The label “beat” designates a group of writers and their friends and affiliates who met at Columbia University in New York and gained fame and notoriety in the period between 1944 and 1961 as the Beat generation. The meaning and origin of the word “beat” are subject to some debate, and explanations range from “downtrodden” and “weary of the world” to “beatific” and “angelic.” However, there is general agreement that Jack Kerouac (1922-1969) first used the term in 1948 to characterize himself and a small group of friends: Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997), William Burroughs (1914-1997), Neal Cassady (1926-1968), and Herbert Huncke (1915-1996), with Cassady and Huncke serving mainly as early literary models and muses for their writer friends. A little later, Gregory Corso (1930-2001) joined them. Closely associated with this pioneering group were Lucien Carr (1925-2005), who introduced Kerouac, Ginsberg, and Burroughs to one another, and John Clellon Holmes (1926-1998), whose novel Go (1952) is the first semifactual chronicle of the early life of the Beats.
The name “Beat generation” was designed not only to signify the downtrodden, renegade position the young men were proud to hold in an increasingly conformist, status-conscious, and materialistic society but also to hint at their affinity to the lost generation, a similarly disaffected group of American writers in the period after World War I. Like many artists and intellectuals of their time, the early Beat poets were disillusioned because the end of Word War II had not led to a spiritual and cultural reawakening. On the contrary, the...
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