The Beats: from Europe to America?

Finally, was there any reciprocal exchange from Europe to the US linked with the Beat culture? To start with, Kerouac had a special relationship with France, given that his family had French origins. Moreover, at home he and his family spoke an almost forgotten dialect from Brittany, the western French peninsula. He even started to write On the Road in French, indeed, some manuscripts were found in his home after his death. He spoke very good French, and he happened to be invited on the French TV to discuss the Beat Generation and teach French people about the movement. But he was not always welcome, and sometimes he was made fun of, given that his accent sounded more like Canadian than French, and that hurt him. (Indeed, his mother had grown in Quebec, and French usually make fun of the Québécois accent and vocabulary.) Kerouac also tried to find the tracks of his ancestor who moved from Brittany to Canada in 1732. All in all, even if he was American, he considered that his roots were French.

Additionally exchanges from Europe to America can have influenced and shaped the Beat movement. On one hand, poets came to France after WWII, in particular black and gay poets who wanted to find a more hospitable place to live in. On the other hand, European works were traduced in English. For instance, Merlin was a magazine based in Paris, directed by the Scottish novelist Alexander Trocchi between 1952 and 1954 in Europe. It echoed the works of Jean-Paul Sartre, Eugène Ionesco, Pablo Neruda or Samuel Beckett and translated them into English when necessary. When living at the Beat Hotel, American poets managed to meet with French poets and novelists they admired such as Louis-Ferdinand Céline or the poet Henri Michaux. Additionally, Beats poets admired French nineteenth century poets such as Beaudelaire or Rimbaud. “I’d walk the Left Bank streets, thinking that Apollinaire or Rimbaud or Baudelaire had walked down these same streets.
You can’t escape the past in Paris, and yet what’s so wonderful about it is that the past and present intermingle so intangibly that it doesn’t seem a burden.” said Allen Ginsberg. Their style and drug experiences may have been a source of inspiration for them. The Beat movement was also influenced by the French surrealism. It is said that one day Ginsberg and Corso met Marcel Duchamp; and Corso cut his tie when Ginsberg kissed his shoe.


As we can see, there was a significant literary and cultural exchange between Europe and America at the core of the Beat movement, which helped it grow famous worldwide. Kerouac initiated the Beat movement, and on the one hand Beat poets had an influence over European ones, but on the other hand European poets and artists had a previous influence on them. Of course, the Beats came from the U.S., and maybe being American and fascinating was the reason of their success in Europe. But the initial intertwinement may have shaped the whole movement.


Back to first page.

II. The influence of the Beats on Europe.

IV. Further resources


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