The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘Beats’

Poets Saving Parks, and Other News

June 24, 2016 | by

From a WPA poster for Yosemite.

  • When I think of the Beats, I think of drugs, of brooding nights in dens of iniquity, of casual misogyny. But it’s time to revamp their public image: they were also, as Timothy Egan writes, eloquent proponents of our national parks. “They were known as literary subversives, rebel voices in the era of Silent Generation conformity. But among their other contributions to American life are words that some of the Beats marshaled on behalf of wild places. Kerouac, inspired by Snyder’s rapture about a summer spent in the clouds, followed him as a lookout to an area that eventually became North Cascades National Park in Washington State … In this year when the Park Service is celebrating its centennial with all sorts of hand-wringing about the future, it’s instructive to remember how language can save landscape. Powerful prose has been put to good use in the cause of America’s Best Idea.”
  • Cynthia Ozick, at eighty-eight, is still a force of midcentury belletristic intellectualism—even her regular cabdriver in New Rochelle is quick to say that “the old lady” still has “all her marbles.” Giles Harvey paid her a visit: “Like her characters, a sorry gaggle of pallid shut-ins and thwarted fantasists, Ozick doesn’t get out much. She has spoken of her aversion to stages and of her impatience with what Henry James, her lifelong inspirator, called ‘the twaddle of mere graciousness.’ She writes at night, for years at the Sears, Roebuck desk she has owned since childhood, measuring her existence ‘in sentences pressed out, line by line, like the lustrous ooze on the underside of the snail.’ When I first wrote to her to propose this article, she responded with a detailed message about her unsuitability. As far as she could tell, her life was altogether devoid of public action, public interest. ‘I once wrote that I’d flown cross-country, solo, from the Westchester County airport to the Rocky Mountains in a single-engine 180-horsepower Piper Cherokee,’ she added promisingly. ‘But that was a lie.’ ”
  • In which Emma Cline offers a glimpse into her past as a child actor: “For that week of filming, it was like I had a new team of parents … I thought the blessing would never end. And my mother must have felt it, too: she had met people who would chat with her during downtime, crew members who brought her bottles of water, other parents of kid actors who would commiserate over work permits and Screen Actors Guild dues. She belonged and so did I, marked by rare luck, sanctioned by all the busyness and effort that surrounded us. And who wouldn’t want to believe that the world took notice of you, made a space for you, fussed over your presence and wished for your success?”
  • True-crime stories are more popular than ever—and so, too, by extension, are white dudes with martyr complexes hoping to solve cold cases. James Renner’s new book True Crime Addict tells a familiar tale: “Cold cases have long attracted hangers-on like Renner, who work for years on ‘solving’ the crime but never do. In cases that broke before the advent of Internet sleuthing, they often called themselves ‘private investigators,’ which represented a shockingly diverse category. Now many of these people gather on the Internet, posting on sites like Renner’s. The result is a complicated morass of uncontrolled speculation. It certainly isn’t justice … I’m frankly surprised that a major publishing house decided to release Renner’s book.”

Allen Ginsberg’s Accountant

April 18, 2016 | by

Detail from a portrait of Ginsberg by Elsa Dorfman, 1980.

In the early sixties, Don Wilen had just one tax client—Mrs. Sheftel, who ran the candy store on his corner. When Paul Krassner, radical prankster and editor of the satirical journal The Realist, printed an interview with George Lincoln Rockwell, the American Nazi Party founder, Wilen wrote in to complain.

“I said,” Wilen recently recalled, “ ‘I’m a Jewish accountant, and respect your right to free speech, but hate—’ ”

Krassner rang him up. “An accountant! I need an accountant.” Now Wilen had two clients.

One day Wilen’s mother, babysitting, picked up the phone. “Some friend of yours, making believe he’s the famous poet Allen Ginsberg.” Wilen now had three. Read More »

May Those Tears Flow with Impunity, and Other News

April 4, 2016 | by

The ugly cry—proudly, defiantly.

  • Man, being a beat poet must’ve been pretty far out if you were a man—I mean, the drugs, the politics, the … roads, and the being on those roads. But what if you weren’t a guy? Lynnette Lounsbury writes, “I loved the beat generation and the men in it. I loved how they shared themselves with each other and their readers, generously. But I always had, and still have, the sneaking and sinking suspicion that there would have been no place for me in that world. There were no Scarlett O’Haras in the beat world. There were women, certainly, but they felt like cardboard cut-outs, something to move around, admire, shift gently out of the way when necessary. In fact, the only women Kerouac and Ginsberg seemed to genuinely respect were their mothers … I found the beat women as outsiders in offside compendiums, as afterthoughts and even instigators, but rarely as the orchestrators and creators of their own place in literature.”
  • Advice for famous artists: take photographs, too. It can’t hurt. Ellsworth Kelly did it, and a new show demonstrates the degree to which his pictures influenced his canvases: “The images remain resolutely tethered to the formal concerns of his paintings, illuminating far more about his evolving thoughts on art and abstraction than they do about the time and place in which they were made … Most of the earliest works in the show, all taken in the seaside town of Meschers, in Southwestern France, are studies of timeworn surfaces: the weathered side of a barn, its boards haphazardly cobbled; a mismatched patch job in a wall, where the celestial mottling of old stone is interrupted by utilitarian brick; the side of a striped canvas beach cabana, mended enough times that it looks like a Japanese boro blanket … In both his photographs and his shaped canvases, Kelly was engaged in building an idiosyncratic visual alphabet, with each letter chiseled down to the bedrock of form, color, and scale.”
  • And advice for novelists: keep it snappy. I don’t got all day. Cynan Jones advocates for the very short novel: “Great short novels stay in the mind as objects, whereas, often, novels are ornate boxes with objects inside. Equally valid, but a different thing altogether, with a different mechanism of engagement … For years after my first short novel, The Long Dry, came out, and even though it worked, length was the chief reservation from publishers. They wanted a ‘full length novel’ … Well, as Beckett said, in response to criticism that his play Breath was short: “All of my works are full length, some are just longer than others.” It's extraordinary that the term ‘full length novel’ still abounds. If the novella exists, purely based on length, then the novellissimo must exist … Anything that will hold a heavy door open should be a novellissimo; anything that can be used to right a wobbly table, a novella.”
  • One of the main reasons I never cry, apart from an ill-advised inclination toward rugged stoicism, is that it fucks my face up. I look bad. But I see now that I should let it rip. The concept of the “ugly cry” comes, especially for women, with a shameful subtext: “American culture nurtures a robust association between our emotional expression and shame. We’re warned against tearing up in professional settings … We imply that untethered grief, by virtue of its excess, does not hew to the cultural expectation that beauty be placid and symmetrical, fundamentally unthreatening. Sometimes the very notion of the ugly cry seems, more than anything else, an inside joke: What woman has not been schooled in the doctrine of Western patriarchal standards of beauty? We know when we have transgressed—when we have become more than men can fathom … The hysterical woman’s power—for power she does possess—lies in her refusal to cry inside the lines, and from her dismissal of a westernized emotional doctrine that condemns passion as excess.”
  • In Ciro Guerra’s new film Embrace of the Serpent, Nathaniel Rich sees a skillful departure from the norms of what he calls “jungle quest films”: “There was a boomlet of jungle quest films during the eighties and early nineties, not all of them set in the Amazon, reflecting a dissatisfaction with what Jimmy Carter called the ‘moral and…spiritual crisis’ of modern society. The heroes of these films come to the jungle with predatory or utopian intentions, only to discover the folly of their ways. The plot tends to resolve with the explosion of a forest-clearing project: a river dam in The Emerald Forest, a logging road in Medicine Man, a missionary camp in The Mosquito Coast … Ciro Guerra’s Embrace of the Serpent, a finalist for best foreign film at this year’s Oscars, features the familiar fever-addled explorers, of vigilant jaguars and snakes baring their fangs, long pans of the jungle canopy, and indigenous tribesmen imparting portentous wisdom (‘The jungle is fragile; if you attack her, she’ll fight back’). But the film is strange enough to resist the worst of the old clichés, which is to say it resists moral certainty.”

Don’t Do It

September 24, 2013 | by

This Dewar’s ad uses words (well, some of them) from Charles Bukowski’s “so you want to be a writer?” While it is all very sweeping and epic and generally the most movingly crass blend of commerce and poetry since Walt Whitman started shilling for Levi’s, the voice actor (cleverly identified by Open Culture as one Tom O’Bedlam) sounds approximately zero percent like Bukowski. But no one can fault the marriage of subject and product. 

 

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Beat Letters, Literary Ink

September 18, 2012 | by

  • Check out this letter from Jack Kerouac to his editor, in which the Beat presses for publication of On the Road.
  • Librarians with literary tattoos!
  • While we’re at it, writers in underpants. (No exclamation mark.)
  • Books You’ve Never Heard of By Authors You Have. (Spoiler: you may have actually heard of a few of them, but you get the idea.)
  • An audio version [of Gravity’s Rainbow] does exist, though it came from the time of cassettes, not MP3s. The book was recorded in 1986 by George Guidall … it runs to 34 hours.”
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