derrida, trans. Eric Prenowitz. Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1996), 36.

Katie Oates

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Katie Oates was born in southwestern Ontario in 1986. She’s a doctoral student in Art and Visual Culture at The University of Western Ontario, London, where she also earned her MA. She holds a BA in English Literatures and Art History from Carleton University, Ottawa. Katie researches the histories and theories of photography, American culture and literature, and the intersections between them.

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