Film critic David Sterritt's "Screening the Beats: Media Culture
and the Beat Sensibility" showcases the social and aesthetic
viewpoints of lynchpin Beat writers Jack Kerouac, William S.
Burroughs, and Allen Ginsberg, juxtaposing their artistry with
1950s culture and achieving what Kerouac might have called a
"bookmovie" riff. In clear prose, Sterritt captures the raw energy
of the Beats and joins in their celebration of aesthetic
freakishness. Tapping into the diversified spirit of the Beat
Generation and its nuanced relationship with postwar American
culture, Sterritt considers how the Beats variously foreground,
challenge, and illuminate major issues in Hollywood and avant-garde
film, critical and cultural theory, and music in the mass-media
Sterritt engages the creative and spiritual facets of the Beats,
emulating their desire to evoke ephemeral aspects of human
existence. Dealing with both high and low cultures as well as
various subcultures, he highlights the complementary contributions
to cultural creativity made by these authors. "Screening the Beats"
grapples with paradoxes in Beat writing, in particular the conflict
between spiritual purity and secular connectedness, which often
materialized in the beatific bebop spontaneity, Zen-like
transcendentalism, and plain hipster smarts that characterized the
writings of Kerouac, Burroughs, and Ginsberg.
This interdisciplinary study tackles such topics as Ginsberg's
and Kerouac's uses of racial and ethnic stereotypes prevalent in
the popular movies of the 1950s era; the uses and limitations of
improvisation as a creative tool in literature, jazz, and film;
Kerouac's use of cinematic metaphor to evoke Buddhist concepts; and
intersections of the grotesque and carnivalesque in works as
seemingly diverse as autobiographical novels by Kerouac, a radio
play by Antonin Artaud, cultural theories of Gilles Deleuze and
Felix Guattari, and the boisterous lunacy of Three Stooges farce.
Deftly threading literary, musical, and cinematic works with a
colorful array of critical theories, "Screening the Beats"
illuminates the relationship between American culture and the
imaginative forces of the Beat Generation.
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