Bohemianism and Counter-Culture

Beat Culture: A Later Manifestation of Bohemia


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La Boheme
London 1900's
Beat Culture
Hippie Culture

Works Cited

"The subject matter is really the operation of the mind."   -Allen Ginsberg

The generation is now known as the Beat Movement, but it originated with a few writers in New York City in the 1950's. it was a literary movement which emulated many of the ideals of the Bohemia of 19th Century Paris. Here's how:

  • The beat writers went against the ideals of the mainstream culture, both in their lifestyles and literature.
  • They were a tightly knit group of friends, comprable to Henry Murger and the Water Drinkers. It wasn't until later on that they became known as a "movement."
  • As with 19th Century Bohemia, the dominant culture was initially ambivalent toward the beats, but it later became "hip."

The image above shows the bar of the Beat Hotel in 1960, where the central beat figures resided when they visited Paris. Just like the bohemians of the 19th century, the beats brought their art right into the social arena with them. Like most bohemian residences, the Beat Hotel was the cheapest, lowest-quality place to reside, with "no carpets, hole-in-the-floor toilets, last week's Figaro for toilet paper, [and] a smell of bad feet in the corridors" (Campbell 221).

Many people view the 1960's as the era of radical change and revolution in America. Women, blacks, students, homosexuals -- they all spoke out powerfully in that decade. But the seeds of these movements were planted much earlier, with the beats.

"The Beats wrote in reaction to the materialistic, conformist America they saw developing in the 1940's" (Foster xii). In other words, they wrote against the mainstream, using their art as both an escape from their world and a suggested solution to what they believed ailed it. Drug usage, sexual freedom, and a wandering lifestyle all characterized the beats, and this is why the dominant culture rejected them in the beginning. However, the beat writers also completely changed the face of American poetry and prose, ushering in a new kind of writing and way of seeing the world, so that later they were seen as an important part of American literary history.



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