If the names Ginsberg, Kerouac, Burroughs and Cassady don’t ring an immediate bell with you, go and read this article by Donald W. Miller. Actually, even if they do ring a bell, read the article anyway; it’s a nicely organized, compact overview of some of the Beats’ better (and lesser) known history. You’ll notice at the bottom of the page, Miller notes that the article is adapted from a longer paper presented at the Fellowship of American Bibliographic Society’s Annual Symposium this past week, which makes me want to write to him to see if that paper’s to be made available anywhere any time soon.
Personally, the heaviest work I’ve ever done on the Beats was in college when Prof. John Tytell presided over the 1992 English Honors seminar, which I took. (Took it? I was at the meeting that chose his proposed seminar out of eight or nine others.) The seminar’s thrust wasn’t to the Beats particularly, although he did spend a big chunk of his life researching them (Ginsburg in particular).
Now that I think of it, that was a pretty decent seminar: it was titled "Some American Antinomians" and spanned three hundred years of American literature. ‘Antinomians’ in this sense being those who go against generally accepted moral law. We covered Melville (Billy Budd, Bartleby), Emerson and Thoreau, Pound (of course–with Tytell everything comes back to Pound sooner or later), The Beats, both as a group and individually, and I’m likely forgetting bits and pieces of other worthwhile writing. But those were the biggies. The antinomian aspects of any of all these folks are debatable, but it wasn’t a bad seminar.
This entry has been waiting to be posted for over a week so I’ll hit the publish button now, but I promise I’ll write more about the seminar itself at some point in the future.