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Lost, Beat and hip

THEIR words were incoherent, drunken, dizzying, controversial, irreverent, funny, misogynistic, and even tender- coined by founding father Jack Kerouac, they were the Beats. Like the French Impressionists, the Beats were a close-knitted group of friends first, and a movement later- Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs, Neal Cassady and Herbert Huncke. But the term later extended to intersecting groups of post-World War II American writers.

Additionally, various groups attached themselves to the Beats- wannabe bohemians, hangers-on, second-generation Beats. According to the spirit of the movement they were all disillusioned young people struggling to redefine themselves by discovering sexual and political liberation. None in our generation could have been alive to experience the Beat generation. They label us as, 'Generation X', 'Gen Y', or whatever else, but the Beat generation was something of a new kind of faith. Beat was not just about a common aesthetic. It was a lifestyle, a state of mind.

Given the time of its occurrence, amongst other irrelevant similarities, many would pigeonhole the Beat Movement along with the hippies. But while the hippies had their happy colours, everything was in black and white for the Beat Generation. Colour movies were rare, while colour televisions had not been invented yet. They had their marijuana but didn't get psychedelic drugs until the very end of the 50s. But one thing they did have was jazz. The Beats loved jazz. They used this music as a backdrop to their poetry, creating possibly the first ever multimedia. This left influences even felt today (read: Tom Waits).

To understand the Beats, if that is possible, one has to look at the first small group. The term 'Beat Generation' gradually came to represent an entire period in time, but the entire original Beat Generation in literature was small. Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs and Neal Cassady met around the neighbourhood surrounding Columbia University in uptown Manhattan in the early 40s, adding to the group Corso from Greenwich Village, and Huncke hanging around Times Square. They then migrated to San Francisco where the group really expanded, and added some much needed diversity to what was still not a movement yet.

Most of this initial group of Beats struggled for years to get published; it is inspiring today, with the advent of such widespread media, to learn how they managed to keep each other from giving up hope and giving up writing, when it was almost apparent that their works would never be understood; acceptance wasn't really big with the Beats. At its core the Beats, as mentioned already, were a closely-knit group of friends writing poetry together and helping each other hone his craft, not a movement. However, their moment of fame began with a legendary poetry reading at the Six Gallery in San Francisco. The term 'beat' was still not birthed.

The phrase "Beat Generation" was invented by Jack Kerouac in 1948. The phrase was introduced to the general public in 1952 when Kerouac's friend, John Clellon Holmes, wrote an article, 'This is the Beat Generation,' for the New York Times Magazine. In his article he addressed the problems of labeling an entire generation, calling it 'unrewarding,' yet he acknowledged that his generation somehow 'demands an adjective.' And so he described the Beat Generation as one that implies 'the feeling of having been used, of being raw. It involves a sort of nakedness of mind, and ultimately, of soul: a feeling of being reduced to the bedrock of consciousness. In short, it means being undramatically pushed up against the wall of oneself. 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.'

But every movement, every revolution, leaves behind its own slime of bureaucracy. Like punk, grunge, and most other countercultural trends, the Beat movement, once a rebellious, taunting cry against bourgeois intellectualism and repression, was soon picked up by mainstream America. Burroughs said about his friend Kerouac once that his style inspired millions of people of both sexes buy a million pairs of Levis.

When discussing the Beats it would be silly to just talk about the poetry. They, along with those affiliated with them, were mostly men, and the work they produced was almost entirely male-focused. It has to be mentioned that despite the movement's progressive-mindedness, much of the Beat writings were ridiculously misogynistic. Women were either idealized, or demonized, and honoured for their skills in bed. However an uncensored and un-tidied-up reading of the poetry is necessary to truly understand the spirit of the movement, and the times that lead to it.

A number of Beat poems are self-indulgent and sloppy, but there are the obvious masterpieces- Ginsberg's 'Howl', Corso's 'Poets Hitchhiking on the Highway', Kerouac's novel 'On The Road' etc. Most of these works very obviously fall short of traditional standards of expectations of literary quality, but going against the grain, overturning convention, arguably is the most important part of the movement. There is something admirable about the Beat poets' utter refusal to be tamed, their celebration of their own individuality.

To end this article one final thing must be added, Beat poetry insists upon being read aloud. Whether you read to an audience or to yourself, you won't escape from the jazzy rhythms. You will enjoy their self-dramatizing style, their high-spirited, fractured music and despair.

By Ahsan Sajid

Beat Poets, Everyman's Library Pocket Poets (selected and edited by Carmela Ciuraru)
This is the Beat Generation, by John Clellon Holmes, The New York Times Magazine, November 16, 1952 (online version)

Book Review

Maximum Ride: The Final Warning

Q: What do you get when you toss in leftovers from Mutant X, An Inconvenient Truth, and Deception Point?
A: The fourth book in James Patterson's Maximum Ride series

If that isn't an unholy mix, it's hard to say what is. The story, which started three books ago with a bunch of mutant bird-kids fleeing the institution they were born in, and in fighting with other freaks to stay alive, coming to learn some nasty secrets, opens in this one with most of the big guys eliminated in something of a Pyrrhic victory.

Max and her Flock, after attending a sad funeral, are taken over to a safe house while their fates are being decided. Things are even more perilous for them since their existence became well known over the course of the prequels to this book. When a bomb gives lie to the 'safe' in the 'safe-house' they'd been in, they are forced to start running again.

Salvation seems to come in the form of a government assignment in Antarctica, where they are supposed to help with some ecological research.

The Flock being the magnets for danger that they are, soon come face-to-face with what one hopes is the last of the School or Itex or whatever it is that the uber-villains call themselves. This time, their nemesis is a bio-engineered Frankenstein's monster called Gozen, whose only aim in life is to cause pain and destruction. If you're curious about how this ends, you'll have to read the book.

The book garnered quite a negative response because of Patterson's deviation from fantasy towards a blatant tree-hugging campaign, a fact that also bothered yours truly if only because of the lack of integrity towards the storyline. Patterson is a compelling storyteller, and all that goes down the drain in the face of his sudden switch. The character development, which was sustained admirably through the first two books falls flat as the characters are reduced to caricatures of themselves. The only reason you'd want to read this at all is because the author manages to retain the suspense till the very end, and especially if you've been reading since the first book, you want to know how it all goes down. One really hopes that Final Warning is really the final warning, because with this book, it's hard to imagine the series surviving another sequel.

By Sabrina F Ahmad

Most Fallen

“… you'll be gone for days,
for the months and for the seasons.

“you'll see not to let that be the only truth;
you had big plans and high hopes
but you'll wait for summer to bring her to you,
and live off her calls and letters,
where every word is a secret wish come true.

“you say you don't care that you're apart for the small days
since the big one that you became most fallen,
and your expression has quite a semblance of truth.

“you locked yourself into a room
till you could kill yourself with the key;
you wanted to give your fear a name,
you wanted to give your happiness a face,
and it all looked an awful lot like her.

“you lost pictures of yesterday,
and tomorrow seems too far away,
but you will not organize all these pictures
lost in your head.

“you finally invited yourself to a night party
where you could take off your suit of armor,
and it was right beside her,

You were most fallen.”

By Ahsan Sajid



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