Archives For travel

Women Writers of the Beat Era: A Review

In Women Writers of the Beat Era: Autobiography and Intertextuality, Mary Paniccia Carden argues that although the most famous writers of the Beat Generation rejected traditional values, they very much embraced the sexism that pervaded the wider culture. Her thesis is that women did in fact contribute greatly to the Beat movement (which she says is not a generation) but were marginalized and then later forgotten. In her new book, she seeks to address that, shining a light on several important women and their work. Continue Reading…

Ginsberg Goes Behind Enemy Lines: A Review of Iron Curtain Journals

In 1965, Allen Ginsberg jumped at the chance to peek behind enemy lines with a visit to communist Cuba. He was only asked to judge a literary competition, but his trip was expanded time and again due to bizarre complications, meaning that he instead visited Mexico, Cuba, Czechoslovakia, Russia, Poland, England, and Paris, before finally returning home some six months later. In Iron Curtain Journals: January-May 1965, Michael Schumacher (author of Dharma Lion) has collected Ginsberg’s notes, poems, and dream journals into a valuable resource for Beat enthusiasts. Continue Reading…

Allen Ginsberg in Asia

Asia had long been a source of inspiration and fascination for Allen Ginsberg by the time he finally set foot on the continent. As a precocious child, he had been curious about the great ancient kingdoms of India and China, and equally delighted in reading about the contemporary political climate of the region as he moved into his teenage years. Walt Whitman, one of his major literary inspirations, had impressed him deeply with a poem called “Passage to India.” His friendship with William S. Burroughs, begun at Columbia in 1944, pushed him to believe in Oswald Spengler’s theory of western decline, with Asia rising in the east to supplant the falling empires of the west, and later Jack Kerouac introduced Allen to Buddhism, which friends like Gary Snyder and Phillip Whalen subsequently nurtured t as it grew in the late fifties. In 1953, he developed an obsession with Asian art that grew into a belief that the ancient East possessed an unrivalled sophistication. Continue Reading…

Allen Ginsberg and the FBI (and Secret Service)

In 1965 Allen Ginsberg flew to Cuba as part of a major poetry event hosted by the Casa de las Americas. He was famously booted out of the country after offending his hosts. In fact, it was never entirely clear why Ginsberg was deported. He liked to say it was for protesting the illegal detention of homosexuals, but it’s more likely that it was a political move by the government to harm the image of Casa de las Americas. In any case, Allen’s outspoken nature meant he was unlikely to get along well under a totalitarian regime like Castro’s.  Continue Reading…

The Beats in Greece

As the birthplace of Western democracy, literature, and philosophy, it is hardly surprising that Greece was of such interest to the Beats. Nearly three thousand years after Homer wrote The Iliad and The Odyssey, Ancient Greek civilization provided an irresistible allure for some of the poets and writers of the Beat Generation. Continue Reading…

Allegories from the Cave: Burroughs and Trocchi – a Platonic Love

‘Demiurgos scowled, and with that Plato awoke.

Or did he?’

Voltaire

The drug experience has often been perceived as a public and social issue. Yet, drug use and experience are unquestionably a matter of personal choice, as indeed are the consequences. Nevertheless, there is a persistent tension between the public and the private surrounding drug use. The criminalisation and condemnation of drug use in the mid-twentieth century developed entirely within the public sphere. The drug user essentially had no voice and their dependence subjected them to a criminality and demonization. Indeed, the reality of drug use was, and remains, often distorted and misrepresented to the public by politicians and policy makers. A particular case in point being the wide-spread, and persistent view that one drug, like marijuana, if it does not in itself destroy the user’s life, will eventually lead to harder drugs like heroin addiction and criminal activity. But while the public had its spokespersons and rhetoric, like Henry Anslinger, the first Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, to denounce them, drug users and addicts were subjected to an imbalanced power dynamic with no one to speak for them. What we find in The Yage Letters of William Burroughs and Alexander Trocchi’s Cain’s Book are efforts to publicly privatise the drug experience. Or to put the matter another way: these works attempt to make the public aware of the user’s private experience. The aesthetic form of these books reflects the public performance of private life. Moreover, what these authors accomplish has unique parallels with Plato’s allegory of the cave in which an anonymous hero reveals ‘truth’ or ‘reality’ to his community. Continue Reading…

Allen Ginsberg’s First Trip to Africa

On 12th September, 1947, Allen Ginsberg shipped out as a utility man on a collier, the S.S. John Blair, for the Ponchelet Marine Corporation. He departed from Freeport, seventy-five miles south of Houston, going through Galveston, passing near Cuba and Haiti, whose mountains Allen watched pass by, and headed for Dakar, capital of the federation of French West Africa, in what is now known as Senegal. Dakar, on the western coast of Africa, had a long colonial history, although like most European colonial possessions, in 1947 this one was nearing the end of its subjugation. Once a major trading port for African slaves, Dakar had a strategic location that ensured its privileged position within the French Empire. The French West African territories were placed under the control of a single governor, who was located in Dakar, and so it had become a seat of power in the region. Indeed, by the early twentieth century, it had become a major city in the empire. As rights were slowly and inconsistently handed out to “French subjects” – ie the Africans whose homelands had been annexed by the French – the people born in Dakar were first to be given the right to vote, and it was from here that the first ever black African elected to the French government was born, Blaise Diagne. A year before Allen’s visit, the French Empire had rebranded itself the French Union to give the appearance of equality, and more limited rights were being rolled out; however, more substantial change was in the horizon, with independence just over a decade away. Continue Reading…

Early Praise for Beat Transnationalism

Next month, Beatdom Books will release John Tytell’s collection of essays and letters, Beat Transnationalism. It can be pre-ordered on Amazon as a paperback or Kindle title, or directly from us via the button at the bottom of this link. Here are what some leading Beat scholars have had to say after reading it:  Continue Reading…

A List of Countries Visited by Allen Ginsberg

Allen Ginsberg was a true citizen of the world, at home wherever he travelled. Although he never actually left the United States – barely travelling more than a hundred miles from his place of birth – during his youth, in his early twenties he quickly learned the skills necessary to travel for long periods of time. He could be a typical tourist with guidebook in hand, buying souvenirs and clicking away with his camera, but he was also capable of journeying for years at a time, sleeping in fields, making friends with people from impossibly different backgrounds. He could communicate with people regardless of language and survive on little to no money. Everywhere he went, he brought his ideas to share, but also learned from all the people he met. Continue Reading…

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

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

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

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