The spirit of the road embodied by the Beat Generation seems to have experienced a resurgence this decade, especially with the release of movies like On The Road and Kill Your Darlings. Both contained high-profile names such as Kristen Stewart and Daniel Radcliffe in their cast. While these movies didn’t exactly fare well in terms of their critical reception, at least they show how many are still enamored with the rebellious ideology of the literary and artistic movement. Now, the Centre Pompidou in France will be paying homage to them with an exhibition outlining their influence on culture as a whole.
The Beat Generation
The movement was kickstarted by Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and William S. Burroughs, as well as a variety of friends and acquaintances surrounding them. Their literature was unabashedly about the rawness of life – drawing inspiration from earlier movements such as the Surrealists and the Dadaists. Kerouac’s seminal On The Road was written in a fever pitch solely from his own life experiences, dictating a journey across America that he took, and the adventures he had along the way. Burroughs’ Naked Lunch, on the other hand, was a psychedelic and purposefully obscene novel that gained landmark notoriety when it was placed at the center of an obscenity trial for its content. Beyond their literary output though, it was the lives and personalities involved that were the primary draw.
The trio met in New York, and then shifted over to San Francisco on the USA’s west coast. From 1957 onwards they took to Europe by setting up in Paris. The city’s Beat Hotel proved a particular focal point – with the trio, and other regular beatnik guests like Gregory Corso, Peter Orlovsky and Brion Gysin.
Much like Andy Warhol’s Factory set much later, the Beat Generation artists and writers epitomized recklessness and freedom. The drug use, Buddhist undertones, and backpacker attitude of the beatniks transferred over into the 1970s hippy movement, and the rest from there is history. What the Centre Pompidou aims to showcase in their exhibition is exactly this ‘centerless-ness’ that so embodies the movement.
The exhibition will be split geographically into sections – covering New York, California, and Paris – as well as smaller sections on Mexico and Tangiers.
The New York section focuses on the relationship between the literature and music – especially Jazz music, which was a primary influence on Kerouac’s writing and Ginsberg’ poetry. It also goes into the technology of the age such as vinyl records and typewriters. These were especially important to Burroughs, who developed a method called the ‘cut-up technique’ that utilized mixing together different fragments in audio recording and printed media to achieve new literary effects. The California area focuses on the general literary and artistic scene from 1952 to 1965. This was the primary period where much of the movement’s breakthrough works were released.
The Mexico section explores many factors that drew beatniks over the border, including the country’s violent yet magical appeal. Tangiers looks into the influence of trance music recorded by composer-artist Paul Bowles, who met the Beat Generation writers over there. Finally, the exhibition ends in Paris – going into the poetry written at the Beat Hotel.
Since live readings and concerts were an important facet in the movement, there will be several of those – as well as meetings, films, and other events accompanying the exhibition.
For any Beat Generation fans still out there, this definitely makes for an exhibition not to be missed. It’s running now, all the way to October 3 2016.