Special Issue "Beat Generation Writers as Readers of World Literature"

A special issue of Humanities (ISSN 2076-0787).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: 15 October 2018

Special Issue Editor

Guest Editor
Prof. Dr. Hassan Melehy

Department of Romance Studies, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill CB# 3170, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3170, USA
Website | E-Mail
Interests: European Renaissance; Poetics; Philosophy and Literature; Critical Theory; Film Studies; North American Literature

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Scholarship increasingly recognizes the Beat Generation as far more than a movement restricted to the US. One of the reasons for worldwide interest in their work is that they understood literature as a global phenomenon: besides that they were well read in American and British literature, their own interests extended to the literatures of multiple European countries, North Africa, Latin America, and Asia. Although there is a long-standing tradition of characterizing their knowledge as meager and superficial, and their curiosity especially about non-Euro-American cultures as exoticizing and appropriative, recent research shows deeper, more sophisticated, more receptive engagements.

This special issue of Humanities seeks to explore the ways that Beat Generation writers read world literature and incorporated what they learned from it in their own writing. In this context, “literature” is broadly understood as also including philosophical texts, religious texts, and religious practices. Submissions on how Beat Generation writers contributed to the idea of literature as a global phenomenon are especially welcome.

Although as an open access journal Humanities normally charges authors a processing fee, there will be no cost for publication in this special issue.

Please submit articles of up to 8,000 words to Hassan Melehy (hmelehy@unc.edu) by 15 October 2018. Queries welcome.

Prof. Dr. Hassan Melehy
Guest Editor

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All papers will be peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a double-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Humanities is an international peer-reviewed open access quarterly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.


  • Beat Generation
  • Geographic Extensions
  • Transnational Beat Generation
  • Beat Generation Influence
  • Beat Generation Legacy
  • Beat Generation Literature

Published Papers

This special issue is now open for submission, see below for planned papers.

Planned Papers

The below list represents only planned manuscripts. Some of these manuscripts have not been received by the Editorial Office yet. Papers submitted to MDPI journals are subject to peer-review.

Title: What if the Beat Generation Started Earlier than Kerouac? A Contrapuntal Reading of On the Road and Its Literary Indebtedness

Abstract: Ever since its publication, On the Road has been reasonably acknowledged as the manifesto of the Beat Generation. Its spontaneous prose, fragmented by the discontinuity of Jack/Sal’s stream of consciousness, along with the physical and interior journey the narrative depicts, dared to tell the (un)fortunate story of a hyphenated Italian American protagonist in his desperate quest for the realization of the American Dream.

The writing pen belonged to Jack Kerouac, indisputably the founder of the Beat movement, a literary pioneer in his way of representing the outcasts of society, those who chose hallucinogenic drugs to carry out their existential trip. Whether he was acclaimed or loathed, no one could ever deny the impact he had on his contemporary cultural scene. He was the one who made the U-turn within the American literary canon, vigorously discarding its fixed coordinates.

But what if Kerouac had not been the real creator of this fluid and spontaneous prose, which surpassed the limits of “normality,” moreover engineering the mise en scène of the bohemian characters? Bohemians were society’s outlaws, vagabonds, gypsies. They were essentially errant spirits, radicals, deviants, outsiders. They seemed so new at that time, and in fact what Kerouac conceived looked unexpected and totally unconventional to the reading public. Again, what if someone, neglected enough not to become read and known worldwide, had come before him and ended up in a sort of oblivion?

About thirty years before Kerouac, an Italian American writer named John Fante had come up with the same human protoype, the bohemian. His pen was surely less authoritative, wrapped as it was in his ethnic background. Yet Arturo Bandini, Fante’s clear alter ego, the protagonist of his Ask the Dust, went along the same path of hypnenated Italian American identity, and on the same quest as Jack Kerouac/Sal Paradise, and he did it while bearing the features of the bohemians of 1930s Los Angeles.

Fante’s prose is as fluid and spontaneous as Kerouac’s, and the sunsets and dawns depicted together with the same array of outcasts, reflect the same attitude of rebellion against the dogmas of bourgeois and well-established literature, in order to reshape its frame.

What becomes necessary here, from a more reflective cultural perspective on the broad range of twentieth-century American literature, is drawing the trait d’union between the two authors as a fundamental step toward rewriting the national literary scenario.


Title: Parisians Don’t Do "Jappy" Ryder, or Dharma Bums: Ferlinghetti, Ginsberg, and the Oriental Express to Buddhism, and the Mad World Beatitude Quest

Abstract: The Ferlinghetti/Ginsberg letters recently published to a steady stream of Beat appreciation and authorial acclaim, *I Greet You at the Beginning of a Great Career: The Selected Correspondence of Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Allen Ginsberg, 1955-1997* (San Francisco, CA: City Lights, 2015) edited by the literary-sleuth sublime Bill Morgan, give readers a retrospective chance to touch upon an important set of Beat matters and quests, from trivial and nepotistic to traumatic, sublime, indulgent, under-examined, or just plain weird. Included in under-examined category in this mix of materials at the politically unconscious core of Beat worlding abides the entrepreneurial and Euro-cosmopolitical Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s condescension towards "Jappy" Gary Snyder's due to the latter’s abiding interest in Asia, Japanese Zen, and Chinese mountain-minded poetry from his undergraduate days when he studied Chinese language and he began his Beat-troped translation of Buddhist mountain-minded poet Han Shan. Perhaps less so as a source of patronizing condescension is Allen Ginsberg’s unbridled God-cum-sainthood hunger searching for a guru in India, Tibet, Nepal, and East Asia as portrayed by Deborah Baker in her far-reaching and time-leaping study, *The Blue Hand*.

As his cross-mentoring relationship with Ginsberg gets revealed in letter after letter and year after year, for both  Ginsberg and Snyder and even the questing Buddhist-Catholicism of Jack Kerouac, Ferlinghetti’s European bohemian ethos at the foundational core of his City Lights Press vision was never enough as a literary or a spiritual-quest model, Snyder and Ginsberg saw, as they quested far beyond European modernist sources like Pound and Breton that they needed to turn to the Far East and into the Americas north and south, as becomes clear as well in Kerouac’s novels on their world Beat quests like *The Dharma Bums, Tristessa,* and *Desolation Angels*. Indeed, within this rich epistolary archive of correspondence between key Beat players as writers, agents, critics, translators, and promoters, it was Ginsberg, Kerouac, and Burroughs who took the experimental writing and life-on-the-edge risks, who went the limit, who crossed the borders that never followed the small-business man model at all, "who starving hysterical naked" (as Howl portrayed in non-linear fashion) ran roads and ocean ways across Harlem and the world of bohemian dropouts from Denver to Mexico City and Tangier "looking for an angry fix."

Entrepreneurial and cosmopolitical in uncanny deft ways years ahead of his time, Lawrence Ferlinghetti opened his writing career by canonizing himself into the Pocket Poets series that would, unexpectedly, build up the world-wide reputation of City Lights Press from the little bohemia of North Beach and later (with the work of Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, Jack Kerouac, Bob Kaufman, Diane DiPrima et al) help to create as well as circulate the scandal and reputation of the San Francisco Beat poets and writers on the road to world-wide recognition as well.


Title: Intertextuality in Jack Kerouac’s On the Road: The Literary Influence of the French Picaresque Novel

Abstract: In a letter to his friend Hal Chase Kerouac describes On the Road as an “American-scene picaresque […] two boys going to California, one for his girl, the other one for Golden Hollywood or some such illusion, […], arriving in California, where there is nothing [emphasis added]…and returning”1. In fact, Kerouac as well as his alter ego Sal Paradise did find something, i.e. a copy of Henri Alain-Fournier’s novel Le Grand Meaulnes (1913), which he “took furtively from a book-stall in Hollywood”2. As shall be seen, Kerouac drew heavily from Alain-Fournier’s classic, next to which he mentions only one other French novel explicitly—Eugène Sue’s The Mysteries of Paris (1842-43), a romantic, originally serialized novel3. When Kerouac dropped the titles of these two French novels in his 1957 masterpiece On the Road, he must have done so for good reason.

As both French works are in their formal array considered picaresque novels, Kerouac not only followed a literary tradition, but also derived from them some inspiration for his characters and sujet. While Sue’s Mysteries of Paris may have generally sparked Kerouac’s portrayal of the American city low life, as exemplified in characters such as Elmer Hassel or the ever glowing neon lights, the intertextual references to Alain-Fournier’s Le Grand Meaulnes in On the Road are far more specific. Even more so, as I intend to show, they can be pinpointed to single sentences and certain phrasing.

In his only novel, Alain-Fournier depicts the quest of “the great” Augustin Meaulnes, a seventeen-year-old youth of modest origin, in search of love. As a newcomer to the secondary school in Sainte-Agathe, located in the Sologne region in north-central France, he mesmerizes François Seurel, the son of the head of the school and two years Meaulnes’ junior. The relationship of the two adolescents permeates the novel: it is one of knight and squire, much like that of Sal and Dean in On the Road. As Dean’s arrival in New York City heralds the beginning of Sal’s “life on the road”4 so does the “advent of Augustin Meaulnes” mark “the beginning of a new life” for the narrator.5 In both novels, the hero is an adventurer, a rover, a wanderer, whom the narrator “shambles after”6.

Hence, this paper shall examine both, the protagonists’ quest motif as well as Alain-Fournier’s linguistic influences on Jack Kerouac’s On the Road and thus explore the significance of Le Grand Meaulnes as an example of the French picaresque novel for Kerouac’s work.

1 Kerouac, Jack. Selected Letters: 1940-1956. Ann Charters, Ed. 1995. P. 170.

2 Selected Letters, p. 203. This incident is also fictionalized in Kerouac’s On the Road. Penguin Books ed. 1976, p. 203: “I had a book with me I stole from a Hollywood stall, ‘Le Grand Meaulnes’ by Alain-Fournier”.

3 Dean takes Sue’s Mysteries of Paris out of his seabag (OTR p. 188), while a few pages further into the novel Roy Johnson is reading Dean’s copy (p. 192).

4 OTR p. 3.

5 Alain-Fournier, Henri. The Grand Meaulnes. Penguin Books,  1966. P. 17.

6 Kerouac, p. 8.


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