Researching, writing and teaching about the Beat Generation movement

Minutes of Association Meetings - The Beat Studies Association

May 28, 2005: The BSA held its first business meeting at ALA. Each officer and member of the board spoke about their roles and future plans. All those interested were welcomed and encouraged to join. BSA will develop a program for the ALA conference to be held in San Francisco in 2006, and we hope to hold an independent BSA conference within the next few years. BSA is proposing a panel on Beat women writers at the SSAWW conference to be held in Philadelphia in 2006 (see website for call for proposals) and will seek to organize panels at other conferences. All members are encouraged to propose papers and panels at conferences. These can be advertised on the BSA website and in the newsletter.

“Border-Crossing Beats: Genre and Gender,” our Inaugural Panel, was held at the American Literature Association 16th Annual Conference on May 27 at 8 a.m. in Boston, Massachusetts.
Panelists included Ann Charters (University of Connecticut and BSA President) as Chair, Jennie Skerl (West Chester University and BSA Vice President) as Respondent, Terence Diggory (Skidmore College), Amy L. Friedman (Ursinus College), and Tim Hunt (Illinois State University).

Professor Diggory’s paper, “The Comic Oratory of Allen Ginsberg and Kenneth Koch,” pointed out that Ginsberg and Koch were part of the same scene at the beginning of their careers, and that they knew and commented on each other’s work, thereby challenging the presumed borders marking the Beat and New York School poets. He compared and contrasted the use of humor, wit, and the comic mixture of tone in both poets’ work, particularly their combination of “the serious and the silly” by employing images from popular culture.

Professor Friedman’s paper, “Joanne Kyger: Still in Step with the Beat?”, questioned the Beat designation for Kyger whose lifetime work goes beyond Beat affiliations, both early and late in her career, and whose status as a female counter-cultural writer is similar to that of other women whose association with a movement confers critical visibility, but which also mis-identifies. Her paper discussed Kyger’s witty, ironic, and chatty style which challenges masculine rhetoric and behavior with humor and which juxtaposes the mystical and the ordinary.

Professor Tim Hunt’s paper, “Kerouac’s Dialogue of the Aural and the Visual,” dealt with Kerouac’s move to greater experimentation after On the Road and with his development of a Beat aesthetic that subverted or ignored modernist practice by emphasizing performance and speech rather than the literary object on the page. He then moved into a more general discussion of the disruptive nature of Beat writing, which has not been adequately theorized because of the greater historical focus on the Beats as a social movement.

Respondent Jennie Skerl remarked that all three papers problematized the standard narratives about Beat aesthetics, individual Beat identities or identification with the movement, and were part of current scholarship that is defining the Beats as part of many “border-crossing” poetry groups and bohemian movements during the mid-20th century. Diggory and Friedman’s papers both pointed to poets’ use of humor, satire, wit, images from popular culture and everyday life, and colloquial speech to undercut ego and hierarchies. Hunt’s paper also focused on the Beat subversion of established modernist hierarchies. This common theme in all three papers led Skerl to ask the panelists to comment further on a poetics that reverses or subverts hierarchies.BSA held its first business meeting at ALA. See our Officers and Executive Board page for a report of the meeting.

Additional ALA Paper on the Beats

‘Breaking the Frame — Race and Beat in the Early Works of Bob Kaufman and LeRoi Jones” was presented by Tom Pynn of Kennesaw State University. Pynn argued that when Simone de Beauvoir came to the United States in the late forties and published her essay, “An Existentialist Looks at Americans,” (1947) she came to many of the same conclusions about American existence that Beat writers did: while there is an “American dynamism” that asserts “itself against the inertia of the given by dominating things, by invading them, by incorporating their structures into the world of man,” most Americans, however, are “waiting for death.” Challenging Enlightenment Liberalism’s promise of emancipation, Beat aesthetics offers an intimate orientation in which subject and object retain their respective uniqueness even in the midst of relation because Beat aesthetics is predicated on embodied consciousnes privileging expression, feeling, immediacy and other modes of intimacy eclipsed by rational strategies of knowing. Despite the “shared literary stance” and an existential concern for human freedom between Euro-American and African-American Beat writers and artists, however, there was difference in racial identities to contend with. For Bob Kaufman and the pre-1965 LeRoi Jones, this meant that to establish their own literary voices they had to question liberalism’s desire to make all things equal in order to transcend race and America’s promises of emancipation.