Beats, Down

Bill Morgan is a longtime chronicler and associate of the gang of writers known as the Beats, especially the poet Allen Ginsberg, whom he fingers as the center around which the Beat solar system gyrated. Still, The Typewriter Is Holy (Free Press), his lifeless primer on their lives, fails to drive home why the precedent-, form-, and language-shattering work of Ginsberg and pals such as Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs should be treasured.

Morgan does hit valuable points: that in living memory Americans were arrested for selling poems and novels that were too far-out in subject matter and language, as happened to sellers of both Ginsberg’s “Howl” and Burroughs’ Naked Lunch in the late 1950s and early ’60s; that such attempts at repression can help cement an artistic reputation rather than destroy it; and that coteries bound by a skilled promoter such as Ginsberg can rise above their often reprehensible and destructive personal behavior to become beacons of artistic daring, if not personal probity. —Brian Doherty

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