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…

Kerouac at 95

Jack Kerouac was born on March 12th, 1922, meaning that today would’ve been his 95th birthday. Of course, he passed away long ago at the tragically young age of just 47. His friends, many of whom had become estranged from him in later years, outlived him, with Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs dying just a few months apart, in 1997. Even his mother outlived him.  Continue Reading…

John Sampas

John Sampas, executor of the Jack Kerouac Estate, has passed away peacefully at home in Greenwich, Connecticut. A memorial will be held in the near future.  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…

6 Places Where the Beats Hung Out

The world was a different place in post-war America. Suburbs were scant, malls were unheard of, and the nation was divided into either cities or farms. At that time, the group of writers known as the Beat Generation were just coalescing. They cavorted around the country in beat-up jalopies, smoking “tea” and getting drunk off of jazz and life. Although it may seem like an entirely different world, some of the establishments that birthed their creative spark are still in existence: Continue Reading…

The Beats Gave Birth to Modern Hipsters

The generally accepted definition of the word “hipster” in 2017 is a young, non-traditional, counter-culture person who is an independent thinker, believes in progressive politics, and appreciates art and underground music. Typically, it has a pejorative slant. It refers to people who like to think of themselves as trend-setters, but are actually slaves to fashion as much as anyone – if not more so than the rest of us.

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New Beat Generation Books 2017

Later this month, Cambridge University Press is releasing The Cambridge Companion to the Beats, which features essays by Jonah Raskin, Regina Weinreich, Nancy Grace, Erik Mortenson, Kurt Hemmer, Oliver Harris, Brenda Knight, Hillary Holladay, Ronna Johnson, Polina MacKay, and others. From the Amazon listing:

Consummate innovators, the Beats had a profound effect not only on the direction of American literature, but also on models of socio-political critique that would become more widespread in the 1960s and beyond. Bringing together the most influential Beat scholars writing today, this Companion provides a comprehensive exploration of the Beat movement, asking critical questions about its associated figures and arguing for their importance to postwar American letters.

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When was ‘Beat’ First Written?

On this blog, we’ve previously discussed the surprisingly difficult question of what the Beat Generation was, and later, what the difference is between Beats and Beatniks. Yet actually pinning down the meaning of the word “Beat,” an adjective used by the likes Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and William S. Burroughs in the forties and fifties, is not so difficult. Its etymology is well-documented – although, as with so much Beat lore, there are numerous errors in popular sources. It originated in “hepcat” speak, most likely passed from the underground world to the Columbia world through Herbert Huncke. Continue Reading…

Joan Anderson Letter Goes to Auction… Again

In 2014, the world of Beat Studies was rocked by the discovery of the Joan Anderson letter. Believed lost at sea until that point, the letter was the Holy Grail of our field. Its role in Beat history was considered by many as of key importance. Its influence on the literary style of Jack Kerouac was believed to be massive.  Continue Reading…