Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Heart of Beat

posted by Brit

Bryan has a brainy scientific piece and explains why paranoia sells in today's Sunday Times. Go and read him.

Meanwhile Cosmo Landesman fills in Bryan's usual Culture spot with a lightish piece on the Beats (On the Road is 50 years old). It's not an uninteresting article, but Cosmo doesn't get to the heart of Beat*. The heart of Beat is the combination of a healthy rebellion against the predominant culture, with the extreme egotism and selfishness of the 14-year old who never grows up.

Like most earnest, literate teenage boys I slogged piously through On the Road and, in my earnest innocence, thought it was the bee's knees.

There's nothing wrong with the existence of literature for earnest, literate teenage boys - they need to read stuff too. But later you realise that everything Kerouac said that was worth saying, David Nobbs said far better in The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin.

*Heart of Beat - that's a nice one, isn't it? It was a fluke. And no doubt it's been done before.


  1. Well spotted Gordon, thanks.

  2. Read it, one more reason to keep looking over the shoulder for THEM.
    At a rough count there are more bleedin' neuroscientists than there are brains.
    Back to the Petticoat lane mob, whatever fiendish ploys they care to throw at us they will never, ever defeat Frau Malty. Known as the hammer of the retail trade, (at one time a well known high street store owed her more money than they did their bank, its a long story), she has developed over the years ways, means and techniques that can leave onlookers green with envy.
    If she was ever able to afford a Roller, within one hour the salesman would have agreed on two for the price of one.

  3. I wouldn't say Burroughs glamourised heroin addiction. It's the readers who do that. Junky and Naked lunch are despairing accounts of drug addiction and put me off trying drugs.
    And contrary to mainstream opinion I think Junky is miles better than Naked Lunch.

  4. The Beats were my entry point into literature - along with TS Eliot - many years ago. They also taught me to beware of the Beat mentality - as the article says, they produced very few good works; the classically-minded Thomas Mann probably wrote more great books than all of the Beats put together. The sight of a blotchy-faced, paunchy Kerouac, aged about 40 i think, was enough to put me off the idea that hard living was glamorous.

    i'd second Anonymous and say that Burroughs presents drug use as abhorrent and disgusting, a kind of slovenly possession. And i reckon Queer is as good as Junky, a little-known but hilarious little novel by Burroughs before he went insane and did his cut-up crap.

    No, the Beats must be read when you're 19 but primarily as an inoculation against that kind of thing.

  5. Frank Wilson has an interesting take on Jack Kerouac in his "Jack Kerouac's sound of America," which begins:

    "OK, so here I am, sitting in front of a computer, 50 years after the fact of the matter-- which is the publication, on Sept. 5, 1957, of Jack Kerouac's 'On the Road'-- and I’m thinking to myself, wow, if Emerson was right, and 'to be great is to be misunderstood,' Jack's got to be as great as anybody, because he sure is misunderstood, especially by those who think they got him down cold, as demonstrated by all this hoopla lately about his most famous novel, even though it's not his best."

  6. But later you realise that everything Kerouac said that was worth saying, David Nobbs said far better in The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin.

    Also Ulysses. Not that it doesn't have its share of bullshit too, but the only thing Kerouac does better than Joyce is reference the 1950s. That goes for content as well as style.