Is There a Beat Generation?

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This episode is from the WNYC archives. It may contain language which is no longer politically or socially appropriate.

Second in a lecture series presented by the Brandeis University Club of New York. Joseph Kaufman, Dean of Students at Brandeis University is moderator. Speakers include Jack Kerouac, Kingsley Amis, James Wexler, Dr. Ashley Montagu.

Is there a Beat Generation? This subject is of interest on many college campuses, particularly urban universities, of literary interest, as a social phenomenon, and a symptom of alienation many young people experience in adapting to society in this anxious age.

Kerouac is introduced. Kerouac reads his article "Beat Generation?" written about his relationship to the Beat Generation. Makes a joke about the lack of commas in his article. Ben Hecht asked him once "why are you afraid to speak your mind?" Live your lives out? No. Love your lives out. He was the originator of the term in a conversation with John Clellon Holmes. Poem about Harpo Marx. Recites a poem "Love's multitudinous bone yard...the softness of the reward that we'll get."

Kingsley Amis is introduced. Considered the novelist spokesman for England's Angry Young Men. Amis states that his function in this discussion is to bring news from England. Discusses the British curiosity of America's Beat Generation as a literary movement, social phenomenon, emergent group and psychological novelty. Protesting the stagnation of contemporary English life, the frustration imposed on everything original and creative, the abandonment of all moral effort. Amis states that there is no movement of this kind in England. Questions the "angry" part of the movement's name. Are people angry about the condition of Britain? Mentions John Osbourne's play "Look Back in Anger." British society has more opportunity and mobility than any time since the war. There is still plenty to be angry about, but there always has been in any society. They are all working as best they can in their own way. Is there really an Angry Young Man movement? Literary middle man and journalistic approach puts people in pigeonholes and saves the reader the trouble and exertion. It's easier to have novels and plays predigested than to face the grueling task of one having to make one's mind about them. Everyone is getting on the bandwagon. "There is no Angry Young Man Movement, there may conceivably be a Beat Generation, but I very much doubt it."

James Wexler is introduced. One of few unreconstructed radicals of his generation. I see no point in organized confusionism. Life is complicated enough without trying to make it a poem. There does seem to be a sense of survival of human values and decency, which seem to be the only things that give meaning to life. References an essay written by the late Felix Cohen. It is a sad thing about America now that what is regarded as the great revolt and great representation of dissent and unorthodoxy is what is called the Beat Generation. Has very little meaning to me. People say there are no issues after the New Deal and Fair Deal. Hydrogen bomb and the quest for human equality are two of the most important issues. Don't believe that there is nothing left to fight for and no meaning left in life. Too easy to run away from the world.

Dr. Ashley Montagu is introduced. Montagu quotes Lord Acton, "Freedom is not the liberty to do what you like, but the right to be able to do what you ought." In response to the question "Is there a Beat Generation?" his response is "how un-beat can you get not to know the answer." Tells joke about an un-beat young person asked a young beatnik. "Do you know what good clean fun is?" and the beatknik replied "No, what good is it?" The Beat Generation is not strictly a literary school. Beat writers are the literate members of the Beat Generation. There is a Beat Generation, not a whole generation, refers to a segment of a generation. Characteristics of a beatnik include fatalism, cultural ruthlessness, detachment from traditional values, alienation from themselves, a new morality that frees them from a world of moral chaos, the only conformity is to non-conformity. Reads quote from Kerouac's "Subterraneans." It is not contempt but compassion that is called for. A signal of distress, a cry for love, a refusal to accept defeat at the hand of the unloving lovers who made them what they are. We owe a debt of gratitude to the Beat writers for articulating what the less vocal members of this generation feel and think.

Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection

WNYC archives id: 5808
Municipal archives id: LT8461