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The Daybreak Boys

Essays on the Literature of the Beat Generation

Gregory Stephenson

Publication Year: 2009

In these critical essays Gregory Stephenson takes the reader on a journey through the literature of the Beat Generation: a journey encompassing that common ethos of Beat literature—the passage from darkness to light, from fragmented being toward wholeness, from Beat to Beatific. In his introduction, Stephenson provides a brief history of this literary and cultural phenomenon and establishes the basis of these authors’ right to be called a "generation." He examines what sets the Beats apart from other writers of the postwar period, showing which qualities of the works of these dissimilar authors formed the nexus of a movement. He also discusses the effect they had on a very unaware and cautious public.

Published by: Southern Illinois University Press

Copyright Page

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pp. ix-xi

I would like to express my gratitude to the following editors in whose publications certain of these essays first appeared: ...

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1. Introduction

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pp. 1-16

The title of this collection of essays on the writers of the Beat Generation is taken (respectfully and with kind permission) from John Clellan Holmes' original title for his novel Go (1952). Holmes has explained that the Daybreak Boys were "a river-gang on the New York waterfront of the 1840's," and that he felt it was "an appropriate title for a ...

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2. Circular Journey: Jack Kerouac's Duluoz Legend

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pp. 17-49

On the last page of his journal for 1948 to 1949 Jack Kerouac wrote, "We follow the turn of the road and it leads us on. Where? To actuality; ourselves, others and God. "1 The motif of the road and the journey is central to Kerouac's twelve-novel sequence, The Duluoz Legend; and the quests for identity, community, and spiritual knowledge ("ourselves, ...

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3. Allen Ginsberg's "Howl": A Reading

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pp. 50-58

In the quarter century since its publication by City Lights Books, Allen Ginsberg's poem "Howl" has been reviled and admired but has received little serious critical attention. Reviewers and critics have generally emphasized the social or political aspects of the poem, its breakthrough use of obscenity and its allusions to homosexuality, or its ...

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4. The Gnostic Vision of William S. Burroughs

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pp. 59-73

In the following I want to consider what I call the Gnostic vision of William S. Burroughs and to trace its development in his work with particular attention to his key novel The Soft Machine. I do not mean to suggest that William Burroughs is an adherent of Gnosticism or even that he would endorse or concur with its tenets and practices. I do, ...

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5. "The Arcadian Map": Notes on the Poetry of Gregory Corso

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pp. 74-89

"I contradict the real with the unreal," declares Gregory Corso in his poem "Power," and some lines farther in the same poem, he announces, "I am the ambassador of Power. "1 Correctly understood, these two short statements represent a concise formulation of Corso's poetics and of his conception of the role of the poet, and of poetry, in ...

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6. Homeward from Nowhere: Notes on the Novels of John Clellon Holmes

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pp. 90-104

Night and homelessness are central motifs in the fiction of John Clellon Holmes, metaphors for the state of the human psyche in our century. The convulsive violence and vicious destructiveness of our age are seen by him as expressions of a spiritual void, a vacuum at the heart of humanity. For Holmes, the psychic climate of the postwar world is one ...

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7. From the Substrate: Notes on the Work of Michael McClure

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pp. 105-130

Extravagant, extreme, even excessive: the writings of Michael McClure aim at nothing less than a rediscovery and a redefinition of humankind. McClure's work is essentially alchemical: a process of reconciliation and transmutation. Beginning with the apparent contradictions of mind and body - mysticism and materialism, spirituality and ...

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8. Toward Organized Innocence: Richard Farina's Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me

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pp. 131-138

One of the most central and persistent myths of American culture is that of the American hero as innocent and as unfallen. The celebration of this heroic innocence and the lamentation of its anomalousness, its precariousness, and its vulnerability are recurrent themes in our national literature.1 Innocence as a strategy of resistance and a mode of ...

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9. The "Spiritual Optics" of Lawrence Ferlinghetti

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pp. 139-153

I remember clearly that what impressed me and attracted me in the poetry of Lawrence Ferlinghetti, when I first read it as an adolescent twenty-five years ago, was its quality of mystery. By mystery I do not mean obscurity or hermeticism nor do I mean mystification, but rather, that magical, mythic, secret, and visionary power at the heart of the work ...

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10. Friendly and Flowing Savage: The Literary Legend of Neal Cassady

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pp. 154-171

Neal Cassady (1926-1968) achieved within his lifetime the status of a modern folk hero, a contemporary legend. Both during and after his life, that legend has found expression in a number of written works, on film, and in popular song. In the following I am concerned specifically with Neal Cassady's literary legend; that is, with the manner ...

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11. Conclusion

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pp. 172-188

Diverse and variegated as they are in so many respects, the writers of the Beat Generation nevertheless possess a shared spirit and governing purpose that confers upon them a distinctive group identity. Among the most characteristic qualities and the most significant aspects of Beat literature are the affinities it possesses with elements of primitive ...


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pp. 189-200

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 201-208


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pp. 209-216

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780809386475
E-ISBN-10: 080938647X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780809329496
Print-ISBN-10: 0809329492

Page Count: 232
Illustrations: 9 b/w halftones
Publication Year: 2009