The Beat Generation was born out of protest against conformism and amid desperate searches for meaning and purpose. There are, perhaps, few other literary and culture movements that had as much ambiguity surrounding them. Jail time, nomad lifestyle, drugs, obscenity charges, and psychiatric institutions – all of those were indispensable parts of the cult. And yet, the Beat Generation had a significant impact on a whole number of aspects of life in the times when it was born, as well as in the years to come. It transformed the view of art, music, and literature and sent them into directions they wouldn’t have gone on their own. Their legacy is still alive and plays a significant role in the art development of today.
The popular culture was among those aspects that were transformed by the radical views and bold approach of the Beats. In fact, they shaped it from many sides, including literature, lifestyle, music, and the freedom of press.
The new approach to writing was born through bold literary attempts of the Beats. From typing an entire novel on a scroll (which Jack Kerouac did with his novel On the Road) to rearranging parts of a novel to get a new meaning out of the old text – the Beats showed the new exciting ways in which a literary work could be approached. There was hardly anything more absurd than typing a novel on a 120-feet-long scroll, and yet it represented a determined move to discard the normal and the regular. The literary experiments of the Beats included a stream-of-consciousness, projecting sounds onto paper to create a comprehensive, multi-sensory impression of the work, and others. Until today, their view of writing and what can be done with it remains rather innovative and inspiring.
The post-war U.S. was an example of a country plunged into decency and depression. People lived between jobs and homes (or homes and homes, if they were women) and regarded their evening in front of a TV as a sacred tradition. The life of the Beats happened between New York, San Francisco, Mexico, and Paris. Travel was essential to finding what they were looking for, and in many ways it gave birth to the self-search attempts of writers at the end of the XXth century.
The fascination of the Beats with jazz was natural, given the spontaneous nature of this kind of music. In many ways jazz shaped their literary attempts. The influence, however, was a two-way street. Friends with prominent musicians of the time, the Beats made their contribution into shaping and defining the directions of musical development of the time.
The Beats pushed the limits in not only what they produced, literary, but also what could be published. Their attempts lead to a much wider realization that one of the purposes of a publishing house was to discover new talents and share them with the general public – however gruesome or heavy their work might be. It’s an undoubtful achievement, the results of which we are still enjoying today.
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