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

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.


Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Video Game Nation: How gaming is making America freer – and more fun.
  • Matt Welch: How the left turned against free speech.
  • Nothing Left to Cut? Congress can’t live within their means.
  • And much more.