”They sat down and Corso asked K., ”Would you like to ball with me, baby?” There was no surer way to K. ‘s heart. She declined with a small secretive, pleased smile and at once exerted herself to be charming. … Ginsberg fixed me with a sad stare and demanded to know my views on God, man and poetry. When I was slow to answer, he told me his in a rapid, hypnotized voice, at great length, and then fell into a deep silence, head bent … Corso meanwhile described his experience of communicating with God as he watched a corpse being fished out of the Seine.” ( Dom Moraes, My Son’s Father )
The personality of artistic failure is usually thought to be a combination of social rebel and aesthetic revolutionary, at least in the European tradition. The extrinsic realtion of the poem to the culture that framed it is key to the beats work; the conjunction of poems and poetry books being culture specific and manifesting an actual social presence. Ginsberg, Burroughs and Corso did not encapsualte the culture and history that produced it, but became part of an immense national text. Their books did not manifest wholly that immensity but evoked it metonymically.
” America is a special case. Of course it is not immune from domination by trees or a search for roots. This is evident even in the literature; in the quest for a national identity and even for a European ancestry or genealogy. Nevertheless, everything important that is happening or is happening takes the route of the American rhizome: the beatniks, bands and gangs, successful lateral offshoots in immediate connection with an outside. …And directions in America are different; the search for adolescence and the return to the old world occur in the East. But there is the rhizomatic west with its Indians without ancestry, its ever receding limit, its shifting and displaced frontiers… America reversed the directions; It put its orient in the West, as if it were precisely in America that came full circle; its West is the edge of the East. ( Gilles Deleuze, Felix Guattari )
The Beats, followed the decisive and pioneering work of Walt Whitman in ”Leave of Grass”, in terms of establishing the ”poetics of presence”; where recognition is equated with assertions of presence. This robust, self assertive enterprise is a form of hucksterism in itself, from a long established tradition beginning with the early Yankee peddlers, confidence men and the America as land of reinvention and shedding of old identities.The art of exploiting the pious liberalism of the new world. Like Walt Whitman, the beats made their writing marketable objects, and created a ”buzz” a notoriety to ensure subscription to their work. Works like ”Howl” and ”On the Road” were not merely published, but rather floated and projected into the public consciousness as part of a larger social movement, but the idea of the ruse and con still was present. In this sense they pre-figured Norman Mailer and Joseph Heller.
”Burroughs, a tall, angular man, rolled up his trousers and showed K. the network of needle marks that covered his legs….Larry Rivers had a young American woman with him, and they leapt at her, suggesting that we all strip and make love on the pavement. ‘Like William Blake and the angels man,’ cried Corso. The girl became upset and burst into tears, and the poets were much concerned, petting her with repentant hands and offering her poems and candy that Corso pulled from his pockets.” ( Dom Moraes )
Whitman’s tastelesss rowdiness and commercialism was counter to the European conception of ”poetic” in the T.S. Eliot sense where the individual consciousness of the poet could disappear back into the vast spaces of mystic tradition, only to reemerge like Moses with the ten commandments. It is the distinction between the metaphysical and the physical. But also, the reflection of an absence of belonging and the sense of the nomadic, migrating individual ,shifting identities on a changing frontier versus the idea of ”belonging” in respect to an attachment to the soil irrigated by blood and anchored by mythical roots and history. Being over belonging; a devotion to making work a continuing process of a self being fulfilled through expression, however only as good as the last mark left on the page which guarantees a certain self contradiction and self multiplication as byproduct of perpetual reinvention.