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William Burroughs, Beat Writer

Beat Generation

by Dealunion

The Beat Generation emerged in America in 1950s, which turned out to be a suffocating age. The intensively industrialized civilization brought about economic affluence but led to the mental bareness. Individuality and freedom had been deprived of mercilessly .The beat movement not only announced the spring of a new literary conception but also predicted an overall liberation of mind. And much more importance was attached to the choice of their life made in the hard times. Nearly all the members were gays, and had the experience of drug smoking. They embraced the extreme individualism, and took the morbid craze as an effective means to break through the bound of conventional moral and legal system.

They recorded the experience of themselves and revealed the truth of bottom through their works, giving a long howl of pain to the modern civilization, which deprived the human freedom. In their eyes, the arts and behaviors were closely related; the arts reflected the behaviors, while the behaviors embodied the arts. Among the influential members were Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs and Jack Kerouac. The term "beat generation" was introduced by Jack kerouac sometime around 1948 to describe his social circle. The major beat writings included Jack Kerouac's On the Road, Allen Ginsberg's Howl and William Burroughs' Naked Lunch.

Allen Ginsberg was probably one of the best-known contemporary poets in recent history. He was born in 1926 in Newark. Many of his writings were interpreted as controversial and obscene. The reading of Howl resulted in the arrest of Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the owner of City Lights Books, on obscenity charges. The authorities objected to Ginsberg's openness concerning his homosexuality as well as the graphic sexual language. Many of his other writings deal with subjects such as narcotics. William Burroughs was born in1914 in St. Louis. He was well known for his openly homoerotic tendencies and his experiments with narcotic substances. Most of his writing centered on the underworld and drug sub-cultures and his film, Naked Lunch, achieved cult status.

Jack Kerouac was born in 1922 in Lowell, Massachusetts. As the author of the infamous novel, On the Road, Kerouac became a leader and a spokesman for the Beat Movement. Many critics often questioned Burrough's literary merit, observing that much of his work was mundane rambling that encouraged and glorified a world of drugs and immorality.

2 The social background of the beat movement

The beat movement broke out in special social and political background in America. After World War II, the America began to tend to a closed society. Intensive mechanization and more application of new technology deprived of the people's privacy and freedom, and was taken as the supreme ideology, which could completely manipulate the man and the surroundings. The abuse of nuclear weapon created new source of terror, convincing people that human would be devastated by the power of science. As the escalating of power of the Pentagon, many military bases were set up all over the world to open a way for the American supremacy policy. The traditional tolerant ideas for the differences of the ideology had degenerated into the zeal for the political uniformity. The respect for individuality had been denied, which was replaced by the suppress of the public opinion and censorship for writing works. This industrialization development guided America into the economic affluence but led to the mental lack and loss of honestness. In the stifling atmosphere, the beat movement aroused surprisingly. It initiated a new style full of freedom. The beats were taken as a group of cynics, addicted to the drug, crimes and homosexuality. They took themselves as a band of vagrants forsaken by the orthodox culture, a group of vanguards holding a new and eccentric outlook on morals, a group of anonymous writers creating only for themselves.

3 The outlook of beats on life

3.1 The root of the beats' outlook on life

The outlook of beats on life was rooted in the radical romantic philosophy. They were in turn influenced by William Blake, Walt Whitman and Henry David Thoreau. They carried forward the Thoreau's attitude to life --radical idealism, which was full of the skeptics about the industrial civilization and strong desire for the return to natural idyllic life. Like Whitman and Blake, they extolled all creatures and advocated the typical American style purity, simplicity, and freshness.

3.2 The rejection of the prevailing American middle class values

Then, the beats rejected the prevailing American middle class values, which aimed at the pursuit of ease and comfort. They showed strong contempt for the comfortable but very dull life style of middle class, and compared it to " a pool of the stagnant water "which stifled the breath of individual freedom to death. They turned a blind eye to the convention and pursued the new exciting life full of the adventure and surprise, which had broken through the restriction of conventional morals. The beats drank themselves in the drug, and crimes, and took these as the bliss of life, as they thought that they lived for themselves and considered themselves as the championship for the liberty. But everything turns to the opposite when it reaches to the extreme. So the beats' excessive violation of convention and riot against orthodoxy incurred bitter and fierce slander and censure from many critics. They were nicknamed "desperados", a group of illicit who wantonly broke the laws to satisfy their mean desires. The beats attempted to prove their firm faith in the freedom with the unorthodox views on life. But their lifetime efforts turned out to vain, only got a little approval and compassion.

3.3 The pursuit of the individualism

The beats found the American convention of respect for individuality had been corrupted by the industrial civilization. They felt such a sense of suffocation that they had never experienced ever since as to try to seek a new field for individual development. "I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked", 2 Allen Ginsberg gave such a howl of pain to the industrial civilization in his Howl. They accepted the reclusive life with pleasures to withdraw from the uproar of community. The beats lived in solitude, and created amazing works in the tranquility. They found the quiet life was a good way to break away from the moral restriction and legal sanction. When they embraced the excluded values on the world, they were doomed to be sent into floating vagrant life. It seemed that the beats were satisfied with this life. They roamed about everywhere all over the world. And the roaming life turned out to be an effective means to escape from the worldly uproar, as there were no conception of family, career and community in their mind. They solved the puzzle of the life and searched for the source of artistic creation during the ceaseless roaming experience. Besides, the beats upheld fanatically the anarchism. They abused the corrupted government, and compared it to the "cancer cell" parasized on the national regime. Burroughs considered that the federation was operated by a handful of political gangsters who plotted to set up a centralized state to intrude on the freedom and privacy of public.

3.4 The beats' research on the Buddhism

In the latter period, the beats made a thorough research on the Buddhism creeds. They studied a large number of Buddhism codes, and spent much time on the Meditation (also Dhyana). The beats' resistance against the corrupt morals gradually shifted from the hysterical abuse to the reclusive introspection. For many beat generation writers, the Buddhism philosophy became the ballast on the soul, which could balance the inner turbulence and extricate themselves from the ferocious mania. The Buddhism laid stress on the compassion and affection to all the creatures, which corresponded with the bitter attack at the ruthless utilitarian. Allen Ginsberg cherished strong universal love for the creatures, which was equal to the "affinity for nature "1supported by Whitman. So all the beats members bitterly hated the cruel war, especially the military outrage in the Vietnam. The beats also had an intimate knowledge of the nihilism of Buddhism, which held that nothing could last long and everything would come into ashes finally. In view of this doctrine, the beats were all against the hierarchy and authority, which distinguished themselves from other people. Naturally the beats accepted an unorthodox and unconventional conduct to eliminate the difference between the men.

In some way, we had been confronted by the choices made as beats. Now we lived in the dull world lacking in the diversity and individuality. The voice of multi-culture was drowned by the uproar of the uniform model, and the liberty of individuality was confined by the rigid dogmatism. Our age is calling the reconstruction of moral standards, the emancipating of the mind as well as enhancing of individuality. We should carry on the values advocated by the beats --liberty, openness. So we think it necessary to make clear that the attitude towards life and literature was the matter of individuality choice, not the impose from the group .In any way, individual choices mean the toleration of things which is disgusted by oneself but maybe appreciated by others .

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