the beats


The writers of the Beat Generation had the good fortune to give themselves a name and to write extensively about their lives, in novels like Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” and William Burroughs’s “Junkie,” in poems like Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” and, later, in memoirs like Joyce Johnson’s “Minor Characters” and Hettie Jones’s “How I Became Hettie Jones.” Jones once said they couldn’t be a generation because they could all fit in her living room, but in the popular imagination they were much more than the sum of their body parts or writings. They were a brand. When the country still considered literary writers and poets important public figures, these were literary writers and poets who came with luridly colorful lives, full of sex and drugs and cars, “the best minds of my generation,” “the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live,” cultural avatars who were often linked more by lifestyle considerations than by writerly ones. If they inspired lots of bad poetry set to bongos and little poetic discipline, they have even more effectively escaped disciplined literary or historical analysis. They rocked; they posed a threat to the nation’s youth. Either you got them or you didn’t. What could matter compared with that?

more from the NY Times here.