- World Beats: Beat Generation Writing and the Worlding of U.S. Literature by Jimmy Fazzino
This carefully crafted, original study contributes valuably to recent revisionist Beat scholarship. Jimmy Fazzino, a lecturer in Beat Studies and Creative Writing at the University of California, Santa Cruz, combines long theoretical range with incisive close reading to give proper, overdue attention to the Beats in their international context. As Fazzino points out, Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs, and Corso “produced some of their most significant and enduring works abroad” (2). In Kerouac’s case, his “great American novel” On the Road, was written first in French, and the Beats made prodigious—if sometimes clumsy—use of foreign words and cadences. It is high time, this book argues, that we moved beyond old assumptions of the movement’s passing or superficial interest in foreignness, and understood their larger internationally directed purpose.
World Beats contains material on Kerouac’s ‘rhizomic connection’ to the subterranean urban world, on the Beat movement and Black Power, on Burroughs in Latin America and Brion Gysin in Africa. In the Kerouac chapter, Jack is rescued from the more suspect implications of his interest in the German philosopher Oswald Spengler (from his Orientalism or what Rob Wilson via Gilles Deleuze called “the third-worlding of his own language and tactics”) by “the redemptive freedom of language, not at the expense of the Other but as a means of giving voice to the Other” (33). Perhaps full redemption is a stretch, but Fazzino makes a valid case for Kerouac as “protean” and playful in his approach, and for the larger humanistic purpose behind this. To the same [End Page 171] end, he makes good use of Rachel Adams on Kerouac as a ‘continental’ writer—a translator of “continental flows and energies” (35).
The book is most interesting on its lesser-known subjects. As well as Philip Lamantia, we hear about the Beat-influenced Chinese-American Maxine Hong Kingston, author of the brilliantly titled Tripmaster Monkey, whose fictional Beat protagonist “wrestles with Kerouac’s ghost and rewrites the Beat mythos in more inclusive terms” (30). We learn about the links between Beat-affiliated African-American poets Baraka, Ted Joans, Bob Kaufman, and Dadaism (which, as Fazzino rightly says, had as much a bearing on Beat writing as Whitman). We also learn about Ginsberg’s relationship with India’s Beat-like movement, “The Hungry Generation,” who treated their country’s poet laureate Rabinranath Tagore as suspiciously as Ginsberg treated T. S. Eliot.
Part of a series aimed at analyzing American literature’s “embeddedness within global and local processes” instead of reaffirming its “splendid isolation,” World Beats can perhaps be accused of exaggerating a problem in order to solve it. Most serious American Studies scholars (although, admittedly, too few Beat scholars) take that embeddedness for granted. Fazzino also places a little too much faith in the Beats’ vision of a “world utterly deterritorialized, open, and unpredictable” (45). Surely, in our present age of rising nationalism and widespread reaction against the kind of globalist vision the Beats promoted, all scholarship—but particularly Beat scholarship—needs to ground its politics in the art of the possible.
These issues aside, Fazzino does a fine job of bringing Beat literature out of its hagiographical comfort zone, and up-to-date with current academic debate. It is refreshing to read Burroughs in relation to Wai Chee Dimock on “deep time,” for example. Beat scholarship probably needs to go further than this if it is to reach more than the small circle of already interested academics, but Fazzino has taken a step forward by illuminating the movement’s wider intellectual, international, and historical relevance. [End Page 172]