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This Is The Beat Generation (James Campbell)

Posted to WritersAndGenres




(NYC-SF-Paris) (1944-1960)

which at first appears as an ‘opposite’ of a documentary / literary analysis, being rather gossipy, sometimes funny, and even seemingly critical in a displaced black mainstream way.
At the 2nd glance, however, the careful painstaking research of all the connections cannot be overlooked and drew me deeper and deeper in the various vivid/characteristic aspects of the Beat way of life of this influential and fermenting period, perhaps especially because I could associate some historic memories of my own childhood, adding to the atmosphere.
The sometimes critical standpoint (e.g. w/r to the proximity of the Beats to ‘accomodation’ in psychiatric institutions (and/or prisons), also characterising a typical spirit of those times; w/r to ‘Kerouac’s mildly criminal gang’, etc.) also serves to highlight interesting ‘real’ aspects that otherwise would be ‘smoothed down’.
The different stations of the lives of Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs in that era are described, from NYC, SF to Mexico City, Tangiers, and, finally (the ‘cut-up period’ in) the Beat Hotel, in Paris.
James Campbell is the author of two books mainly covering the life and influence of James Baldwin (also in Paris, compare the connections with H. Norse), so, ‘of course’, the ‘black ancestry of the white hipster’ is discussed.
As I said: a controversial book, also in the wording, sometimes placard-like designations (e.g. Hipikats, Huncke-junkie, Neo-Cassady, Naked Neal, Neurotica…for the chapters), but a valuable supplement, again, nevertheless, mainly because of its doubtlessly engaged and diligent, ‘very’ ‘individual’ (and psychologically detailed) approach which is certainly not following the dictate of the usual ‘bourgeois’ critique. Thought/discussion-provoking, for sure; I think: a value in itself.
For me, the main attraction of the book lies in its vivid (yes, maybe: gossipy) style and the exuberance of (also literary, contextual psychological) details and strings of interpretation, based on distilling and blending a vast collection of quotations, footnotes, and also receptions/analyses presented by others, which are shown in a long index at the end, together with a large index of names, with highlights on attitudes, personal happenings, etc.