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May 03, 1959 - Image 13

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Text
Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1959-05-03
Note:
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THE BEATS:
There Is Nothing Left To Believe In
By AL YOUNG

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Oh the world is a beautiful
place
to be born into
if you don't mind
a few dead minds
in the higher places
or a bomb or two
now and then
in your upturned faces
or other such improprieties
as our Name Brand society
is prey to
with its men of distinction
and its men of extinction
. and other patrolmen
and its various segregations
and congressional investiga.-
tions
and other constipations
that our fool flesh
is heir to .. .
. Lawrence Ferlinghetti,
Pictures of the Gone World
THE CLOSE of World War TwoI
marked the appearance of a
conservative epoch with few coun-
terparts in American history.
Politically, public discourage-
ment and apathy, prodded by Mc-

Carthyism, soared high. Econom-
ically, the official cry was "Back
to normalcy!" which was supposed
to mean back to the way things
were before all hell broke loose,
but which really meant a return
to the very domestic hell that
existed long before the war.
Socially, conformity was paving
a one-way road leading nowhere.
Military imperialism was cham-
pioned by default. Scientific
achievement was put to inhuman
use. The Cold War was onwand a
nation was shivering.
The post war scene had its cul-
tural reverberations. A generation
of youngsters were growing up who
had not the slightest interest in
politics -- neither domestic nor
international-and who had little
or nothing at all left to believe in.
THE literature emerging from
this era falls into two principle
categories: the one, a frail, pre-
cious school of writing detached
from social themes that took up-
on itself to explore "the great
moral questions of mid - century
society."

I -

Writers representing this school
include Truman Capote, Paul
Bowles, Robie Macauley and Jean
Stafford -- the "new fictionists"
if you will; clever and, for all
practical purposes, sterile.
The other, the San Francisco
School, is. a robust, free-wheeling
school of story-tellers and poets
whose writing is, peculiarly
enough, socially oriented and
whose professional and personal
antics have been the subject of
much public discussion.
Novelist Jack Kerouac appears
to be the unofficial leader since
he was the first one to "break
big" and since it was his appela-
tion for the group - "The Beat
Generation" -- that was popu-
larized.
THE PROSE writers include Wil-
liam Burroughs whose "Naked
Lunch" is possibly the most fright-
ening book on narcotics addiction'
ever written.
His approach is compelling and
certainly worthy of inspection by
those who think literary experi-
ment died with Gertrude Stein,
James Joyce and Tristan Tzara.
Another exponent is James
Purdy whose "Color of Darkness"
(inscribed "for Edith Sitwell in
England* . :") is a bitter little
book of yarns. The tone of Purdy's
short stories is reminiscent of
Poe, but much colder and much
more convincing because of his ec-
centric manipulation of reality.
Of course, there is Kerouac in
all his spontaneous splendor. Sev-
eral critics have compared his
work with the Celine of "Death on.
the Installment Plan" and "Guig-
nol's Band."
Actually, you can take a glance
back at Thomas Wolfe to get an
idea of Kerouac's stylistic roots.
His expression of the depth and
intensity of life has rarely been
equaled in American letters. It is
found in the early Whitman and
in Mark Twain. Kerouac is an
automatic writer, that is to say
Junior Al Young, co-editor.
of Generation magazine, writes
on literature, jazz and folklore
and is a frequent contributor
to The Daily.

he writes extemporaneously with-
out plan or revision.
This perhaps explains the ex-
cess of journalism cluttering his
otherwise remarkable "On the
Road." It also explains the slop-
piness of "The Subterraneans," a
hundred or so pages of trash the
author typed up in 72 hours. "The
Dharma Bums," a novel dealing
with hipster Zen Bhuddists, was
another artistic failure, though
financially successful. Following
the publication of his first novel in
1950, "The Town and the City,"
Kerouac hoboed around the coun-
try and wrote fifteen novels be-
fore "On the Road" was published.
HE POEM-MAKERS are more
numerous - Gary Snyder, Phi-
lip Whaley, Robert Creeley, Mike
McClure.
As for prominent ones, Denise
Levertov comes to mind. She's °a
young Britisher who= settled in
America long enough to get mar-
ried and migrate to Mexico. She
writes like many of the 50's poets,
including some who don't consider
themselves "Beat" - lyrically per-
sonal in a prosody that is decep-
tively simple.
One would think that The Ma-
jor Themes were gone, for they
have been replaced by quiet cele-'
brations of simple personal pleas-
ures, nature and individual being.
She resembles the Japanese and
ancient Chinese poets in this re-
spect. Her major works are "The
Double Image" and "Here and
Now," two volumes of verse.
ALLEN GINSBERG and his long
poem "Howl" have received
so much publicity that the poet,
"dizzy with success," presently
finds himself unable to write
poetry. Frankly, "Howl" is quite
a mediocre poem all dressed up
in a* fantastic idiom. Nonetheless,
Ginsberg's influence among young-
er poets has been considerable.
Lawrence Ferlinghetti, a PhD.
who runs the City Lights Bookshop
in San Francisco, is both a pub-
lisher and a poet. His "Pictures of
the Gone World" is as bittersweet
as poetry comes these days. In an
attempt to restore the spoken ele-
ment to poetry, Ferlinghetti pio-
neered in the presentation of
poetry with jazz in West Coast
nightspots.
As for Kenneth Rexroth - he's
an oldtimer, often regarded as
"the spiritual father" of the move-
ment, along with Henry Miller,
an old "rebel" from way back.
Rexroth's influence is very much
felt throughout the movement.
Now in his fifties, poet-scholar-
musician - painter - mountain-
climber Rexroth said on a recent
visit-to Manhattan, "I've lived the
life Kerouac thinks he's lived."

THE THREAD that sews all of
these writers together is that
of Disaffiliation. Critic Lawrence
Lipton was the first to use the
phrase in a series of articles on
the Beats appearing in The Na.
tion.
Disaffiliation-- with a capital
D, thank you - is the core of their.
message. They are not interested
in social ills - much less point-
ing out cures for them. They are
not interested in The State with
its politics and conventions and in-
stitutions and academies. They
are not interested in being "saved"
from "The Red Menace." They are
not interested in seeking refuge
in Suburbia, and "changing the
world" is entirely out of the ques-
tion.
What they want is to be left
alone. Many of them earn their
livings as laborers-skilled or un-
skilled-and stay as far away as
possible from cocktail parties, New
York City and, most of all, the
universities.
IT IS TRUE that much of their
writing is sincerely passionate,
even beautiful. But their philos-
ophy is a sad one, pathetic in a
way.
They are anarchists in an era
that needs, more than ever before,
the courage and conviction that
youth can offer toward saving the
world from an unbelievably sinis-
ter self-destruction. They are in-
different. Unable to face a society
pregnant with injustice, hypocrisy
and decay, they have turned with-
in themselves for a "peaceful
existence."
Many of France's intellectuals
who felt themselves "demobilized"
following the wartime Resistance
movement, turned to existential-
ism. The so-called Beats have run
a gamut of mystiques and escapist
philosophies from A to Z - Zen
Bhuddism being the most recent.
This oriental philosophy, more
a philosophy than a religion,
stresses the importance of seek-
ing individual happiness through
meditation and simplicity of liv-
ing.
CERTAINLY their protest is le-
gitemately founded. The hope
is that their efforts will be turned
in a more positive direction, that
their influence will inspire a fresh
school of writers who will not be
satisfied just knowing the prob-
lems but who will also want to
work at some healthy solutions.
After all, you don't have to look
far to find that some of the most
conforming "squares" are the hip-
sters themselves who are so blind-
ed by their ersatz "revolt" they
cannot see the direction backwards
they travel in.
Rexroth himself, believe it or
not, put it this way: "The hipster
is the furious square. The Beat
novelists and their camp followers
are debauched Puritans. They
agree with the most hostile critics
of jazz, or for that matter with
the most chauvinistic slanderers of
the American Negro. They just
like it that way. In their utter
ignorance they embrace the false
image which their enemies the
squares have painted."
What was it someone said about
The Scared Generation being a
more fitting tag than The Beat
Generation?

11

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SUNDAY, MAY 3, 1959

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