Kerouac, the Beats and Europe

by Charles

Jack Kerouac’s On the Road is one of those works that epitomize a whole literary movement, which is in this case the Beat Generation, which is also a cultural movement. The book influenced – and still influences – youngsters nationwide, but also all over the world, and especially in Europe. I will try to focus on this influence and see how Kerouac and the Beats were welcome in Europe, and especially in France, that seems to be the most involved European country when it comes to the Beat Generation.

I. Kerouac, On the Road, and their influence on the Beats.

II. The influence of the Beats in Europe.

III. The Beats: From Europe to America?

IV. Further resources.

V. Works cited.

3 thoughts on “Kerouac, the Beats and Europe

  1. We don’t need to look hard to see how influential the Beat generation was in America (especially if we consider that more presentations were focused on On the Road than any other novel in our class). The influence of Beat literature in Europe is not something I have thought about much. It seems like with the activity of the Beat Hotel, Kerouac’s French roots, and the historical importance of Paris for avant-garde American writers, the beat generation, and Kerouac especially, would have treated France like a second home. The influence of the Beats in student riots and large-scale strikes seems appropriate given the attitude Kerouac and others held towards prototypical consumerists.
    Considering French influence on America and especially the beat movement, it seems like France played a crucial role in the proliferation of Beat literature. Naked Lunch is often cited as one of the most influential novels of the Beat generation, and it was published first in Paris by the Olympia Press (who also published The Ginger Man). Further still, by the end of World War II, France had established its Jazz scene and was innovating in many ways that Americans were not. The rise of Gypsy Jazz and other contemporary French jazz styles probably had an interesting influence on American musicians and writers that claimed to be influenced by jazz, such as the Beats.

  2. Hi Charles- I really enjoyed your presentation and website. I love Kerouac and France. I think “fallout” might have negative connotations though, so maybe a different word would be nice. Also, it might be interesting to look at Kerouac’s opinion ( or John Clellon Holmes opinions) on what the Beat Generation actually was and if it even existed as a “generation” at all. I would also like to see more about how the Beats directly influenced the riots of 68. There’s quite a time gap there, as well as ideology when one considers the direct action politics of the May 68 movement ( as well as the student movement here in the US) as opposed to the free/individual, but apolitical nature of the Beat movement. Overall, your analysis is very well done and interesting.

  3. Jack Kerouac’s writing style is certainly unique and intriguing. On the Road is written in a manner that is easy to follow, even though most sentences lack the proper punctuation and have poor grammar. The narration of the book takes place from the viewpoint of the main character Sal Paradise; the narration seems to follow spontaneous thoughts and a constant stream of information. It seems that many ideas are unrelated or unnecessarily mentioned, but similarities can be drawn between this writing style and an individual mind’s operation. When reading the book, the thoughts guide the story in such a way that one feels included in the story, rather than being an external observer; the reader shares Sal’s thoughts from a first-person perspective.
    Kerouac sought to capture the imagination of his readers by using his special brand of aesthetic. In “The Essentials of Spontaneous Prose,” his aesthetic manifesto, he called on writing that was “wild, undisciplined, pure,” and these qualities came to typify the Beat Generation movement. Indeed, On the Road has a quality to it that makes the narration feel untamed as the reader is given direct access to the thoughts. The sentences seem to flow into each other, forcing the reader to continue toward the next thought.
    The momentum when reading the book is like that of a metronome, and a musical syncopation is evident in the writing. Jazz music had a major influence on the artists of the Beat Generation, and apart from the aesthetics of music and rhyme, it embodied the independence and free spirit of their non-conformity. If, a good Jazz musician requires a combination of great talent and spontaneity, then Kerouac’s writing can be considered analogical to a saxophonist’s improvisation. His writing maintains his brand of aesthetic appeal, yet it seems impulsive and sometimes unnecessary when taken out of context. For this reason, On the Road should be considered as a complete production, with literary and musical elements that cannot be abstracted from the story without reducing the quality of the work.
    The Beat Generation included Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, and John Clellon Holmes, and they were mostly responsible for the literature that the movement embodied. Although the “Beat” name alluded to being ‘upbeat’ and ‘beatific’, it also promoted sex, drugs, and independence, making it highly controversial. Nevertheless, the movement gained massive support around the world and it would help set the stage for the ‘counter-culture’ movements of the following decade.
    I found it interesting that Kerouac and Amiri Baraka were friends before the time that On the Road was published. Although Baraka and Kerouac were born in the same year (1922), Kerouac sadly succumbed to his habitual substance abuse shortly after this time period. Although Baraka was a non-conformist “Beatnik” in 1957, he would later start the Black Arts Movement in Harlem after changing his outlook on life. The influence of Kerouac and other Beat writers is evident in much of Baraka’s work; his music critiques, poems, and screenplays would maintain the spontaneity and non-censorship that was epitomized by the Beat Generation.
    I found On the Road to be very easy to read mostly because of the spontaneous nature of the writing. I would have to agree with my classmate Sal’s opinion, who stated that he believed the book would be most appreciated by adolescents. Even though I enjoyed the book because of its main character’s lack of obligation, I found many of his actions to be immature, and I could never completely respect him. Since I read the book when I was about 23 years old, my judgments were formed from an adult’s perspective; if I had read the book at a younger age, I too might have idolized the impulsiveness of the main character.

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