Beat or Beatnik Essay
Beats and Beatniks – two terms, conventionally related, but worlds apart in actuality. They represent almost total opposites and yet they are linked in the American conciousness in as intimate a way as possible. And what better way to study something than by comparing it to its opposite? And in that study we shall find and define two roles that, though entwined, are drastically different.
The term beat wasfirst used by Jack Kerouac in 1948 while talking to his friend Clellon Holmes: “So I guess you might say we’re a beat generation.” Holmes later wrote an article for the New York Times Magazine, entitled “The Beat Generation,” saying:
“The origins of the word ‘beat’ are obscure, but the meaning is only too clear to most Americans. More than mere weariness, it implies the feeling of having been used, of being raw. It involves a sort of nakedness of mind, and, ultimately, of soul; a feeling of being reduced to the bedrock of consciousness. In short, it means being undramatically pushed up against the wall of oneself. A man is beat whenever he goes for broke and wagers the sum of his resources on a single number; and the young generation has done that continually from early youth.” (‘This Is the Beat Generation’:Despite its excesses, a contemporary insists, it is moved by a desperate craving for affirmative beliefs. By CLELLON HOLMES. New York Times. New York, N.Y.: Nov 16, 1952. pg. SM10, 4 pgs)
Soon Ginsberg and Kerouac were emphasizing the “beatific” qualities of the word, making of it a mystical, transcendental experience. Ginsberg explained, “The point of Beat is that you get beat down to a certain nakedness where you actually are able to see the world in a visionary way, which is the old classical understanding of what happens in the dark night of the soul.” (Scumacher, Dharma Lion, p. 261) Howl led the way; Kerouac’s On the Road followed with unprecedented media attention; Burroughs’ Naked Lunch, banned and vilified, brok…