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The Philosophy of the Beats

The Philosophy of the Beats

by Sharin N. Elkholy

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Originating from underworld slang-the domain of hustlers, drug addicts, and petty thieves-the term "Beat" was short for "beaten down" or downtrodden. To writer Jack Kerouac it symbolized being at the bottom of society's hierarchy and looking up. Kerouac introduced the phrase "Beat Generation" in 1948 to characterize the underground, anti-conformist youth gathering in


Originating from underworld slang-the domain of hustlers, drug addicts, and petty thieves-the term "Beat" was short for "beaten down" or downtrodden. To writer Jack Kerouac it symbolized being at the bottom of society's hierarchy and looking up. Kerouac introduced the phrase "Beat Generation" in 1948 to characterize the underground, anti-conformist youth gathering in New York City at that time. The Beat Generation consisted of writers, artists, and activists, and they became a uniquely American cultural phenomenon with a worldwide influence that introduced new ways of looking at visual art, music, literature, politics, race and gender issues, religion, and philosophy. The original Beat Generation writers include the familiar names of Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, and Gregory Corso. Other figures who associated with the movement are Herbert Huncke, Neal Cassady, Bob Kaufman, Gary Snyder, Ken Kesey, Philip Whalen, Diane DiPrima, and John Clellon Holmes, to name a few.

The Beats were deeply invested in a philosophy of life that they drew upon to create literary works and bohemian lifestyles. Theirs was a constant search for meaning, a coping with anxiety, alienation, revolutionary protest, and the struggle to find one's place in the world. In The Beats and Philosophy editor Sharin N. Elkholy has gathered leading scholars in Beat studies and philosophy to explore the enduring literary, cultural, and philosophical contributions of the Beats in a variety of contexts. Including essays on the drug experience in the works of Ginsberg and Kerouac, feminism and the Beat heroine in Diane DiPrima's writings, Gary Snyder's environmental ethics, and the issue of self in Bob Kaufman's poetry, this collection will explore the philosophical underpinnings of the Beat generation and will help explain why it remains one of the most defining movements of modern American culture. The Beats and Philosophy will appeal to Beat scholars, philosophers, writers, artists, and fans alike.

Sharin N. Elkholy is assistant professor of philosophy at the University of Houston-Downtown. She is the author of Heidegger and a Metaphysics of Feeling: Angst and the Finitude of Being (Continuum) and her most recent article "Friendship Across Differences: Heidegger and Richard Wright's Native Son" appears in Janus Head (Summer/Fall 2007).

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"CHRISTOPHER ADAMO is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Centenary College, New Jersey. He has had articles on phenomenology and existentialism published in Philosophy Today and Graduate Faculty Philosophy Journal. His recent work focuses on religious pluralism and the conditions for genuine inter-faith respect. Adamo's research interests have also turned towards utopian studies, specifically, the history of utopian literature and its social and political functions. His most recent article, "One Ring or Many?: Lessing's Nathan the Wise and Religious Pluralism," appears in Philosophy and Literature (April 2009), pp. 139-49.

MICHEAL SEAN BOLTON received a Ph.D. in literature from Arizona State University in 2009, and is currently teaching at East Tennessee State University. His research focuses on the application of critical theory in the interpretation of experimental and postmodern U. S. literature with particular interest in poststructuralist, cybernetic, and posthuman theoretical interpretation. He is currently at work on a book length study of William S. Burroughs's experimental novels titled Mosaic of Juxtaposition: William S. Burroughs's Narrative Revolution. He is also a poet with a Master of Fine Arts degree from ASU, and a musician working on non-structural and ambient music.

ANN CHARTERS received her Ph.D. from Columbia University in 1965. A preeminent authority on the Beat writers, she wrote the first biography of Jack Kerouac; compiled Beats and Company, a collection of her own photographs of Beat writers; and edited the best-selling Portable Beat Reader. Charters has also edited The Portable Kerouac Reader, Selected Letters of Jack Kerouac, 1957-1969, Beat Down To Your Soul, The Portable Sixties Reader, and several textbooks including The Story And Its Writer. With Samuel Charters she co-authored Brother-Souls: John Clellon Holmes, Jack Kerouac, and the Beat Generation. Charters is an emerita professor of English at the University of Connecticut in Storrs.

ED D'ANGELO graduated from Stony Brook University in New York with a doctorate in Philosophy and taught philosophical psychology and political philosophy at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute before turning to library science. He is currently a Supervising Librarian at the Brooklyn Public Library. D'Angelo has published a series of political essays in anarchist magazines that culminated in his analysis of the war on drugs in The Moral Culture of Drug Prohibition (The Humanist, Sep./Oct.1994), and was a member of the founding collective that opened the anarchist bookstore, Blackout Books, in New York's Lower East Side. He examines the decline of American culture as reflected in its public libraries in his most current book Barbarians at the Gates of the Public Library: How Postmodern Consumer Capitalism Threatens Democracy, Civil Education and the Public Good (Library Juice Press, 2006) and The Public Library, Commercialized (2008), in The American Dissident.

SHARIN N ELKHOLY is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of Houston — Downtown. Her research interests are in the intersections of phenomenology, ontology and existentialism. Elkholy's book, Heidegger and a Metaphysics of Feeling: Angst and the Finitude of Being (Continuum, 2008) establishes a framework for understanding the ontological dimensions of a pre-reflective mode of inter-subjective recognition rooted in Heidegger's notion of being-in-the world with others. Her article "Friendship Across Differences: Heidegger and Richard Wright's Native Son" explores the possibility of relationship among radical differences using Heidegger's notions of "leaping-in" and "leaping-ahead." It appears in Janus Head (Summer/Fall 2007). In "What's Gender Got to do with it?" (Athenäum: Jahrbuch für Romantik, 1999 Yearbook) Elkholy explores the intersection of romantic love, German Idealism and gender in German Romanticism, drawing on the dancer Isadora Duncan's biography. Elkholy has also produced radio programs on LA Gangs and US race relations for KPFK, Pacifica Radio.

JANE FALK is a Senior Lecturer at The University of Akron, Akron, Ohio. Her areas of research and interest include the work of Joanne Kyger, Philip Whalen, Lew Welch, and Gary Snyder, as well as the influence of Zen Buddhism on writers associated with the Beat Movement. She has contributed an appreciation of Philip Whalen's The Diamond Noodle to Continuous Flame, a tribute volume to Whalen, as well as biographies of Whalen to the Encyclopedia of Beat Literature, his Collected Poems, recently published by Wesleyan University Press, and the forthcoming Greenwood Encyclopedia of American Poetry. Her essay on Zen influences on Whalen's poetry appears in The Emergence of Buddhist American Literature from SUNY Press. Her review of Joanne Kyger's collected poems, "About Now," appears in the online magazine, Jacket.

PAUL MESSERSMITH-GLAVIN has an MA in Chinese Medicine, and did graduate work in philosophy and social theory at the City University of New York—Graduate Center and the New School for Social Research. He is a long-time political activist who helped found the Youth Greens, was a member of the Left Green Network, and is a part of the Parasol Climate Collective. He is a board member of the Institute for Anarchist Studies, and a member of the editorial collective of the journal Perspectives on Anarchist Theory. He works as a community acupuncturist in Portland, Oregon. Paul would like to thank his wife, Lara, his brother, Michael Glavin, Chuck Morse, Jon Keller, Joe Lowndes, and David Schlosberg for their invaluable comments on earlier drafts of this work. He would also like to thank his father, John Glavin, and his mother, Elaine Pawlak, for making it all possible.

JOSH HAYES received his Ph.D. from the New School for Social Researchand has taught at Santa Clara and Stanford University. He specializes inthe history of philosophy with an emphasis upon the intersection betweenancient Greek philosophy and environmental ethics. His articles haveappeared in numerous philosophy journals, including the Reviewof Metaphysics and Philosophy Today. His most recent research exploresthe influence of Aristotle upon pragmatic naturalism and contemporaryAmerican literature (Stegner, Abbey, Snyder).

JONES IRWIN is a Lecturer in Philosophy at St Patrick's College, Dublin CityUniversity. He studied Philosophy at University College Dublin and did hisPhD at University of Warwick on Jacques Derrida. His monograph Derrida andthe Writing of the Body was published in 2010 by Ashgate Press and hisforthcoming book on Paulo Freire, Paulo Freire's Philosophy of Education:Origins, Development, Impacts and Legacies is due from Continuum in early2012. He has a longstanding interest in Philosophy of Literature and thewritings of William Burroughs, and has published extensively on avant-gardewritings from Bataille to Pasolini. His next project is a book ofinterviews assessing the relationship between the Slovenian psychoanalytical philosopher Slavoj Zizek and the Slovenian context of independence from Yugoslavia and the art, punk and political movements (NSK), which contributed significantly to this process. It isentitled What's Going on in Ljubljana? On Slavoj Zizek and the Genealogy ofSlovenian Neo-Lacanianism, and will be published by Continuum in later 2012.

A. ROBERT LEE, formerly of the University of Kent, UK, since 1997 has been Professor of American Literature at Nihon University, Tokyo. His publications include Designs of Blackness: Mappings in the Literature and Culture of Afro-America (1998), Multicultural American Literature: Comparative Black, Native, Latino/a and Asian American Fictions (2003), which won the American Book Award for 2004, Japan Textures: Sight and Word, with Mark Gresham (2007), Gothic to Multicultural: Idioms of Imagining in American Literary Fiction (2008), Modern American Counter Writing: Beats, Outriders, Ethnics (2010) and the 4-volume Native American Writing (2011). He is editor of The Beat Generation Writers (1995) and has written on Burroughs, Ted Joans, LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka, Bob Kaufman, Oscar Zeta Acosta, Diane di Prima, Joanne Kyger, Anne Waldman, Nanao Sakaki, Michael Horovitz and other international Beats.

ERIK MORTENSON is an Assistant Professor in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at Koç University in Istanbul. In addition to developing Koç's Literature program, he has published numerous articles on the Beats in journals such as Chicago Review, Janus Head, and College Literature and has book chapters in The Emergence of Buddhist American Literature and The Beat Generation: Critical Essays. His book Capturing the Beat Moment: Cultural Politics and the Poetics of Presence (2011), published by Southern Illinois University Press, examines "the moment" as one of the primary motifs of Beat writing. Currently, he is exploring the trope of the shadow in postwar American literature, photography, and film.

DAVID NEED is an Instructor in the Department of Religion, the Department of Slavic and Eurasian Language and Literature, and the International Comparative Studies Program at Duke University, where he has taught since 1999. Recent publications include: "Kerouac's Buddhism", Talisman: A Journal of Contemporary Poetry and Poetics 32/33 (Summer/Fall 2006), 83-90; "Singing at Dawn/Weaving the World: Reading the Rgveda", Talisman: A Journal of Contemporary Poetry and Poetics 32/33 (Summer/Fall 2006), 235-243; "A Man Made of Words". Talisman: A Journal of Contemporary Poetry and Poetics 35 (Summer/Fall 2007) 105-11. David's poetry and essays have appeared most recently in Golden Handcuffs Review, and Hambone.

MARC OLMSTED has taught at San Francisco State University, Naropa University, University of California Santa Cruz and regularly teaches "Writing Kerouac/Sitting Buddha: Spontaneous Poetics and Big Mind" at Writers.com/Writers on the Net., Ginsberg wrote in his introduction to Olmsted's poetry in New Directions in Prose & Poetry #37, that Olmsted "inherited Burroughs' scientific nerve & Kerouac's movie-minded line nailed down with gold eyebeam". Olmsted has appeared in City Lights Journal, the highly successful anthology Outlaw Bible of American Poetry, Buddhadharma, New York Quarterly and a variety of small presses. His own books include Milky Desire (Subterranean Press, 1991) Résumé (Inevitable Press, 1998), and What Use Am I A Hungry Ghost? - Poems From 3-Year Retreat (Valley Contemporary Press, 2001), which also has an introduction by Ginsberg. Olmsted's current book project is Don't Hesitate: 23 Years Knowing Allen Ginsberg, a memoir including their correspondence. As a senior student of Lama Tharchin Rinpoche, he also continues to lead meditation from his home in Oakland, California, Last Chance Gonpa.

TOM PYNN is Instructor of Philosophy at Kennesaw State University and coordinator for the Peace Studies Minor Program. He serves as staff reviewer for VOX Journal. His poetry has appeared in VOX, Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment, Earth First! Journal, Potlatch: a creative arts journal, and The Chattahoochee Review. His scholarly essays have appeared in East-West Connections, Humanities in the South, The Southeastern Review of Asian Studies, The Virginia Review of Asian Studies, and the Journal of Ethics in Leadership. Pynn's book chapter "Say that the Things are the Stars of Our Life: Merleau-Ponty and the Heart Sutra" appears in A Feast of Logos (Ed, Jason Wirth, et al, 2005), and "Asking the Question: Do Animals have Buddha-nature?" appears in Buddha Nature and Animality (Ed. David Jones. Jain Publishing, 2006). "Introducing Students to Classical Indian Philosophy" will be published in Asian Texts-Asian Contexts: Encountering the Philosophies and Religions of Asia (SUNY Press, forthcoming).

ROSEANNE GIANNINI QUINN teaches English, Women's Studies, and Intercultural Studies at De Anza College in the San Francisco Bay Area. For the past twenty years, she has researched and published in Italian American literature and culture and feminist theory. She is very much interested in the writing of the San Francisco Beat poets and their contemporary legacy. She has a forthcoming essay on Carole Maso appearing in the collection Essays on Italian American Literature and Culture: A Decade and Beyond of Insights. Currently, she is writing a monograph entitled When the Evening Shadows Fall: Italian American Women Narrate the Popular and the Avant-Garde.

F. SCOTT SCRIBNER is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at The University of Hartford. He works in Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Philosophy, with a particular interest in marshaling the conceptual resources of Post-Kantian German Idealism for theorizing technology and mass media. He haspublished numerous articles in this field in journals such as Idealistic Studies, Journal of Value Inquiry, International Philosophical Quarterly, International Studies in Philosophy, Southwest Philosophical Studies, Literature and Psychology: A Journal of Psychoanalytic and Cultural Criticism, and Philosophical Writings. Scribner's book, Matters of Spirit: J.G. Fichte and the Technological Imagination, is published by Penn State University Press, Spring 2010. His work with the Nineteenth Jena Circle, his affinity for the Surrealist's own uniquely playful approach to technology, and his own irreverent attitude, make the Beats inevitable consorts.

ANDREAS ENGH SELAND received his Master's degree in philosophy from the University of Oslo in 2008, with a thesis on Søren Kierkegaard. He has worked as a teacher at the University of Oslo for two years, teaching BA-courses in aesthetics and formal logic. In 2010 he won first prize in a short-story competition held by the Norwegian Literary Festival, and has since been published in a short-story anthology and in Norway's leading literary magazine. Research interests include the relationship between alienation and ruins in Romantic and post-Romantic literature, German Idealism, and Lacanian psychoanalysis.

DAVID STERRITT is chair of the National Society of Film Critics, film professor at Columbia University and the Maryland Institute College of Art, professor emeritus at Long Island University, chief book critic of Film Quarterly, and co-chair of the Columbia University Seminar on Cinema and Interdisciplinary Interpretation. His writing on the Beats has appeared in The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticsm, Mosaic, The New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor, The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Poets and Poetry, and elsewhere. His books include Mad to Be Saved: The Beats, the '50s, and Film (1998) and Screening the Beats: Media Culture and the Beat Sensibility (2004), both published by Southern Illinois University Press. He is writing a third book on the Beats for Oxford University Press." —

" The Philosophy of the Beats is a significant contribution to scholarship in the field."—Aeon J. Skoble, author of Deleting the State: An Argument About Government" —

"The very looseness of the term 'Beat' has always opened up a terrain of creative variety rather than coherent definition, and The Philosophy of the Beats does not disappoint in bringing together a heterogeneous range of exploration and combination: William Burroughs with Jacques Derrida; Joanne Kyger with Descartes; Jack Kerouac and political liberalism; Allen Ginsberg on drugs; Diane di Prima and Feminism; John Clellon Holmes as existentialist; Gary Snyder as ecologist. Along with broader essays on topics ranging from anarchism to Buddhism, The Philosophy of the Beats captures the Beat spirit of restless open-ended enquiry."—Oliver Harris, President of the European Beat Studies Network" —

" The Philosophy of the Beats is the smart book on the Beat Movement that we've all been waiting for."— Hilary Holladay, coeditor of What's Your Road, Man? Critical Essays on Jack Kerouac's On the Road" —

"There are so many good essays in this book it is impossible to note them all.... You will find your own favorites and the volume is diverse enough to have something for everyone."— Englewood Review of Books" —

Product Details

University Press of Kentucky
Publication date:
The Philosophy of Popular Culture Series
Product dimensions:
6.30(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.20(d)

Meet the Author

Sharin N. Elkholy is an assistant professor at the University of Houston-Downtown. She is the author of Heidegger and a Metaphysics of Feeling: Angst and the Finitude of Being. She lives in Houston, TX.

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