Wednesday, May 14, 2008

"Pull My Daisy", written and narrated by Jack Kerouac

A film from the early '60s. Is good for portraying the Beats in a more reasonable, human, manner than later hagiographers have. The film is pretty simple, sort of a slice of life for a small number of beatniks that are hanging out at a friends apartment. They talk, smoke pot, have dialogues on the nature of society and of art, meet the man of the house who is a sort or Burroughs like character in that he's older and dresses sort of straight. A person called "The Bishop" comes over with his mother and sister and they discuss Zen Buddhism, with the Beatniks kind of kidding him. The Bishop leaves, they talk for a little while among themselves, and then the Beatniks leave. That's the formal action.

Like I said, the film is better for being a sort of slice of life, that reveals that the Beats weren't disconnected from the sort of '40s bohemian culture of New York City, complete with Jazz of course, but were a development from it. They reference Freud, Jung, Reich, Kenneth Rexroth, William H. Auden.

The problem with how the image of the Beats has evolved is that they've gone from being people who were critical of society to people who somehow exemplified the 'true America', the America beneath appearances. "On the Road" is considered to be one of the "Great American Novels". Ginsburg is thought, through the influence of Walt Whitman, to be a poet of America, even if he was critical of it. From talking about Moloch, the Middle Eastern god that ate the young, and describing the best minds of his generation destroyed by madness he came around to a sort of tepid America worship.

In a word, many of the Beats became, in the public consciousness and in their later writings, close to the establishment. They ceased to be a critical force and became one that could be turned into a hackneyed component of college life, where "On the Road" would be something that you 'just read' as a coming of age book irrespective if you ever did anything countercultural in your life at all.

The elaboration of the Beats as prophets of America the beautiful was demonstrated to me in the preface to an edition of Walt Whitman's poems and his writing "Democratic Vistas" put out by International Publishers, the publishing wing of the Communist Party USA. In it, the editor condemns the writers of the Lost Generation for being bourgeois individualists who had nothing positive to say and mentioned Ginsburg by name as an example of the new poetry, that was more positive about American life. Strange as it may seem for a Communist to praise American life, it actually makes sense for the time frame because of the effort to anchor Communism in American traditions that started in the '30s and '40s. That era is a complex subject that the books in the sidebar under "Popular Front Communism" deal with.

So Ginsburg received approval as not being a Bohemian in a totally bourgeois individualist way, but Henry Miller and folks like that were condemned as being too radical.

Pull My Daisy demonstrates that they were closer to those so-called bourgeois individualist ideals of Bohemia than that Communist Party writer knew.

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