The Beats: A Very Short Introduction

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Oxford University Press, Jul 25, 2013 - History - 126 pages
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In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the Beat Generation writers revolutionized American literature with their iconoclastic approach to language and their angry assault on the conformity and conservatism of postwar society. They and their followers took aim at the hypocrisy and taboos of their time—particularly those involving sex, race, and class - in such provocative works as Jack Kerouac's On the Road (1957), Allen Ginsberg's Howl (1956), and William S. Burroughs's Naked Lunch (1959). This volume offers a concise overview of the social, cultural, and aesthetic sensibilities of the Beats, bringing out the similarities that connected them and also the many differences that made them a loosely knit collective rather than an organized movement. Principal figures in the saga include Neal Cassady, Gregory Corso, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, John Clellon Holmes, Carolyn Cassady, and Gary Snyder; locations range from Greenwich Village and San Francisco to Mexico, western Europe, and North Africa; topics include Beat approaches to literature, drugs, sexuality, art, music, and religion. Members of the Beat Generation hoped that their radical rejection of materialism, consumerism, and regimentation would inspire others to purify their lives and souls as well; yet they urged the remaking of consciousness on a profoundly inward-looking basis, cultivating "the unspeakable visions of the individual," in Kerouac's phrase. The idea was to revolutionize society by revolutionizing thought, not the other way around. This book explains how the Beats used their drastic visions and radical styles to challenge dominant values, fending off absorption into mainstream culture while preparing ground for the larger, more explosive social upheavals of the 1960s. More than half a century later, the Beats' impact can still be felt in literature, cinema, music, theater, and the visual arts. ABOUT THE SERIES: The Very Short Introductions series from Oxford University Press contains hundreds of titles in almost every subject area. These pocket-sized books are the perfect way to get ahead in a new subject quickly. Our expert authors combine facts, analysis, perspective, new ideas, and enthusiasm to make interesting and challenging topics highly readable.
  

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Contents

1 Origins and essences
1
2 Beats beatniks bohemians and all that jazz
20
Kerouac and Burroughs
35
Ginsberg Corso and Company
65
5 The Beats and popular culture
92
6 The Beat legacy
101
References
109
Further reading
116
Index
119
Copyright

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About the author (2013)


David Sterritt is a film professor at Columbia University and the Maryland Institute College of Art, and professor emeritus at Long Island University. A noted critic, author, and scholar, he is chair of the National Society of Film Critics and chief book critic of Film Quarterly, and was for many years the film critic for The Christian Science Monitor. His books include Mad to Be Saved: The Beats, the '50s, and Film and Screening the Beats: Media Culture and the Beat Sensibility, and he serves on the editorial board of the Journal of Beat Studies. His writings have appeared in the New York Times, Huffington Post, Journal of American History, Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Beliefnet, Chronicle of Higher Education, and many other publications. Sterritt has appeared as a guest on CBS Morning News, Nightline, Charlie Rose, CNN Live Today, Countdown with Keith Olbermann and The O'Reilly Factor, among many other television and radio shows.

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