Special Issue "Keep on Rolling Under the Stars: Green Readings on the Beat Generation"

A special issue of Humanities (ISSN 2076-0787). This special issue belongs to the section "Literature in the Humanities".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (31 January 2021).

Special Issue Editor

Dr. Chad Weidner
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Arts and Humanities Department, University College Roosevelt, Lange Noordstraat 1, 4331 CB Middelburg, The Netherlands
Interests: literature; ecocriticism; environmental humanities; Beat Generation; William Burroughsliterature; ecocriticism; environmental humanities; Beat Generation; William Burroughs

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleague,

The Beat Generation promoted transnational literatures of resistance, and green readings of their work remains lacking. The Beat Generation was a transnational group of literary bohemians, and the relevance of their work might seem limited to the immediate postwar period. The problem of climate change has long been a source of inspiration for authors, and existing scholarship acknowledges this fact. Nonetheless, important questions remain. Can the environmental humanities contribute to current debates surrounding the Beat Generation? Can scholarly activities help resolve the many aesthetic and moral questions the Beat Generation confronts us with? Grace and Skerl argue as recently as 2018 that there is still a need for wider academic recognition of the Beat project, and recent trends in the environmental humanities can bring new conceptual and theoretical understanding to the Beat project. While the environmental humanities have made a broad intervention into literature over the past decades, what remains surprising is the lack of engagement with the profound philosophical and literary movement of the Beats. Connecting ecology to the Beats should not be that surprising. In his pioneering 1995 study, Steven Watson noted key aspects of the Beat Generation that resonate today, including the "spread of ecological consciousness," a wider "opposition to the military-industrial machine civilization," "[r]espect for land and indigenous peoples, and "[l]ess rich conspicuous consumption" (304). History suggests that Gary Snyder, Jack Kerouac, and Michael McClure are the Beat writers most clearly interested in finding some kind of "reconnection with the natural world" (Phillips 125). Interesting too is that William Burroughs at times also expressed a deep "yearning for a return to a more pastoral—and even, at times, more primitive—existence" (125). Gregory Stephenson further maintains that the influence of the Beat Generation may be discerned in nearly every aspect of the counterculture, including the denunciation of material concerns and careerism, increasing pacifism, and even a green anarchist philosophy that echoes Thoreau. Thus, it would seem that green readings on writers affiliated with the Beat Generation can benefit from reconsideration. Gary Snyder holds a prominent position in Beat lore and is widely acknowledged for his green poetic vision, but more research "might challenge stereotypical views of the Beats as hedonists who also happened to write" (Weidner 164). This Special Issue welcomes green readings on the Beats defined in a very broad sense, and includes not just the core members, but also women, the post-Beats, and contemporary writers, artists, and musicians that are heavily influenced by the Beat project. As such, this Special Issue seeks to trace the ecological arc of the Beats from the earliest manifestations to the present day.

References:

Grace, Nancy M. and Jennie Skerl. "Afterword 'Standing at a Juncture of Planes'." Hip Sublime, edited by Sheila Murnaghan and Ralph M. Rosen, Ohio State UP, 2018, pp. 271-276. Beat Writers and the Classical Tradition, JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt2204rr5.17.

Newhouse, Thomas. The Beat Generation and the Popular Novel in the United States, 1945-1970. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2000.

Phillips, Rod. "Forest Beatniks" and "Urban Thoreaus": Gary Snyder, Jack Kerouac, Lew Welch, and Michael McClure. Modern American Literature. New York: P. Lang, 2000.

Stephenson, Gregory. The Daybreak Boys: Essays on the Literature of the Beat Generation. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1990.

Watson, Steven. The Birth of the Beat Generation: Visionaries, Rebels, and Hipsters, 1944--1960. New York: Pantheon, 1995.

Weidner, Chad. The Green Ghost: William Burroughs and the Ecological Mind. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 2016.

Dr. Chad Weidner
Guest Editor

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Keywords

  • The Beat Generation
  • transnational literatures
  • green readings
  • literary bohemians
  • climate change
  • environmental humanities

Published Papers (9 papers)

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Research

Open AccessArticle
‘Muzak for Frogs’—Representations of ‘Nature’ in Decoder (1984)
Humanities 2021, 10(2), 67; https://doi.org/10.3390/h10020067 - 09 Apr 2021
Viewed by 179
Abstract
This paper examines the various representations of ‘nature’ present in Decoder (1984), a German experimental cyberpunk film that was inspired by William S. Burroughs’ thoughts on utilising tapes as revolutionary weapons. Though Decoder is not a film one would easily associate with labels, [...] Read more.
This paper examines the various representations of ‘nature’ present in Decoder (1984), a German experimental cyberpunk film that was inspired by William S. Burroughs’ thoughts on utilising tapes as revolutionary weapons. Though Decoder is not a film one would easily associate with labels, such as ‘green’ or ‘environmental’, signs and images that represent or refer to ‘nature’ and non-human life are not omitted. Through a close reading of the film, the paper first explores the ways in which these representations convey and evoke certain meanings and associations and then elucidates the themes at play in the context of these representations. Full article
Open AccessArticle
Baboons, Centipedes, and Lemurs: Becoming-Animal from Queer to Ghost of Chance
Humanities 2021, 10(1), 51; https://doi.org/10.3390/h10010051 - 15 Mar 2021
Viewed by 269
Abstract
The paper establishes a connection between the becoming-writer of Burroughs, who found his calling and style during the 1950s and his signature characteristic of becoming-animal. This can first be observed in Queer, where Burroughs develops his so-called routine; a short sketch-like text [...] Read more.
The paper establishes a connection between the becoming-writer of Burroughs, who found his calling and style during the 1950s and his signature characteristic of becoming-animal. This can first be observed in Queer, where Burroughs develops his so-called routine; a short sketch-like text that often involves instances of metamorphosis or transformation. The theoretical background for this short form and the term becoming-animal is taken from Deleuze’s and Guattari’s book on Kafka, who also worked best in short texts and frequently wrote about animals. “The Composite City” may be the central text to understanding Burroughs’ work. It is the text where Burroughs found his style and his identity as a writer. Becoming-animal is a logical consequence that further develops Burroughs’ aesthetic ideal. Over the following decades, he experimented with it in different forms, and toward the end of his career, it became part of an environmental turn. In Ghost of Chance, one can find the same aesthetic ideal that starts Burroughs’ writing in 1953, but the political implications have turned toward saving the lemurs of Madagascar. Full article
Open AccessArticle
Poems in the World: The Ecopoetics of Anne Waldman’s Life Notes
Humanities 2021, 10(1), 50; https://doi.org/10.3390/h10010050 - 12 Mar 2021
Viewed by 353
Abstract
This essay argues that Anne Waldman’s 1973 selected poems, Life Notes, articulates a vision of the environment that is positively and reparatively enmeshed with language and culture. Embracing the paradox at the heart of the best environmental writing, Life Notes reveals our [...] Read more.
This essay argues that Anne Waldman’s 1973 selected poems, Life Notes, articulates a vision of the environment that is positively and reparatively enmeshed with language and culture. Embracing the paradox at the heart of the best environmental writing, Life Notes reveals our natural environments to be at once legible and unknowable, and embodies this through experimental forms, language, and typography. This collection of poems, which has yet to be paid significant critical attention (despite Waldman’s renowned status as a poet), artfully mediates the relationship between word and world, giving voice, shape, and form to what we might call the poet’s ‘ecology of knowing’, per Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s formulation. Through a sustained process of imaginative elision of the human and nonhuman, I argue, Waldman illuminates the ways in which the ‘natural’ world is almost always touched by the human, and refutes the widely-held cultural fantasy that nature is self-evidently restorative or redemptive and thereby somehow at a remove from humankind. Life Notes, I suggest, is a ‘dissipative structure’, critically entangled with the everyday environment out of which it emerges and with which it remains ‘involved in a continual exchange of energy’ (Waldman). Full article
Open AccessArticle
Green Jack: Naïveté, Frontier and Ecotopia in On the Road
Humanities 2021, 10(1), 37; https://doi.org/10.3390/h10010037 - 26 Feb 2021
Viewed by 257
Abstract
Jack Kerouac’s On the Road is among the seminal texts of the Beat Generation canon, and the author himself is renowned as a hero of American letters and freedom. Kerouac’s book is clearly one of the most inspirational of the last century and [...] Read more.
Jack Kerouac’s On the Road is among the seminal texts of the Beat Generation canon, and the author himself is renowned as a hero of American letters and freedom. Kerouac’s book is clearly one of the most inspirational of the last century and helped to spur the culture of mobility, spiritual yearning and adventure in the decades following its release not only in the USA but in many other parts of the world. A close reading of On the Road reveals other realities about the author, through his character Sal Paradise, and the America he discovers in his travels. This article looks at the files from Kerouac’s aborted stay in the US navy, letters, journal entries and the text of On the Road itself to demonstrate that the author’s Whitmanesque longings and ennui are very much rooted in a romantic vision challenged by the realities of mid-20th-century American life. However, Kerouac’s “ecotopia of the West” also suggests other ways of living which would influence America’s counterculture and environmental movements. Full article
Open AccessArticle
On Webbed Monsters, Revolutionary Activists and Plutonium Glow: Eco-Crisis in Diane di Prima and Anne Waldman
Humanities 2021, 10(1), 4; https://doi.org/10.3390/h10010004 - 28 Dec 2020
Viewed by 486
Abstract
Though green readings of Beat works are a relatively new phenomenon, the Beat aesthetic easily meets Lawrence Buell’s criteria for ecocritical texts. Indeed, many writers associated with the Beat movement, such as Diane di Prima and Anne Waldman, often use their work to [...] Read more.
Though green readings of Beat works are a relatively new phenomenon, the Beat aesthetic easily meets Lawrence Buell’s criteria for ecocritical texts. Indeed, many writers associated with the Beat movement, such as Diane di Prima and Anne Waldman, often use their work to give shape to environmental concerns. This article studies the development of a green poetics in the work of both di Prima and Waldman. Focusing on works spanning four decades including Revolutionary Letters (1971), Loba (1998), Uh Oh Plutonium (1982) or The Iovis Trilogy (2011), to name a few, the article analyzes the poets’ use of utopian and dystopian images through which they develop a poetics of eco-crisis that opposes the conformism and political tension of the American postwar and its aftermath. Full article
Open AccessArticle
The Future of Extinction: William S. Burroughs’ The Western Lands
Humanities 2020, 9(4), 142; https://doi.org/10.3390/h9040142 - 08 Dec 2020
Viewed by 435
Abstract
In this article, I draw on William S. Burroughs’ The Western Lands to think about what François Laruelle has termed a “generic humanity.” This generic humanity broadens and expands our ethical obligations towards those who have not yet been included in humanity. Burroughs’ [...] Read more.
In this article, I draw on William S. Burroughs’ The Western Lands to think about what François Laruelle has termed a “generic humanity.” This generic humanity broadens and expands our ethical obligations towards those who have not yet been included in humanity. Burroughs’ emphasis in the novel on flattened time, magic, and death as transformation is used to show how we can make Mankind extinct from our way of thinking. Burroughs’ novel is thus an example of a “philo-fiction,” a work of literature that allows us to see the world differently. Full article
Open AccessArticle
The Dark Ecology of Naked Lunch
Humanities 2020, 9(4), 130; https://doi.org/10.3390/h9040130 - 30 Oct 2020
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 490
Abstract
In this article, I argue that William S. Burroughs’ novel Naked Lunch engages in a “perverse aesthetics” that is analogous to Timothy Morton’s theory of dark ecology. The novel’s main themes of consumption and control are directly related to the Anthropocene’s twin disasters [...] Read more.
In this article, I argue that William S. Burroughs’ novel Naked Lunch engages in a “perverse aesthetics” that is analogous to Timothy Morton’s theory of dark ecology. The novel’s main themes of consumption and control are directly related to the Anthropocene’s twin disasters of global warming and mass extinction, and the trope for addiction, junk, reveals Burroughs’ deep analysis of the political and social forces that attempt to control life, what Burroughs calls biocontrol. By placing the novel’s obsession with hanging/lynching in the context of dark ecology, its critique of racism can also be seen as a critique of speciesism. Full article
Open AccessArticle
“[A]n Exterior Air of Pilgrimage”: The Resilience of Pilgrimage Ecopoetics and Slow Travel from Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales to Jack Kerouac’s On the Road
Humanities 2020, 9(4), 117; https://doi.org/10.3390/h9040117 - 08 Oct 2020
Viewed by 782
Abstract
While the Beats can be seen as critical actors in the environmental humanities, their works should be seen over the longue durée. They are not only an origin, but are also recipients, of an environmentally aware tradition. With Geoffrey Chaucer and Jack Kerouac, [...] Read more.
While the Beats can be seen as critical actors in the environmental humanities, their works should be seen over the longue durée. They are not only an origin, but are also recipients, of an environmentally aware tradition. With Geoffrey Chaucer and Jack Kerouac, we see how a contemporary American icon functions as a text parallel to something generally seen as discrete and past, an instance of the modern embracing, interpreting, and appropriating the medieval. I argue that The Canterbury Tales by Chaucer influenced Kerouac’s shaping of On the Road. In the unpublished autograph manuscript travel diary dating from 1948–1949 (On the Road notebook), Kerouac imagines the novel as a quest tale, thinking of pilgrimage during its gestation. Further, Kerouac explicitly cites Chaucer. His novel can be seen not only in the tradition of Chaucer, but can bring out aspects of pilgrimage ecopoetics in general. These connections include structural elements, the spiritual development of the narrator, reliance on vernacular dialect, acute environmental awareness, and slow travel. Chaucer’s influence on Kerouac highlights how certain elements characteristic of pilgrimage literature persist well into the modern period, in a resilience of form, language, and ecological sensibility. Full article
Open AccessArticle
Creative Environments: The Geo-Poetics of Allen Ginsberg
Humanities 2020, 9(3), 101; https://doi.org/10.3390/h9030101 - 01 Sep 2020
Viewed by 709
Abstract
As was the case for other writers from the Beat Generation, geography is more than simply a setting for Allen Ginsberg’s work, as his poetry also bears the imprint of the influence of the landscapes through which he traveled in his mind and [...] Read more.
As was the case for other writers from the Beat Generation, geography is more than simply a setting for Allen Ginsberg’s work, as his poetry also bears the imprint of the influence of the landscapes through which he traveled in his mind and poetic practice. In the 1950s, the same decade which saw the composition of Ginsberg’s Howl, Guy Debord and his followers developed the concept of “psychogeography” and “dérive” to analyze the influence of landscapes on one’s mind. The Debordian concept of psychogeography implies then that an objective world can have unknown and subjective consequences. Inspired by Debord’s theories and through the analysis of key poems, this paper argues that a psychogeographical focus can shed new light on ecocritical studies of Ginsberg’s poetry. It can indeed unveil the complex construction of the poet’s own space-time poetics, from hauntological aspects to his specific composition process. Full article
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