The Beats: A Very Short Introduction

ISBN : 9780199796779

David Sterritt
144 ページ
114 x 174 mm
Very Short Introductions



  • Takes advantage of the latest historical research
  • Relates the Beats' writing to twentieth-century music, film, and painting
  • Explores the Beats within the larger context of American culture and history
  • Examines interplay between Beat aesthetics and the political outlook of their day

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the Beat Generation writers revolutionized American literature with their iconoclastic approach to language and their angry assault on the conformity and conservatism of postwar society. They and their followers took aim at the hypocrisy and taboos of their time—particularly those involving sex, race, and class - in such provocative works as Jack Kerouac's On the Road (1957), Allen Ginsberg's Howl(1956), and William S. Burroughs's Naked Lunch (1959). This volume offers a concise overview of the social, cultural, and aesthetic sensibilities of the Beats, bringing out the similarities that connected them and also the many differences that made them a loosely knit collective rather than an organized movement. Principal figures in the saga include Neal Cassady, Gregory Corso, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, John Clellon Holmes, Carolyn Cassady, and Gary Snyder; locations range from Greenwich Village and San Francisco to Mexico, western Europe, and North Africa; topics include Beat approaches to literature, drugs, sexuality, art, music, and religion.
Members of the Beat Generation hoped that their radical rejection of materialism, consumerism, and regimentation would inspire others to purify their lives and souls as well; yet they urged the remaking of consciousness on a profoundly inward-looking basis, cultivating "the unspeakable visions of the individual," in Kerouac's phrase. The idea was to revolutionize society by revolutionizing thought, not the other way around. This book explains how the Beats used their drastic visions and radical styles to challenge dominant values, fending off absorption into mainstream culture while preparing ground for the larger, more explosive social upheavals of the 1960s. More than half a century later, the Beats' impact can still be felt in literature, cinema, music, theater, and the visual arts. 


List of illustrations
Ch. 1: Origins and essences
Ch. 2: Beats, beatniks, bohemians, and all that jazz
Ch. 3: The writers and the books
Ch. 4: The Beats and popular culture
Ch. 5: The Beat legacy
Further reading


David Sterritt, Professor Emeritus of Theatre and Film, Long Island University, USA
Professor Emeritus of Theatre and Film, Long Island University; Chair, National Society of Film Critics; Adjunct Professor, School of the Arts, Columbia University; and Adjunct Professor of Art History, Maryland Institute College of Art