Date: Thu, 21 Aug 1997 07:10:38 -0400
From: "Barry A. Popik" Bapopik[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]AOL.COM
Subject: WILLIAM BURROUGHS SPECIAL: Beat, Hipnik
Jack Kerouac's ON THE ROAD was published about 40 years ago. William
Burroughs is dead.
Stuart Berg Flexner's LISTENING TO AMERICA, on page 310, has "We're
beat, man. Beat means beatific, it means you got the beat, it means
something. I invented it," Jack Kerouac, quoted in Herbert Gold's "The Beat
Mystique," Playboy magazine, February 1958.
Tony Thorne's DICTIONARY OF AMERICAN SLANG has "beat" in a 5 September
1957 article by Gilbert Millstein in the New York Times, which states "the
generation Kerouac himself named years ago as 'beat' and whose principal
avatar he is."
Robert Hendrickson's ENCYCLOPEDIA OF WORD AND PHRASE ORIGINS states
that John Clellon Holmes's novel GO! (1957) used "beat generation" first.
Tom Dalzell's FLAPPERS 2 RAPPERS has a nice discussion of "beat," but
I've misplaced the book somewhere in this apartment.
The Village Voice ran a few letters about this in February 1958. This
is one of the last, from 19 February 1958, pg. 4, col. 3:
Which Definition of Beat?
As a probable Square (Washington Square? Anybody have a good etymology
of square?--ed.) who is not in the swim of Village social life at any level,
I am hopelessly confused about the phenomenon known as the Beat Generation.
In your February 5 issue H. B. Lutz leaves the impression that Beats are
identified with jazz, dope, indifferent sex, and a frequent hedonism. That
he finally characterizes the Beat as a (young) Square is a puzzling
conclusion, as it seems a pure logical contradiction in terms.
In the same issue we find a Mr. A Rosenberg (Letters to the Editor)
referring to the Beat Generation in both quotes and the past tense. As I
understand this writer, the Real Beat became _passe_ "say six years ago."
Does Mr. Rosenberg mean that contemporary, practicing Beats are frauds,
i.e., non-beat Beats?
Mike Wallace's interviews with Jack Kerouac and Philip Lamentis (New York
Post, January 21 and 22) serve only to baffle further. Mr. Kerouac here
describes Beats as unique types of mystics who "love everything yet are in
despair over the "heavy burden of life." Mr. Lamentia, in contrast, exhibits
almost a Cheerful-Cherub sort of optimism. He speaks of beatness as an
off-beat form of Christianity which synchronizes belief in traditional
theological figures with jazz, marijuana, and mystic ecstasy. Lamentia's
claim to mysticism seems a contradiction of Lutz' contention that the Beats
are hedonistically oriented.
Finally, a Villager (not a Square?--ed.) who would swear by his hipness
and who purports to know personally classic Beat types, classifies them as
"pseudo-junkies." The Beats, my informant insists, believe in nothing, do
nothing, and have neither the courage to take narcotics nor the imagination
to deny taking them.
These very few examples give evidence that the term "Beat Generation"
means very different things to different people. How, then, is it possible
to communicate meaningfully about this socio-cultural phenomenon? What is
the Beat Generation? Where is the Beat headquarters in New York? Could a
statistically significant sample of beat-generation heads be counted? Or is
the beat generation a lucrative, transitory myth invented by a few clever
eccentrics to titillate the imagination and loosen the purse strings of the
ideological Square slummer?
The late Herb Caen of San Francisco coined "beatnik" from Beat and
Sputnik in a San Francisco Chronicle column of 2 April 1958.
In the Village Voice of 13 August 1958, pg. 3, cols. 2-3, there is
"Off-Beat Survey: Hipniks." "Our men talked to 27 young hipniks (hipnik: a
folksy variant of hipster)."
Not everything catches on.
"Popik" would be coined a few years later.