In the fifties of the last century, the new cultural and literary movement staked its leading role in the minds of Americans. The beat movement has never been as numerous as the lost generation or other currents, but its impact on cultural status was perhaps the most notable among competing groups. In the first years after the Second World War, there have been dramatic shifts in general social awareness. As America was swept by the post-war economic boom, many students began to question such an unrestrained desire for materialism. The movement of beaters became a product of these doubts. In the reigning capitalism, they saw a threat to the human spirit and social equality. In addition to their dissatisfaction with the culture of consumption, beaters opposed the humiliating shame of the generation of their parents and grandfathers. Taboo, aimed at an open discussion of human sexuality, they viewed as something unhealthy and even potentially harmful. In the world of literature and art, beatniks took the side of the opposition to the impeccable, almost sterile, formalism of the modern era. They enjoyed open, direct and expressive literature. Very often, the cultural creations of the beats crossed the line of what was permitted, and therefore the censorship often vetoed them. Many exclude literature of beats from the category of serious art, but time has shown that the cultural heritage of the bit-generation has turned out to be more durable, and its influence is more extensive.
The founders of the bit-generation met at Columbia University in the early 40s. Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg for many years to come became the locomotives of that initial group of like-minded people, which also included Lucien Carr, John Clellon Holmes and Neil Cassidy. Gregory Corso became the first bitnik poet, whom Ginsberg met. Despite their anti-scientific, or rather anti-academic, claims, the entire bit-generation was fully educated and originated from medium-income classes. It was Kerouac who came up with the name “Bit-generation”, and strangely enough, he hit the mark. William Burroughs was another writer of the beating movement, although slightly older and more experienced than his contemporaries. Burroughs was found unfit for military service during the Second World War, so several years he walked aimlessly around the country, taking on the strangest work. Probably, in this situation, some supreme forces intervened, and therefore the paths of Burroughs, Kerouac and Ginsberg were destined to be woven together. It was their creative search that gave life to the beatnik literature.
Bit-generation had to wade through many different styles, ideas and trends before they managed to create their own unique concept. There is a theory that the poetry of Romanticism influenced the beating consciousness to a greater extent, especially the works of such poets as Percy Bishi Shelley and William Blake. Surrealist and absurdist currents did not bypass them. At the same time, the American transcendentalism of the 19th century served as a powerful source of inspiration for the politics of bit-war confrontations. For example, Henry David Thoreau was elevated to the status of a symbol of his protests. In particular, the beats movement played an important role in restoring the reputation of Thoreau and its erection on the position on which it now stands. In the opposite direction, American modernism became the target in which all the abuse and insults of beatniks were directed. For example, the formalism of Thomas Eliot was completely rejected because of the complete lack of connection with real life. Eliot achieved recognition in the role of a real scientist luminaries, while the bit-generation took him for another elite upstart with a sense of greatness.
The late representative of the bit-movement is the poet Lawrence Ferlingetti. The son of immigrants, Ferlinghetti became a veteran naval agency who worked with the resistance forces in World War II. After the war, he settled in San Francisco, where he opened the bookshop City Lights. His bookstore quickly became a gathering place for many writers of the bit-generation. At about the same time Ferlinghetti begins to engage in publishing activities, publishes the work of status poets, but does not bypass the young. In his own works Ferlingetti demonstrates stylistics, inspired by jazz, and the spirit of improvisation. Ferlinghetti is known for his skillful combination of humor and gloom, as well as topical reflections on the position of America and the world in the middle of the last century. He denounced the decline and pretense of American culture, as well as the destructive potential of capitalism, but his main instrument was a mockery of all this absurdity. It so happened that the poetics of Ferlingetti did not have such a strong place in the literature of beats. His humor and satire make his work more universal, and therefore less attracted exclusively to one current.
The publication of the work “The Shout” by Allen Ginsberg in 1956 was marked by a turning point in the history of bit-literature, if not talking about American literature in general. This poem was conceived in such a way that it was read aloud, thereby restoring oral traditions in literature, which have been neglected for several generations. The free content of the work surprised everyone, and it will be poorly said, because her problems really were taken to court as explicit pornography. However, Ginsberg won this confrontation with the public, as a result, literature and the fine arts were given a special place outside the strict censorship that prevailed at that time. With his “Vopl” Ginsberg calls on the reader / listener to conduct a tour on the reverse side of America, where drug addicts, vagabonds, prostitutes and scammers found their place; The side in which inner anger lives against the system and requires relying equality. Dirty speech and slang are elevated to the rank of everyday as well as drugs and crime. All these things shocked the public of the 50s. But Ginsberg was only following his own path of inspiration. He lovingly quotes Walt Whitman, whose echoes can be seen in the works of Ginsberg with the naked eye.
As the change of the 50’s spent in prosperity, came the chaos of the 60’s, the poetics of Allen Ginzurg also undergoes significant changes. His work has always been the personification of inner turmoil and the search for meaning. And when his person was in the center of attention of the whole society, there simply was not more fuel inside him, which would be alive to the engine of his creativity. Nobody said that Ginsberg had lost his path, critics only claimed that his work became more “mature”, and because – less explosive. Most of the time in the 60’s he spent in the role of connoisseur, who was invited by various universities. The irony of fate, not otherwise: the institutions to which he turned his back, waited for him with open arms. But it was the fate that Ginsberg himself definitely liked to be a mentor and mentor for others. Persuasion of faith in the human spirit to the next generation became a real vocation for Ginsberg, as for a writer-seer.
But not Ginsberg alone! Probably, no other writer from the beats movement attracted more attention to himself than Jack Kerouac. His life was full of conflicts, turmoil and critical depressions. In the end, dying of alcoholism, Kerouac could not reconcile with the role of a voice of a whole generation of beaters. According to the memoirs of his relatives, he was a shy person, and therefore it was difficult in those periods when the public rejected his works. His only success was the novel On the Road, a philosophical parable about the journey, in which the streams of consciousness, narcotic addictions and deep observations of those events with which generations resonate to this day were skilfully mixed. This book made him famous the very first day. Even the members of the circle of the bit-generation were unspeakably surprised with what kind of quiet and enthusiastic working at first glance such a quiet Jack Kerouac. In addition to the novels and philosophy, he wrote in general about the art craft, at least he called it so. It is these semi-intelligible and spatial reflections on literature that have become a kind of window into the consciousness of beatniks. It certainly can find a huge potential, but often this potential is broken by a reigning in the mind disorder and an unrealistic idealism, despite the bitter reality of America’s consumer culture. In a sense, Jack Kerouac was the most vulnerable figure of all the bit-movement. He succumbed to the pressure of glory and universal attention. While Ginzburg withdrew to the importance of mass expectation, Kerouac carried it on his own shoulders and eventually broke down.
Even if Burroughs did not write anything, except for “Naked breakfast”, he probably would have remained in the pantheon of beat writers. Perhaps more clearly than anyone else in the bit-movement, he embodied in his writings the spirit of recklessness, through which his generation was known. Once in Mexico City, in alcoholic intoxication, he accidentally shot his first wife, Jane Volmer. The reason he was in Mexico was painfully prosaic: he tried to escape from justice in the States. Many of the terrible traits of his life he carries and on paper. It is impossible not to note the special style of Burroughs. He clearly neglected the descriptive elements, which directly reflects his emotional state, fueled by the struggle with alcohol and drug addiction. “Naked breakfast” is a very complex and sometimes frightening composition, but despite all the counter arguments, this work still finds its readers.
Criticism of the bit-generation sounded absolutely from different parts of the planet. Academic circles ridiculed beatnikov as rough and uncouth pseudo-intellectuals. The American public was frightened by their sexual deviations and undisguised drug addiction. Status writers of those times looked like a patron on the works of beats. Some politicians, for example Joseph McCarthy, found in the ideology of beating elements of communism and threats to national security. The Beatians staunchly listened to all these taunts in their address, this event rather rallied them together. However, their relatively short period of stay on the world literary scene can certainly be attributed to the number of negatives cast on them during this time. The original name “Beat” meant people who were broken and unnecessary, and for the beginning of the 1950s such an interpretation was very useful.
Bit-generation greatly influenced the structure of modern American society. With the publication of the “Vopla” Ginsberg, the notion of what “acceptable” literature should be quickly spread. Censorship as an instrument for the formation of human consciousness, at least within the framework of artistic creativity, ceases to be such. Perhaps the main achievement of beats is the active discussion of environmental problems. Until the 1950s, environmentalism did not exist in the form that it is today. The ideological similarity of beaters with Native Americans and Eastern culture gave impetus to the emergence of modern environmental ethics. Modern poetics has undergone radical changes in its structure and style, which allowed someone to openly express their opinion on a particular subject. Experimentation came to the forefront, thereby pushing back the tight formalism to a secondary plan. But the bit-generation disappeared beyond the horizon as quickly as it rose above it.