Keeping up with the beat

26 October 2012

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The previous Sunday marked 43 years since Jack Kerouac’s death. Ηis mark on society, however, doesn’t seem to fade and his ideas remain current.

‘The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.’

Jack Kerouac’s a piece of the roll On The Road (Source: Prosopee via Wikimedia Commons)

His most famous novel, On The Road, was adapted to film the previous month. Having just exited the cinema, I can’t hide my disappointment.

It is not only because it turned out to be a rather poor adaptation, but mostly because I think it fails to demonstrate the gravity of Kerouac’s ideas.

Kerouac was characterised as one of the beats; a generation or movement that evolved during the ‘50s as part of a wider cultural and political revolution against pre-war ideas.

‘The beats understood that they have to reinvent new ways to approach reality as nothing was the same after the World War II, Nagasaki and Hiroshima. The whole world was put on a new basis and the literature expression of this spectrum were the beats,’ says George Mouratidis, a Beat scholar.

What actually happened with the heritage of the ‘Beat Generation’ is controversial.

On the one hand, the ideas of the beats were adopted by the hippies of the ‘60s and by the punk movement of the ‘90s. On the other hand, they were also used as guidebook for the disputed subculture of the hipsters of the ‘00s (Kerouac showed respect to the hipster of the ‘40s but this was a very different hipster to it’s modern day counterpart).

As William Burroughs said: ‘On The Road, opened a million coffee bars and sold a million pairs of Levis to both sexes.’

This quote seems an ironic outcome for the ideology of the beats as they were against the illusory values that derive from material goods and dominant culture.

‘Kerouac wanted just to become famous as a good writer. Not as an idol for a materialistic culture,’ Mouratidis adds.

As far as politics is concerned, the perceptions of the beats were deeply criticised and attention was paid to their hedonistic way of life rather than the ideas they were advocating.

Mouratidis gives us some directions of how we should decode the political and lifestyle ideology of the ‘Beat Generation’.

‘Actually the beats were very politicised but they never said they will change the world. If I could describe their philosophy in one word, I would use the world sympathy. Sympathy for each other but mostly sympathy for yourself. Your endoscopy is the start to change the reality and that is what the beats stood for. After you finish with your self-exploration you should care about the personal relations with your mates.

‘The whole change starts from you and your personal room. Look also at feminism or other radical ideologies. Their inception comes from home and then they spread to the whole world.’

In an age of crisis, dilemmas and economic uncertainty, can these ideas function or are the beats just outdated?

‘I think that the beats hold part of the solution for today’s situation. We have to put pictures in every situation we face. Unemployment, for instance, is not a number on a statistic cupboard. It stands for real people who get redundant and sink in depression. If you make that connection, we will understand what a rise in these figures means.

‘Wherever we comprehend  that these situations actually affect us and make an endoscopy, then we will all understand that the whole world will change though our change.’

As Mouratidis speaks, I am very interested by what he is saying but I can’t resist asking him why we are still so concerned by this movement that promoted radical ideas, about 50 years ago.

‘Actually, the beat movement hasn’t stopped and probably never will. It lives as long there are outsiders and people that are leaving beyond the common sense. It blooms inside these people that are creating or standing for new ideals.’

During the hard times that the whole world experiences, perhaps the plain ideas are the ones we should embrace. Anyway, all of the old tactics seem faulty.

It seems that we are beaten once again.

Ody Kripotos is a Master of Global Communications student at La Trobe University and is a staff writer for upstart. You can follow him on Twitter: @noseriousreasons