Jack Kerouac's On the Road and Allen Ginsberg's Howl
It was a 1951 TIME cover story, which dubbed the Beats a ‘Silent Generation, ’ that led to Allen Ginsberg’s retort in his poem ‘America,’ in which he vocalises a frustration at this loss of self- importance. The fifties Beat Generation, notably through Jack Kerouac’s On the Road and Allen Ginsberg’s Howl as will here be discussed, fought to revitalise individuality and revolutionise their censored society which seemed to produce everything for the masses at the expense of the individual’s creative and intellectual potential. Indeed, as John Clellon Holmes once noted: “TIME magazine called them the Silent Generation, but this may have been because TIME was not really listening. ”
Holmes in essence established the Beats as a recognized group in his 1952 New York Times article headlined ‘This is a Beat Generation,’ and Kerouac would later define the changing the preconception of the name ‘Beat’ from “poor, down and out, deadbeat, on the bum, sad, sleeping in subways,” to a “slogan or label for a revolution in manners in America. ” This new ‘beatitude’ described a positivity and optimism that life could be better if individuals only chose to live it their own way, an idea repeatedly expended in both the texts in question here. On the Road and Howl challenge conventional culture in the frank, sometimes seedy but always emotional material they discuss, as well as through their form and literary style which are decidedly gritty, jumbled and real in comparison to traditional literature that had previously been reserved an artistic production of highbrow culture.
Defining the terms culture and counterculture, as Raymond Williams’ extensive studies exhibit, thus both clarifies and complicates matters . In his 1958 essay, Williams notes that “culture has two aspects: the known meanings and directions, which its members are trained to and the new observations and meanings, which are offered and tested… that it is always both traditional and creative. ” Williams’ theory therefore suggests that the terms must necessarily co-exist in order to define each other. The “pervasiveness of consent ” therefore characterises the fifties, against which these Beat texts can be contrasted. Theodore Roszak’s 1969 article ‘The Making of a Counterculture,’ helps define beat ideology as “heightened self-expression and often a rejection of political and authoritative institutions… a negative spirit of the times coupled with a specific lifestyle .” Both On the Road and Howl and their author’s lifestyles of their writers reflect this criterion, in idiomatic and contextual terms, lending to the notion that they are, by the overall nature of their existence, countercultural texts. Roszak’s adolescent counterculture often seems the embodiment of Dean and Sal’s ‘beatitude’ in On the Road “when they pulse to music…value what is raunchy… flare against authority, seek new...