Jack Kerouac & The Beat Generation

IMG_0888The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.”Jack Kerouac, On the Road

Dear students, we started  our academic year with  the Romantic poets and “Mad Shelley”. Now it’s the end of our  English class together and  (quoting Shakespeare) “the wheel has come full circle”.

As usual while I was preparing your next lesson I had a look at You Tube and found some incredible videos. I find it so incredibly interesting when I can “give VOICE, MUSIC & FACES” to all the concepts and books I had studied and read but never … seen alive if not in my imagination. Your approach to this topic and this last author of ours is going to be so different from mine. You can now hear Kerouac’s voice while he reads his own work ( so fundamental to appreciate the “beat” and flow!), you can  see him and the images of New York in the background, you can have it explained sitting at your desk and have a taste of Jazz music. I really hope you’ll appreciate all this and one day…while driving around the USA, you’ll … remember your “crazy” teacher of English 🙂

Dal programma Cult Book in italiano ( la pronuncia di Kerouac e’ errata. Corretta = Keruac)

The next Clip is an American introduction to the author and book. Lovely jazz music in the background. ““I had nothing to offer anybody except my own confusion.”

Jack Kerouac, interviewed by William F. Buckley Jr. from a documentary on the soul of the Beat Generation. 
Beat, (a)politics, (non)hippies, drunkenness and television.. 
”Everything is going to the beat — It’s the beat generation, it be-at, it’s the beat to keep, it’s the beat of the heart, it’s being beat and down in the world and like old-time lowdown and like in ancient civilizations the slave boatmen rowing galleys to a beat and servants spinning pottery to a beat…” Jack Kerouac – Desolation Angels

This is the link to  GOOGLE MAP of Kerouac’s On the Road.

Kerouac reading the last page of “On the Road” with pictures of Jack and Neal.

I even came across a video of Johnny Depp reading Kerouac ( you never know what you’ll end up with while searching YouTube!!), a strange interpretation of his philosophy of  living for “kicks”. It certainly conveys that psychedelic atmosphere.

Un doveroso omaggio a Fernanda Pivano che ci ha lasciati il 18 agosto 2009 e grazie alla quale l’Italia ha conosciuto gli scrittori e la letteratura americana. Una grande donna, non so se ne parlerete mai in Italiano ma non può venire dimenticata!

I cannot help adding also some stunning photos of Big Sur. I drove from L.A. to San Francisco in 1988 and still haven’t forgotten those fantastic views. Should you go to California one day you cannot miss the City Light Bookstore in San Francisco

Trailer of the movie (2012) directed by Walter Salles featuring Garrett Hedlund, Sam Riley, Kristen Stewart, Alice Braga, Amy Adams, Tom Sturridge, Danny Morgan, Elisabeth Moss, Kirsten Dunst, and Viggo Mortensen.

I’m now adding two videos we’ll watch in class. The first is the poem AMERICA by Allen Ginsberg with the music of Tom Waits.

The next “Howl” is a poem written by Allen Ginsberg in 1955. The poem is considered to be one of the great works of the Beat Generation. “Howl” was originally written as a performance piece, but it was later published by poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti of City Lights Books. The poem was originally considered to be obscene, and Ferlinghetti was arrested and charged with its publication. On October 3, 1957, Judge Clayton W. Horn ruled that the poem was not obscene.

TASK: After finishing our module on the Beat Generation leave your “last optional” comment of your English literature class 😉



17 thoughts on “Jack Kerouac & The Beat Generation

  1. So close to young people’s style , way of thinking and spirit. Feeling and acting free are the essence of the book “On the Road” and the constant of the group “Beat Generation”. Doing whatever you want and facing life without predictions , just taking it how it comes , are very inspiring concepts that this group made me even more clear. Listening to Kerouac’s words was something fascinating and attracting, but most of all so true… We are all getting less spontaneous than we should actually be: Kerouac and the Beat Generation are the fire (by my own opinion) that can wake up the sleeping minds of all young people, convincing them that life doesn’t necessarily have to be programmed and respecting the rules doesn’t make you the percent woman or man …
    As many of my classmates said, probably this is one of the best module done in the whole year.

  2. I really enjoyed this last module, for several reasons. One of these is that travelling a lot has always been one of my main goals. I think travelling makes you richer as very few things can. One of my dreams is to go right to the United States, and visit them as much as possible. In addition, the 50s have always fascinated me. I’d never heard of the Beat Generation and I didn’t even know the origin of some groups like the Punks. As discussed in class with the reader, I really feel like a global citizen and for this reason I also feel the need to know many of the cultures I know little about. Jack Keouac is a bit of a perfect example of what I am talking about. Travelling with little, with the right people.

    “The gladdest moment in human life, me thinks, is a departure into unknown lands.” – Sir Richard Burton

  3. Honestly I didn’t know a lot about the Beat Generation and its leanings. Like Giulia, I have always associated the term “beat” to something positive. I used to think about music, in which “beat” has different meanings: in jazz music, it is the sense of the rhythm of an executor or a music complex; or it means the rhythmic measure of a song expressed in BPM (beat per minute). So it was always tie to something which transmits energy. But… the term “beat” “speaks two different languages”: it was a slang term used by post-war jazz musicians to mean “down and out”, poor and exhausted. Here I was a bit confused. Then Jack Kerouac, one of the beat novelists “gave” me the solution: he claimed that the word meant both exhausted, at the bottom of the world, rejected by society, and also beatitude or beatific. From this definition I have started to admire the Beat Generation. It was associated to the idea of living to the full at the rhythm of jazz music.
    In general I don’t really like reading but, thanks to the positive atmosphere of the 50s and the plot I think I will read it. Like Giorgia said, the journey, one of the main themes of On the Road, is something exciting, a symbol of the escape from the city and from one’s own past, and the fact of not having always a destination fascinates me because it gives me the idea of freedom and carefreeness. I love the friendship between Kerouac and Neal Cassady, from the video I understood that Jack considered Neal a brother for all time. I would like to spend some words about the style of writing of the beat authors, in particular Kerouac, even if I have read only one extract of the book: it was spontaneous, Kerouac thought writing meant expressing whatever came into one’s mind: a thought, an idea, a scene or an episode, ordered as the mind recalls it. The language has been defined as “hip talk” (street language).
    In conclusion I hope I will live experiences in which freedom, carefreeness, fun and happiness stay at the bottom of them, delightning every single little moment.

  4. In my opinion, the Beat Generation is the rebirth of the human after the crumbled sense of anguish and loss that had filled up the soul of everybody during the two traumatic world wars. Those years were marked by a mood of rebellion, of change and freedom to do and say the own thought without any censure. I was fascinated by the book “On the Road” because Jack Kerouac showed me the desperate desire to escape from one’s own past and try to control the own life but in the same time feel overwhelmed by a rush of emotions.
    I am glad to finish this year with these uncontrollable artists because I feel rather close to their attitude of life in particular the effort to live every moment with extreme intensity to explore emotions.
    Without a doubt is the Beat Generation an alternative culture, outside the box and captivating.

  5. Honestly I didn’t know a lot about the Beat Generation and its leanings. Like Giulia, I have always associated the term “beat” to something positive, because I thought about music, in which it has different meanings: in jazz it is the sense of the rhythm of an executor or a musical complex; or the rhythmic measure of a song expressed in BPM (beat per minute). So it is always something that transmits energy but…the word beat “speaks another language, too”: it was a slang term used by post-war jazz musicians to mean down and out, or poor, exhausted, tired, defeated. Here I was a bit confused. Then Jack Kerouac, one of the Beat novelists, “gave” me the solution: he claimed that the word meant both exhausted, at the bottom of the world, rejected by society, and also beatitude or beatific. From this point I’ve started to enjoy the Beat Generation, associated to the idea of living to the full at the rhythm of jazz music. Furthermore, in general I don’t really like reading, but thanks to this module I think I will read “On the read”, in particular because, like Giorgia said, the theme of journey is something exciting, a symbol of the escape from the city and from one’s own past, and also always not having a destination is something that fascinates me, it gives me the idea of freedom and carefreeness. I love the friendship between Kerouac and Neal Cassady and from the videos I understood that Jack considered him a brother for all time. I would like to spend some words about the style of writing of the authors of the Beat Generation too, in particular Jack kerouac, even if I read only one extract of On the road: it is very spontaneous, he thought writing meant expressing whatever came into one’s mind: a thought, an idea, a scene or an episode, ordered as the mind recalls it. The language of this novel has been defined as “hip talk” (street language) and the novel is full of details. In conclusion I hope to have the opportunity to live experiences where freedom, happiness, carefreeness and fun stay at the bottom of them, delightning every single moment, like the Beat Generation did.

  6. I really appreciate this module on the Beat Generation and the author Jack Kerouac.
    I feel very inspired by the ideology of this ‘movement’ and reading my classmates’ comments I could grasp on their words the same enthusiasm and inspiration I receive from it.
    The idea of the journey is something that always transmits a sense of excitement and escape, and therefore a sentiment of wildness and freedom, something that almost every young man is looking for, especially in this part of the year where we are oppressed by exams and important decision to take.
    I start reading the book and even if I don’t usually appreciate the massive description of places, and the book is highly detailed, I really like Kerouac’s “coarse” style, infact without all the ornaments typical of some writers his words are honest and true.
    I hope to find with this reading a cathartic moment for my self.

  7. After seeing the videos, I developed my own idea about both Kerouac and the Beat Generation. I felt a great interest in the theme of the journey that in my opinion represents the symbol of the escape from the city and from our past. What I liked the most was the free behaviour of the young in the 60s, who showed a great joy for living, and a sense of restlessness. I think that they didn’t always have a real destination in mind and they often found nothing at the end of their journey, but they didn’t lose the desire of having new experiences and they were ready to risk everything even if nothing was granted. I realised that also the language used is particular, that is spontaneous, and it resembles the jazz music. The beat generation is associated with a negative opinion as the word “beat” means ruined and dissatisfied: in fact, the beats were a group of young people who reacted against capitalism and puritanism which were the standard middle-class values in the US society. But the word beat has a second meaning; sacred and holy and this is the value which I identified myself with. I have realised all the beat generation’s writers try to offer a realistic imagine of the American society of the time: their works deal with the theme of the dream of becoming rich and we find the portrait of the USA as a materialistic country, as if it were without a soul, ready to fight against the world to defend the false image of its authority. I was impressed by the narrative technique of the beat writers, based on spontaneity, on the refusal of any revision, and on the attention for the oral language rhythm. We find different types of linguistic experimentations that make this literature particular, but worth of reading. I think that I have become fond of this literary genre thanks to my father, who has always pursued a passion for the hippy world: in fact, when he was younger he used to wear strange clothes, to listen to a particular type of music and he couldn’t stand the rules imposed by the others. He wanted to be free of being what he really was, and he has always taught to follow my dreams and not to give up.
    Summing up, both the reading of Kerouac’s extracts taken from “On the Road” and my father’s teachings have given me the taste of enjoying life according to one of the main ideas of the beats, that is “what you think at first, will always be the best thought”.

  8. Personally I would have preferred to dwell better on the “Beat Generation” because I’ve always been fascinated by the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s (especially for the music), however I found important to have the possibility to see, through the interview, Jack Kerouac, hear his voice and his ideas, discover that the way of think of the “Beat Generation” was connected to the hippie ones. Thanks to this last module, now, I have another book to introduce on my “book list”. From the video of the interview I was able to catch his funny soul, also helped by the alcohol. He has been admirable for his travel through America and one day I hope to do such a thing. He gave me the inspiration.
    I didn’t know anything about the meaning of the word “beat” ; the term means poor and exhausted and I’ve always associated “beat” to positive adjectives because of the music and see a different point of view was absorbing. Reading chapter three at school reminds me of the glorious three weeks I spent in Virginia, not because I had a travel on the road, but for the American terms he use to write this experience. As regards the video with Johnny Depp….wow, what can I say, for sure is psychedelic, his voice very sensual and the message very powerful!
    Maybe, this module is the one I appriciate the most, really. I’ll go deeper on the “Beat Generation”.

  9. I didn’t know the “Beat Generation” and to be honest, the fact that (like Francesca said) “was connected to the pure enjoyment of life and the disregard for conformity and conventions” made me curious to discover something more about that!
    After watching the videos (the one of Jack Kerouac’s interview made me laugh a lot!) I was satisfied to be aware of a piece of history I didn’t know, especially to know how young people thought in the 50s in America. (I have to said that the theme of freedom, “broking the rules” and drugs is common to today’s young people) and also to listen some Jazz:)
    I think that “On the Road” it’ll be interesting to read. I have already watched the movie few years ago but, maybe because I didn’t know the setting yet, I don’t remember the scenes very well:(
    I liked these lessons and I must say that we couldn’t finish the year better than with the 50s!

  10. What I really appreciated of this module is the whole backgroud we paid attention to.
    Listening to Kerouac’s real voice, looking at the itinerary of his journey, which is very well done and detailed, and reading an extract from his renowned book has been really intriguing.
    You cannot even imagine how I would have liked to live in those years.
    There were more freedom and, at least apparently, more carefreeness. It seems people never got bored.
    Jazz music, dance, art, elegance, extravagance: if I could use the Time Machine, I think I would go definitely back to the 50s (or 60s… or 70s…still have some doubts!).
    In the future I would like to read “On the road” because, even if it looks a tall order, I think it is worth.
    Actually, I am really glad I will have some free time in this summer, because I cannot wait to read some books we have studied this year which really aroused my curiosity.
    Thanks for opening us the world of English literature!
    Ps the pictures of Big Sur are breath-taking! What a place….

  11. Love the 50s!!! I am currently watching the movie On the road, not finished yet… but I’m loving it 🙂
    That’s the demonstration of how simplicity, pure friendships and a good dose of fun make people really happy. Life is not just money, fame or “stuff”; our souls need to be fed constantly with vibes which make us fulfilled and proud of living Life.
    Pina Baush (1940-2009) said “Everything must come from the heart, must be lived”, so true!!

    • You’re right. We spend our whole life chasing happiness, thinking that it is unattainable, without realizing that it is hidden in the enjoyiment of every instant we share with the people we love.

    • I share at all what you’ve wrote! We are constantly looking for happiness, believing that it is in great things, but I strongly believe that happiness is found in small things. We should try to live with more carefree because in today’s world, so technological and sometimes leer, we often forget the beauty of simplicity. As in the film “On the road” we should try to rediscover the wonder of a pure and wild life. In life we must risk and get involved to discover new emotions and experience that we will always remember

  12. I wanted to read “On the Road” because of the “fame” that preceded it. Actually, I wanted to dive in the majestic and wide American land and realise my fantasy of driving through the States at least for now with my imagination. Unfortunately, I expected a totally different book (maybe misguided by my previous reading: “USA coast to coast” by Mauro Buffa” which I really enjoyed!) so to be honest I admit that I couldn’t wait to finish it. Nevertheless this book deserves to be considered the masterpiece of the “Beat Generation” because it highlights (even if with so many heavy descriptions) the atmosphere that could be breathed during those days. Because of my obsession with quotes I underlined so many phrases that struck me in order to keep my favourite passages in plain view throughout the book; I’ll use some of them to give a shape to my comment!
    “Beyond the glittering street was darkness, and beyond darkness the West. I had to go.” This is what Sal says before heading to Frisco at the beginning of the story. Here the theme of the journey/escape can be seen perfectly because of his need to go. The image of the darkness is kinda “fake” since it hides a whole world behind it and for Sal this world is the West.
    “It’s up to us to see that nobody pulls any schemes on us.” With these words Dean shows the nature of the Beat Generation which was connected to the pure enjoyment of life and the disregard for conformity and conventions. They were totally reckless. Him especially.
    “A pain stabbed my heart, as it did every time I saw a girl I loved who was going the opposite direction in this too-big world.” I found this line funny and at the same time true regarding the “too-big world”. Here Sal points out the restlessness and the impulse that led him and his friends throughout all their life on the road, able to make them experience the most unthinkable experiences.
    “The road is life.” and “I was rushing through the world without a chance to see it.” made me think that even though Sal enjoyed “rushing”, there were some times in which he became conscious of the fact that he was actually running from one place to another without getting in touch with it, apart for bars and parties. These lines are kind of the double-face of the road: it made them cross infinite towns driving km after km but at the end of the day they only passed through them and tasted just a small part of the whole. (Most of the times don’t even sober.)
    “What for?” This question such as “What are we going to do?” or “Where are we going?” plays an important role in the book: all of them are likely to have no answer. This highlights the peculiarly of these guys to have no destination in mind and neither the necessity to find something specific; all that mattered was going.
    “When he decided I was worth saving.” This is what Sal says after meeting Dean again after being left with no explanation. I really thought they were not going to see again the first time they kind of “split” but then here they were again. I feel like it’s a weird relationship but at the same time deep: Sal is kind of addicted to the way of being of Dean but both always look for each other and share a lot. It seems to me anyway that Sal couldn’t build his own “being” because of this bond.
    I’d like to end with these last few beautiful lines: “What is that feeling when you’re driving away from people and they recede on the pain till you see their specks dispersing? – it’s the too-huge world vaulting is, and it’s good-by.” I love this because it’s so true. The moment in which we have to say goodbye is though and all we leave behind slowly turn into blurred lines but in my opinion what makes a goodbye good is that it contains a sense of regeneration and start towards electrifying nelength.)w beginnings. (Fear obviously included in the package of feelings.)
    Kerouac experienced so many goodbyes but what left a mark in his soul was a single hello and it was the one of his beloved companion Neal Cassady. 🙂
    While waiting for my time to go from coast to coast, I thank Kerouac for giving us the chance to see the crazy 50s from his point of view even though he often gave me headache. 😉
    (Sorry for the length.)

    • Stunning comment! Even if you underlined how hard it is to read the book, you made me want to read it.
      Thanks for sharing your favourite lines with us.
      It has been a plasure to read your comment

    • As Bik said, your comment is interesting! Beautiful are the quotes you have chosen! Maybe I’ll read the book too, you’ve intrigued me a lot 🙂

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