Becoming Beat: Re-cognising the "Beat Generation" and the search for authenticity
AffiliationSchool of Culture and Communication
Document TypePhD thesis
Access StatusThis item is embargoed and will be available on 2023-03-17.
© 2020 George Mouratidis
The literary, cultural and historical phenomenon that is the "Beat Generation" is most well-known for its iconoclasm during the 1950s. Responding to Cold War America's conformist conceptions of selfhood and culture as not being "authentic", Beat enacted the countercultural function of organicising and lyricising the exploration of a self in crisis. While its initial notoriety as a group of licentious, nihilistic anti-intellectuals galvanised Beat's anti-establishment legacy, this thesis contends that these qualities of oppositionality by which Beat is most recognised today have not been properly analysed, and work to ossify later twentieth and twenty-first century readings and canonical constructions of Beat. This thesis sets out to recast Beat from a monolithically oppositional, mid-century "movement" to a living network and tradition of literary and cultural dissidence which resists definition or easy periodisation. Through an historical materialist approach,this thesis challenges the purity of the Beat canon and emphasises Beat as a fluid site of common and diverging antecedents, influences, and associations. Further, this thesis re-evaluates the oft-cited antagonism between "the Beats" and the mid-century liberal critics in order to underscore Beat's unique conceptions of the self and the search for authenticity as a process of becoming. Using the schema of "authenticating subjectivity", this thesis re-appraises Allen Ginsberg’s Howl and Other Poems (1956), Jack Kerouac’s On the Road (1957), and William S. Burroughs’ Naked Lunch (1959) as each representing a different phase of the search for authenticity – one that moves from confrontation and ambivalence, to dualism and liminality, to a final dissolution of the notion of authenticity itself. By examining this canonical triumvirate as decentralised texts and key sites of transition in their respective authors' artistic development, this thesis seeks to complicate their long-held status as a defining model for critical and popular understandings of Beat. By demonstrating Beat as a becoming, this thesis reactivates Beat's complex and shifting terrain which is hypertextual, regenerative and mobile.
KeywordsBeat Generation; Beat Studies; Kerouac; Ginsberg; Burroughs; Trilling; Partisan Review; Howl and Other Poems; On the Road; Naked Lunch; The Beats; Counterculture; Authenticity; Existentialism; Avant-garde; Bohemia; Cold War
- Click on "Export Reference in RIS Format" and choose "open with... Endnote".
- Click on "Export Reference in RIS Format". Login to Refworks, go to References => Import References