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Origins of the Beatnik

Do you consider yourself a latter-day "beatnik"? Even young fans of Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg proudly christen themselves with the tag beatnik these days, apparently unaware that word was originally coined as a term of ridicule by San Francisco columnist Herb Caen. "Beat" was indeed used by Kerouac to denote both "beaten down" and "beatitude" -- a state of revelation. He first heard the word spoken by a Times Square hustler and writer named Herbert Huncke; then another writer, John Clellon Holmes, popularized the term "Beat" in a New York Times article headlined "This is the Beat Generation." But the original Beats did not approve of the term "beatnik" -- combining "beat" with the Russian "Sputnik," as if to suggest that the Beat writers were both "out there" and vaguely Communist -- as this hilarious dialogue [note: MP3 link] between a very young Ginsberg, anthropologist Margaret Mead, and an excruciatingly square talk-radio host makes plain.
posted by digaman on Jan 14, 2005 - 45 comments

 
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