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Influenced by Sartre and the French school of thought, the Beat generation became the voice of the American counter culture. Starting the movement in the early 50s, the beat poets experimented a lot with language. They wrote about topics like drugs and sex, or personal decadence. These topics were ”taboo” and writers were avoiding them.

We tend to limit the Beat generation to a literary movement, but I would describe it more as a cultural movement. It is true that Beat Literature evolved around three main literary figures, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs, but their ideas found popularity among the masses very fast, which turned the literary genre into a movement.

In 1945, amid the end of the second World War, Kerouac and Ginsberg started to debate an idea called “The New Vision”. This idea was inspired by William Butler Yeat’s ”A Vision’. Yeats wrote this book while he was experimenting with his own writing style. The book talks about imagination, relationships, history and the supernatural. Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac started formulating some of their ideas around these principles.

Being a ‘Beat’ often meant being an outsider. For many, the word was a synonym of rebellion. Most people believed ‘Beats’ to be a group of angry men and women set up against society. Ginsberg when asked he gave the following answer:

You know there is a notion that the Beat Generation was rebellious. I would say that the mainstream culture was rebellious against nature and the Beat Generation was much more obedient to human nature and trying to propose some value and some openness and generosity and respect for nature and each other, some sacred sense of existence, so I wouldn’t quite call it quite rebellion”.

Although Kerouac and Ginsberg are credited as the funding members of the movement, there are other personalities which are important for its history. Apart from Herbert Huncke, who was the first to use the word ‘Beat’ to describe himself, the third important figure was William Burroughs.

William Burroughs (1914-1997) was the third important writer of that generation. He was also a very good friend of Kerouac and Ginsberg. As a good example of the ‘Beat Literature’, he wrote mainly about his addiction to drugs. His first novel, Junky is autobiographical and he wrote it while he was living in Mexico. Although Burroughs doesn’t advocate the use of substances, he highlights in his book the influence they had in his life. He also writes about his homosexuality and the ‘Great Depression’ as he lived through it. In his Naked Lunch he talks about his journey through addiction and the struggle to quit it.

Burroughs is a good example of the Beat era, as he also questions authority and addresses police brutality. Ginsberg in a similar way talked about America being a dystopian and confusing society. His long poem America is a good example of it. Kerouac’s most popular work ”On the Road”, which tells about his travels around the States, supposedly, started the road trip culture which later on popularized in Europe too with the arrival of the Hippie era.

We can therefore argue that the ‘Beat’ movement was more than a literature movement. It might have started as such, but it went on to develop to a cultural phenomenon, which found its way across the Atlantic ocean. It turned into a trend adopted later on by other great writers like Charles Bukowski, Hunter S. Thompson and Diane di Prima. It also continues to influence young writers and poets to this day.

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