Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Reader Confessions: I Don't Like the Beats

I think I'm pretty open-minded when it comes to literature. I have no huge prejudices against time periods or countries or anything like that. But I have one weakness, one literary area that I cannot seem to enjoy, no matter how hard I try: The Beats. Many of my lit and writing classes require reading writers who are considered the greats from the Beat era. Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs, etc: none of them have ever done anything for me. In fact, I downright despise most of them. The first time I read On the Road, I liked it much better than I expected; I even thought I might grow to love it. But every time I have looked at the book since, every little thing about it bothers me. And I won't even start in on how I think Howl is ridiculously overrated.

The Beats were important; there's no doubt about that. They paved the way for a more open form of poetry and prose that would prove significant for the future. I also understand why these writers appeal to so many people, including some of my friends. The language and style of the Beat Generation is electric. It shakes you up, makes you think. But personally, I just can't take it. I don't know if its because I'm a bigger lover of form than I think I am, that I want some basic sentence structure every once in a while. Maybe it has something to do with my love of using the exact precise word at the exact moment its needed (I most respect the poets and novelists who are able to do this), a thing the Beats seem to skim over in their tumbled, free-flowing voices. Most likely, it has to do with the major sexism I see all over Beat writing. In an American Lit class I had earlier this year, we read a section of Kerouac's Big Sir. Eventually, our class discussion turned into whether or not it was a misogynist text. And you know what, I think it is. I don't know if it's the sexism of the time or what, but so many women portrayed in Beat literature do little more than provide sex or have babies or hold their husbands back. Sure, lots of famous writers of all eras are guilty of this. But for some reason, so many of the Beats make it worse by not even attempting to write compelling female characters. You lose points by not even trying in my game book.

So there you go. I get why the Beats are important. But I'll probably go the rest of my life choosing to ignore them. Sorry.


  1. But you do like "Killer Tofu" and "I Need More Allowance," right?

    (Get it??)

  2. Hahaha. I totally went on YouTube to find those clips right after this.

    Amendment: I LOVE The Beets.