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The Beat Generation

The "Beat Generation," American counter-culture writers of the 1950s, blazed a literary trail for the social/cultural revolutionists of the 1960s. The principal works of the movement were Jack Kerouac's On the Road (1957) and Allen Ginsberg's Howl (1956). Kerouac spearheaded a helter-skelter group of struggling writers, hustlers, and drug addicts (Beat Generation). In a deep sense, the Beat Generation that followed World War II was analogous to the Lost Generation that followed World War I, and though its influence may not have been as great, it passed its bohemian DNA on the succeeding generation of artists and activists.

The social complacency and hectic commercial culture the Beat Generation inherited had been searched and savaged by recent accusatory and reformists texts like The Lonely Crowd by David Riesman (1950), The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit by Sloan Wilson (1955), and The Power Elite by C. Wright Mills (1956).

Echoes of the Beat Generation permeate the forms of alternative/counter culture that have existed since then (e.g. "hippies," "punks", etc). The Beat Generation was the first modern "subculture." (Beat Generation). Mark Braley emphasizes that the radical style of Kerouac and other writers of the Bohemian subculture intended to shock and disturb mainstream readers and to reject contemporary materialism and social conventions:

The Beat poets and writers translated this rejection of societal constraints into their literature as well. The result was Kerouac's "spontaneous prose," a rapid outpouring of words and ideas onto paper with little or no editing, the idea being that the mind's unconscious selection and structuring would create a truer, purer, and richer discourse. (1197)

Kerouac used the term "beat" to describe both the negatives of his world and the positives of his responses to it. "Beat" implied weariness and apathy toward social or political activity, feelings of disillusionment, bitterness, a...

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The Beat Generation. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 21:34, May 24, 2020, from