Should Women Dismiss Beat Literature?

18 Jul

 

funnyfacebookstorewdsdsdsdsdsImage via Dangerous Minds
Google+ was all the talk at BEA this year and last. I’ve been on the social media platform for a while now, but just the other day decided to see how it compares with Facebook for finding the latest conversations on the Beat Generation. I did a keyword search and immediately found an article that was right up my alley: “The Feminist Backlash Against the Beat Generation.”
Kimberly J. Bright writes for Dangerous Minds about her experience viewing the now legendary scroll of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road and having another person there remark in surprise that she was there of her own volition. Bright writes:
Their teacher asked me a question about the scroll, obviously assuming that I was a museum employee. When I explained that I was just a visitor, she apologized and said, “But I didn’t think women read Kerouac.”
That was news to me.
The backlash against the Beats in general, and Kerouac in particular, is becoming more evident and is mostly coming from Feminists.
Oh, how I could relate—which Bright noted, referencing my apparently controversial Millions article. Just like Bright, I never knew some works of literature were supposedly for men and others were for women. How silly of me to not realize there was an entire list of writers whom I should ban without reading them to decide for myself or that I should dismiss the literary and cultural merits of a highly innovative and influential body of literature just because certain aspects of it might offend my sensibilities.
I attended a women’s college, where we read a wide breadth of literature and learned to think critically about works—literature that included Allen Ginsberg, Ernest Hemingway, Michel Foucault, Karl Marx, Isaac Asimov, Kathy Acker, comic books, Sigmund Freud, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Samuel Richardson, and Jane Austen. In my MFA program, we specifically discussed the distinction between the author and the work as well as the literary merit versus our individual preferences.
Bright went on to write:
Personally if I purged my bookshelves, real and virtual, of all the alcoholics and misanthropes – let alone all the manic-depressives, opium addicts, suicides, eccentric asexuals, adulterers and misogynists – I would hardly have any books left.
It seems a bit hypocritical, to me, for people to lambast the Beats while still reading other authors whose personal lives and even the content of their work are not any less controversial. This summer everyone rushed out to watch The Great Gatsby, read or reread the novel, and plan their weddings around the theme of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s story that placed women as secondary characters, kills off one of the women, glorifies a criminal, includes affairs, and exalts illegal substances. It should also be noted that Fitzgerald is widely known to have plagiarized his wife’s work for some of his own books. If we’re dismissing authors on so-called moral grounds, perhaps we should then also dismiss:
  • Miguel de Cervantes (prison time after the money he collected as a tax collector went missing)
  • Paul Verlaine (prison time after shooting Rimbaud)
  • O. Henry (prison time for embezzlement)
  • Jean Genet (prison time for lewd acts)
  • Leo Tolstoy (secretly abandoned his wife in the middle of the night)
Of course, choosing whose work is “worth” reading becomes problematic because whose morals must we go by? Furthermore, which attributes of a person are more or less important when deciding whether we should read their literature? Should we praise Betty Friedan’s entire body of work because she is pro-choice? Should we dismiss her entire body of work because she did not further lesbian politics? Or vice versa? Should we dismiss her altogether? What about Bill Clinton? Should we not read the former president’s books because he cheated on his wife? Because he wielded his position of power over a twenty-two-year-old intern? Should we dismiss Jack Kerouac’s work because of the way he treated his daughter? Should we praise his work because of the way he treated his mother?
I don’t mean to make light of any of these issues or to excuse anyone from anything. My point is simply that we need to take a closer look as to why we excuse some authors but not others. Why have the writers who have been marketed together as the Beat Generation been targeted while others get a free pass?
And why don’t those so-called feminists who target the so-called Beats acknowledge the many women writers associated with the generation? Here were women who faced tougher socio-political times than we do today who got their own apartments, who studied at well-known undergrads and went on to work toward their MAs, who didn’t just sit around cooking dinner for their husbands but created works of their own. Should we forget their body of work or negatively lump it into a category we don’t read because of their associations?
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8 Responses to “Should Women Dismiss Beat Literature?”

  1. Bryan McDonald July 18, 2013 at 6:08 am #

    great post. your blog have good material. i like it.

    • Stephanie Nikolopoulos July 18, 2013 at 11:10 am #

      Thanks, Bryan! I have a great time writing the posts, and I’m so happy to hear people like them.

      • Bryan McDonald July 22, 2013 at 4:57 pm #

        awesome….you should have a good time and enjoy yourself while blogging so rock on and keep at it!

      • Stephanie Nikolopoulos July 22, 2013 at 5:19 pm #

        Thanks, Bryan! It’s like you say on your blog — “Realize positive thinking opens your eyes to what’s good in your life right now.”

  2. jackiemania July 18, 2013 at 7:40 am #

    I find so many HUMAN truths about creativity, despair, loneliness, beauty in Kerouac’s work. Last I checked, we are all human.

    • Stephanie Nikolopoulos July 18, 2013 at 11:13 am #

      Yes, yes, yes. Exactly. Kerouac’s work is so raw, so honest, so heartbreaking. He puts feelings into words that I think so many of us can relate to.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Friday Links + More Than a Thousand People Like Our Book! | Stephanie Nikolopoulos - August 16, 2013

    […] around on Google+ I found an article about, well, […]

  2. Clip: Scripps Magazine Features “Burning Furiously Beautiful” | Stephanie Nikolopoulos - February 27, 2014

    […] The column talks about how Scripps, the women’s college of the Claremont Colleges, fostered my education in the Beat Generation. …Which just goes to show you that feminists can like the Beats! […]

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