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mark414 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Sep-13-04 02:23 AM
Original message
This Is The Beat Generation: my summary
Edited on Mon Sep-13-04 02:24 AM by mark414
for my beat writers class I had to write a one page summary of the John Clellon Holmes essay "This Is The Beat Generation." you can read a full copy of his essay here:

here is my summary, i am very open to suggestions and/or comments

Any attempt to label an entire generation is unrewarding, and yet the generation which went through the last war, or at least could get a drink easily once it was over, seems to possess a uniform, general quality which demands an adjective...

The above statement, made by John Clellon Holmes in his essay This Is The Beat Generation, only seemed to add to the difficulty that those involved and even those on the outside of the Beat Generation faced in trying to define and understand this phenomenon in American society.

As Holmes goes on to explain, the origins of the word beat are obscure, but the meaning is only too clear to most Americans...a man is beat whenever he goes for broke and wagers the sum of his resources on a single number; and the young generation has done that continually from early youth.

In the essay, Holmes notes that many are comparing this new Beat Generation to the Lost Generation of the post-World War I era. He calls the comparison valuable but also notes that the wild boys of today are not lost. He discusses at some length the world in which the youth of the Beat Generation grew up in, during the collective bad circumstances of a dreary depression, a generation that was weaned during collective uprooting of a global war. Because of this, Holmes asserts, the ability to live at a pace that kills...led to black markets, bebop, narcotics, sexual promiscuity, hucksterism, and Jean-Paul Sartre. The beatness set in later.

Holmes further separates the two postwar generations by saying that this generation conspicuously lacks the eloquent air of bereavement which made so many of the exploits of the Lost Generation symbolic actions. Instead, he says, the youth of the Beat Generation drink to come down...not to illustrate anything. Their excursions into drugs or promiscuity come out of curiosity, not disillusionment...It is a generation with a greater facility for entertaining ideas than for believing in them.

Jack Kerouac once wrote that he discovered the religious implications of beat in 1954. He said that he had heard the holy silence in the church and made a connection between the words beat and beatific. Similarly, the issue of faith plays a prominent role in the essay, with Holmes writing that the so-called Beat Generation exhibits on every side...a perfect craving to believe, with an ever-increasing conviction that the problem of modern life is essentially a spiritual problem.

Finally, Holmes makes the argument that these feelings among the youth did not solely affect those associated with the Beat Generation. He draws comparisons between the Beats and a Young Republican, because both have had enough of homelessness, valuelessness, faithlessness...there is no single philosophy, no single party, no single attitude.

For the wildest hipster, Holmes writes, there is no desire to shatter the square society in which he lives, only to elude it. Further comparing the Beat to the Young Republican, he contends that both are the result of more or less the same conviction - namely that the valueless abyss of modern life is unbearable.
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Mike Niendorff Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Sep-13-04 03:39 AM
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1. very interesting essay

For what it's worth, I think there are really two trains of thought in that essay. On the one hand, you have the "spiritual" thread, which is clearly what stood out to you. Contrasting with that, you have the physical/social "contextual" side, which I would touch on a bit more if it were up to me. In particular, I think the following excerpt crystalizes this side of things really well:

> Everywhere people with tidy moralities shake their heads and wonder
> what is happening to the younger generation.
> Perhaps they have not noticed that, behind the excess on the one hand,
> and the conformity on the other, lies that wait-and-see detachment
> that results from having to fall back for support more on one's
> capacity for human endurance than on one's philosophy of life.

So, on the one hand, you have a quest for meaning; on the other hand, you have a system of pre-fabricated roles and beliefs, none of which pass the test, but all of which are powerfully imposed and defended by The System and its various officers and participants.

And therein lies the crisis. Conform, and sacrifice your soul; or stand firm, and sacrifice your future.

The "Young Republican" chooses option #1; the "hipster" chooses option #2. Neither option is truly viable in the end, and both factions are left striving simply to "endure". At the end of the day, they are left simply as "beat" -- the exhausted, beaten-down wreckage of the generation that might have been.

Argh. Got a little too into the question there, I guess, but I really do enjoy this topic (if you haven't read Paul Goodman's Growing Up Absurd, I'd highly recommend it, too, even if parts of it are more than a little dated). Anyway, hope this feedback helps in at least some small way. And thanks for posting this. Very cool topic, and a very thought-provoking essay.


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mark414 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Sep-13-04 10:26 AM
Response to Reply #1
2. thanks for the input
though i find myself resisting any change or anything at this it's just an introductory one page essay to summarize holmes' main points

because of the limited space i found with which to convey my take on it, i can only say so much.

that being said, i am very much so looking forward to our upcoming multiple upon multiple page papers, as i often get into a tangent when writing and find it very hard to limit myself to just one page.

thanks again though.

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tigereye Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Sep-13-04 12:15 PM
Response to Reply #2
3. nicely done
and interesting

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mark414 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Sep-13-04 03:08 PM
Response to Reply #3
4. thank you kindly
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