Researching, writing and teaching about the Beat Generation movement

Journal of Beat Studies Volume #4 - The Beat Studies Association

Volume Abstract

Volume 4 of the Journal of Beat Studies features essays on William S. Burroughs, Gary Snyder, Allen Ginsberg & Walt Whitman, Diane di Prima, Joanne Kyger, Helen Adam, and ruth weiss. The volume also introduces a new feature section: The Beat Studies Interview. This year’s interview is with Rochelle Owens, avant-garde poet and playwright from the Beat fifties and sixties. The interview was conducted by Amy Friedman, a Beat Studies Association board member and a faculty member in the English Department at Temple University. Reviews cover contemporary books on Ken Kesey, William S. Burroughs, Greenwich Village, Elise Cowen, and Philip Whalen. A call for submissions for a special issue to honor Ann Charters, founding president of the Beat Studies Association and a prolific scholar and writer, concluded the issue.

Essay Abstracts for JBS#4

1. William S. Burroughs, Michel Serres, and the Word Parasite by Michael Sean Bolton

In Word Cultures, Robin Lydenberg’s 1987 study of William S. Burroughs’s experimental novels, she devotes a chapter to the concept of the parasite as it appears in Burroughs’s work. The chapter opens with a short description of Michel Serres’s philosophical work The Parasite. She notes similarities between Serres’s host/parasite binary and the binaries of the human host and the word virus and the “Other Half” in Burroughs’s novels. The comparison is quite compelling but some of the more provocative suggestions for similarities between the two writers’ concepts of the host/parasite relationship are not pursued in depth. Readers are left to wonder what a more sustained examination of Serres’s ideas might offer to readings of Burroughs. Cary Wolfe has recently proposed a reading of Serres’s book as posthuman theory, in which the interruption of a system by parasitical noise is viewed as a necessary event in the autopoeisis of the system. This essay pursues lines of investigation suggested by Lydenberg concerning parasitical language and human subjectivity, applying such a posthuman reading to Burroughs’s novels via Serres’s writings on parasitical noise in order to showcase the transformative, in addition to the destructive, function of the word parasite.

2. The Beats and Independent Film: A Different Cast of Characters by Jane Falk

This essay presents both an expanded yet more focused view of independent Beat film with a slightly different cast of characters, specifically Beat women. As actors, women were given somewhat objectified roles, while as filmmakers, themselves, they provided roles in which women were empowered and at times dominant. Writers included are Diane di Prima, Lenore Kandel, ruth weiss, Helen Adam, and Joanne Kyger.

3. Allen Ginsberg’s Ambivalent Whitman by Anne Lovering-Rounds

This essay explores the intersections of Allen Ginsberg’s early poetics, particularly “A Supermarket in California” and Fall of America: Poems of These States 1965-1971. The poems taken explored in the essay function as case studies to consider the Whitman-Ginsberg interpoetic relationship, revealing the ways Ginsberg simultaneously adopts Whitman’s topoi and language yet pushes back against a Whitmanian perspective of distant omniscience. Ginsberg’s creative manipulation subtly reveals the poet he wishes Whitman could be: more stringent in his comments on the unattractive features of urban modernity, more expressive of the particulars of human transience.

4. Gary Snyder, Counterculture, and National Identity by John Whalen-Bridge

This essay explores the development of Gary Snyder’s countercultural thought in relation to the way he refers to “the United States of America.” In the early and middle periods of his career, it is as if America is the national that shall not be named, and he displaces reference to it, calling it “Turtle Island,” or he refers to bioregional identity as trumping national identity or political boundaries in terms of long term. Is he “radical” or “avant-garde?” Snyder has famously claimed to be the poet who holds the oldest possible values, placing himself within a Paleolithic world-view. His army does not directly engage with such enemies as the neo-liberal state, unquestioned urban ideology that relegates wilderness to the status of recreational entertainment, or the quadrennial battles to install a symbol in the White House. As his poetry illustrates, he would rather have us think in terms of centuries or chucks of time on the order of 50,000 years. In a way that harkens back to Robinson Jeffers’s “in humanism,” Snyder nudges readers beyond the humanist scale of time that focuses on the next 20 or 50 years, a period that will directly affect us and our children.