The Beats Go On
And on and on until the reader wants to howl.
Jan 17, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 17 • By ALEC SOLOMITA
Morgan thanks no less than five editors in his acknowledgments, yet there are numerous editorial infelicities, including repetitions of whole passages (just slightly altered) and references to events that hadn’t been reported earlier. The editors are also derelict in neglecting to lend Morgan a thesaurus. His physical descriptions are remarkably consistent: Lucien Carr is “one of the most handsome students in the incoming class at Columbia that year,” Kerouac was “even more handsome” than another Beat, and when Ginsberg meets Kerouac, “Ginsberg found himself face to face with one of the most handsome men he had ever met.” Peter Orlovsky beats Kerouac by a hair—“Allen later recalled that he was the most handsome man he had ever seen”—and Haldon Chase “was a handsome young Columbia student.” Morgan describes Neal Cassady’s “astonishing good looks” in more detail: “He exuded a strong sexual aura and with an IQ of 120, he was as intelligent as he was charming and personable.” Only poor Ginsberg “was not an attractive boy.”
Morgan does manage to show that, as he writes in his preface, Allen Ginsberg was, indeed, the “locomotive that pulled the others along like so many boxcars.” An indefatigable self-promoter, the author of “Howl” was also unfailingly loyal to his friends and colleagues and was the impetus behind the publication of On the Road and Naked Lunch. It’s fair to say that the Beat Generation as we know it would not exist without Allen Ginsberg. But The Typewriter Is Holy fails to convince that we are anything but poorer as a result of the Beats’ influence. Kerouac remains a bad boy’s adventure writer, bursting with grandiosity, dull and humorless. Burroughs produced incoherent genre salads with an occasionally successful satirical routine amid thousands of pages of impenetrable prose.
Ginsberg himself continues to be breathtakingly overrated. A few of his many poems are amusing, particularly some in his first collection; but they are, for the most part, prolonged tantrums and exhibitionist confessions. He has often been compared, and was happy to compare himself, to Walt Whitman; but he had neither Whitman’s wonderfully controlled long line nor his appreciation for the world’s majesty. Ginsberg’s lines are long, to be sure, but he unwittingly installs speed bumps even in his happy detours into fluency.
Alec Solomita is a writer living in Somerville, Massachusetts.