Beatnik

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Beatnik was a media stereotype of the 1950s and early 1960s that displayed the more superficial aspects of the Beat Generation literary movement of the 1950s and violent film images, along with a cartoonish misrepresentation of the real-life people and the spirituality found in Jack Kerouac's autobiographical fiction. Kerouac spoke out against this detour from his original concept.

Contents

History

Kerouac introduced the phrase "Beat Generation" in 1948, generalizing from his social circle to characterize the underground, anti-conformist youth gathering in New York at that time. The name came up in conversation with the novelist John Clellon Holmes who published an early Beat Generation novel, Go (1952), along with a manifesto in The New York Times Magazine: "This Is the Beat Generation"[1] In 1954, Nolan Miller published his third novel, Why I Am So Beat (Putnam), detailing the weekend parties of four students.

The adjective "beat" was introduced to the group by Herbert Huncke, though Kerouac expanded the meaning of the term. "Beat" came from underworld slang—the world of hustlers, drug addicts and petty thieves, where Ginsberg and Kerouac sought inspiration. "Beat" was slang for "beaten down" or down-trodden, but to Kerouac, it also had a spiritual connotation as in "beatitude". Other adjectives discussed by Holmes and Kerouac were "found" and "furtive." Kerouac felt he had identified (and was the embodiment of) a new trend analogous to the influential Lost Generation.[2][3]

In "Aftermath: The Philosophy of the Beat Generation" Kerouac criticized what he saw as a distortion of his visionary, spiritual ideas:

The Beat Generation, that was a vision that we had, John Clellon Holmes and I, and Allen Ginsberg in an even wilder way, in the late Forties, of a generation of crazy, illuminated hipsters suddenly rising and roaming America, serious, bumming and hitchhiking everywhere, ragged, beatific, beautiful in an ugly graceful new way—a vision gleaned from the way we had heard the word "beat" spoken on street corners on Times Square and in the Village, in other cities in the downtown city night of postwar America—beat, meaning down and out but full of intense conviction. We'd even heard old 1910 Daddy Hipsters of the streets speak the word that way, with a melancholy sneer. It never meant juvenile delinquents, it meant characters of a special spirituality who didn't gang up but were solitary Bartlebies staring out the dead wall window of our civilization...[4][5]

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