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Capturing the Beat Moment

Cultural Politics and the Poetics of Presence

Erik Mortenson

Publication Year: 2011

"Capturing the Beat Moment" examines the assumptions the Beats made about the moment and their attempt to “capture” this “immediacy,” focusing on the works of Kerouac and Ginsberg as well as on those of women and African American Beat writers.

Published by: Southern Illinois University Press


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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. xi-xii

This book could not have been completed without the sustained support of colleagues, friends, and family. I sincerely thank Barrett Watten for his unflagging support of the manuscript from start to finish. He set a style of mentorship that I strive to attain in my own career, remaining critical yet supportive, all the while allowing my own thoughts and ideas to develop. ...

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Introduction Rethinking the Beats

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pp. 1-16

"Seize the moment.” “Be present.” “Live in the now.” This volume examines the ideological and cultural assumptions that underpin a supposedly natural return to the evanescent present in Beat Generation writings. For the Beats, capturing true immediacy involves focusing attention on desire and action as they spontaneously respond to the material ...

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1. Being Present: Authenticity in Postwar America

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pp. 17-52

During a visit to Jack Kerouac’s hometown of Lowell, Massachusetts, I had the opportunity to take a guided tour of the town conducted by the National Park Service. One of the more famous landmarks was the gigantic clock that rises above City Hall. This clock finds its way into Doctor Sax and numerous other Kerouac works, always standing as an imposing symbol ...

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2. The Visionary State: Uniting Past, Present, and Future

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pp. 53-83

The visionary moment is a celebrated occurrence in the Beat canon.1 The desire to transcend defines the Beats—their work searches for means to escape space, time, the body, and the material world. This “atemporal” moment, as Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari term it, creates a breakdown in the subject that exposes the Beats to new levels of experience. Despite ...

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3. Immanence and Transcendence: Reich, Orgasm, and the Body

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pp. 84-120

The moment of orgasm catapults the human body into two spheres simultaneously. It is a crucial element in the continuation of the species, an “essential” act that calls us back to the importance the body plays in our lives. Yet, orgasm is also figured as ecstasy, a moment when the body is euphorically left behind. This twofold nature of orgasm makes it the perfect ...

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4. Recording the Moment: The Role of the Photograph in Beat Representation

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pp. 121-154

In The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Tom Wolfe provides a description of Neal Cassady that epitomizes the Beat quest for the moment: “Cassady in his movie, called Speed Limit, he is both a head whose thing is speed, meaning amphetamines, and a unique being whose quest is Speed, faster, godamn it, spiraling, jerking, kicking, fibrillating tight up against the 1/30 ...

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5. Getting Together: Heterotopia and the Moment as a Social Site

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pp. 155-187

The Beat desire to “capture immediacy” is political as well as personal. This point is often overshadowed by the intense focus on the mythos that has built up around Beat personalities. Of course, the personal is already political, and the Beats’ insistence on spontaneous expression within the moment carries with it a host of assumptions that challenge the postwar ...

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Conclusion: Making the Most of the Moment

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pp. 188-190

The Beat message is simple—focus on the moment. Capturing that elusive moment, however, is a bit more complicated. We view the Beats through our nostalgia for a simpler time when right and wrong seemed much easier to define. The Beat quest for the moment becomes a marker that we use to gauge our own culture and actions. The Beats are no longer ...


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pp. 193-205

Works Cited and Consulted

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pp. 207-215


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pp. 217-226

E-ISBN-13: 9780809386130
E-ISBN-10: 0809386135
Print-ISBN-13: 9780809330133
Print-ISBN-10: 080933013X

Page Count: 240
Illustrations: 10 B/w halftones
Publication Year: 2011

OCLC Number: 730524453
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Capturing the Beat Moment

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Subject Headings

  • Beat generation.
  • American literature -- 20th century -- History and criticism.
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