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|Written by Michelle Kent|
|Thursday, 31 January 2008 19:00|
It’s a hot summer evening in 1952 on San Francisco’s North Beach. Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady are in the basement of a small bookstore, reading aloud from the latest piece of beatnik prose. Along the stairway hangs a bulletin board for local literary gurus to share romance, ideas, apartments and transportation.
It’s City Lights Bookstore. The air is smoky, but the madness is clear. Kerouac reads an excerpt from his novel On the Road. His voice is succinct, yet delicate enough to let the crowd’s thoughts melt into his lyrical narrative.
Following the devastation of World War II, a generation was left to redefine itself. The beat movement led society’s rebirth as they gave voice to a reckless honesty, with the intention of liberating the minds of sorrowful America.
The beat movement was shaped by a group of innovative authors who used their creative discourse to express their passionate, anti-authoritarian and often controversial ideas.
In the beginning, society shunned the beat ideals. The term “beatnik” was coined by a San Francisco columnist, likely referring to the Russian satellite: “Sputnik,” as beat authors were generally associated with communism, sexual deviance, and anti-patriotism.
However, with the help of successful writings, namely Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, the beat movement slowly gained a significant following. Many young Americans were exhilarated by Kerouac’s narrative that surrounded his riotous journey across the country. Every passage recounted a new adventure. He wrote about jazz, sex, drugs, women, friends, authority—even in his boredom Kerouac found the deepest passion.
His writing, much like his lifestyle and train of thought, was never-ending and remained uninterrupted by punctuation. Most of his sentences were at least several lines long, sometimes incorporating a dash as if to give the reader a moment to catch up with his untameable mind.
Unlike most romantic writers before him, Kerouac paid little attention to structure. It took him only seven days to write On the Road, which he typed on a continuous scroll of teletype paper he cut and bound together. This disorderly style demonstrated exactly the kind of free thinking the beat generation stood for. His words were a vessel for continuous thought.
Other notable leaders of the beat movement included Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs. Ginsberg was a political activist writer, widely known for his poem Howl, which criticised the materialist domination of American culture. Burroughs on the other hand tested the limits of American moral comfort while writing the obscene novel Naked Lunch, a story surrounding his own sex and drug addiction.
The beat writers started a revolution. They questioned everything embedded into the idealistic American lifestyle: authority, capitalism, moral principles, gender roles and sexuality. Their collective frustration with petty, monotonous living gave way to an outcry for passion and truth.
In comparison to the beat model, modern attitudes have changed drastically. With nations of people governed by inevitable technological evolution, there is little room left for natural passion. Has technology created a new version of fervent writers, or simply diffused the basic desires of humanity into convenience and routine?
With every opportunity at the click of a mouse, the html generation is left with little sense for adventure. Certainly there have been notable breakthrough developments, such as internet blogging, chat rooms, instant messaging and so on, but with so much virtually experienced, the instinctive drive towards an active, spontaneous mind is reduced to passive conformism.
The beatnik mind was never satisfied, never spoon fed, but forever curious, searching for the world as it is, as it should be and as we see it; this curiosity has been betrayed by this generation. We’ve gone from desire to numb satisfaction; from active exploration to passive learning.
Being drawn in by these technological security blankets, I myself have neglected my own creative growth, yielding to the minimal, and burying my deepest passions with the temporary indulgences of medial, internet and consumerist distractions. Technological progression does not mean that society’s minds have progressed as well; we have merely surrendered to modern convenience.
It is not too late though. It is still possible to regain creative consciousness and discover lost passion through the simplest ways. I urge everyone, including myself, to question everything you know, challenge everything you read.
Embrace every experience whether stimulating, redundant, ridiculous, romantic, hateful or terrifying.
Share an abstract thought with someone sitting next to you.
Jack Kerouac once wrote, “I hope it is true that a man can die and yet not only live in others but give them life, and not only life, but that great consciousness of life.”