Tag Archives: Great Gatsby

Happy 118th Birthday, Fitzgerald!

24 Sep

442px-F_Scott_Fitzgerald_1921Photo circa 1921, “The World’s Work” (June 1921 issue), via Wikipedia

The man who perhaps best captured the glitz and the glam of the roaring twenties, F. Scott Fitzgerald, was born on September 24, 1896, in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Fitzgerald is, of course, the author of The Great Gatsby, This Side of Paradise, The Beautiful and Damned, Tender Is the Night, and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” He was connected with a group of expatriates living in Paris, who became known as the Lost Generation.

It was this Lost Generation that inspired Jack Kerouac to come up with the term the Beat Generation when he was having a conversation with John Clellon Holmes one day. However, in many ways, Kerouac’s content is dissimilar to Fitzgerald’s. F. Scott — named after Francis Scott Key, the lyricist of “The Star Spangled Banner,” and his second cousin, three times removed (whatever that means!) — glamorized America’s economic boom during the Jazz Age, while Kerouac glamorized the American hobo that sprung up following the Great Depression. Yet, their language, their syntax, is similar in capturing all that jazz.

 

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Life Continues to Be Absurd: Saul Bellow, Jack Kerouac, F. Scott Fizgerald, and Eugene O’Niell

 

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?

Parallel Generations

19 Jul

Why is Hollywood taking an interest in the Lost Generation and the Beat Generation?  Are there parallels between the generations of the past and today’s generations?  Is history cyclical?

From a historic standpoint, it makes sense that today’s generations are looking back at the Lost Generation and the Beat Generation.  Like the Lost Generation, the current generation has experienced war.  Although the Lost Generation predates the Great Depression by a few years, novels such as The Great Gatsby have much to say about the disparity of wealth, a topic that this generation has dealt with during the Great Recession.  Part of the seedy wealth distribution of the ‘20s had to do with bootlegging.  Prohibition may not be something today’s candidates have on the table, but there’s a definite right-wing conservatism bent influencing culture today.

The Beat Generation writers were those who were born around the time of the Great Depression and came of age during World War II.  Kerouac and John Clellon Holmes actually were thinking of the Lost Generation when they came up with the idea that they were the Beat Generation.  The obvious parallels between the two generations being the world wars.  While the Lost Generation was going into the Great Depression, the Beat Generation was coming out of it, and so while the Lost Generation was more about decadence the Beat Generation was more about simplicity.  Perhaps, then, today’s older generation is looking toward the Lost Generation and the younger generation looking towards the Beat Generation for confirmation on the way we live our lives.

After all, generations have followed suit in this pattern of economy and war since these generations.  The Baby Boomers were all about the money, and then Generation X was the slacker generation.

Since then we’ve seen Generation Y, also known as the Millennials or Generation Next, who are often thought of as privileged Trophy Kids.  These are the eighties babies (give or take) that are now in their twenties, a few even in their thirties.

Generations X and Y heard Reality Bites, My So-Called Life, and Fight Club tell us our great war was within ourselves.  –And then the terrorist attacks took place on 9/11.  It was around that time that Generation Y turned to indie music, the locavore movement, and reviving arts and crafts.

After that came Generation Z, or Generation I, the kids born in the ‘90s, for whom the Internet, the War on Terror, and the Great Recession are a way of life.  Generations Y and Z are the i-generation, each having their own personal computers, finding fame on blogs and in social media, the generation that is connected and disconnected.  They began looking back at Generation X, wearing flannel.  Miley Cyrus was photographed wearing a Nirvana t-shirt.

The Pew Research Center has a fascinating report that charts the different Generations’ attitudes toward politics, religion, immigration, marriage, and more.

Technology is developing at a faster and faster rate, and with it, generations are shortening and multiplying.  When you think about it, iphones models are even called by their generation, as in the second generation iphone, acknowledging how much generations are defined by technology, as well as money and politics.  Therefore, it’s easy to see how certain generations blend together, which may also be a result, as the Pew Research Center data seems to suggest, of the delayed adulthood.

What generation do you identify with?