A digital recreation of an article published in Horizon Vol1 No1 – September 1958
With heaves, grunts, pigment splotches and howls ”cool”. Beat generation practitioners of the arts are indulging in self-expressing of many sorts.
When a hitherto unknown actor named Marlon Brando fifty five years ago assumed the role of Stanley Kowalski, the glowering, inarticulate hero of Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire, few people realized the symbolic importance of that creation. For Brando was to personify an entire post-war generation of troubled spirits trying to find an identity. Today we find his Kowalski wherever we look, whether in our latest literature, our poetry, our painting, our movies, our popular music, or on our city streets. In one guise or another he is the hero of the Beat Generation.
This new ideal image, as Brando first gave it dramatic form and as tribal followers from coast to coast have adopted it, is that of a man of much muscle and little mind, often surly and discontented, prepared to offer violence with little provocation. He peers out at the world from under beetling eyebrows, his right hand rests casually on his right hip. Walking with a slouching, shuffling gait, he scratches himself often and almost never smiles. He is especially identified by the sounds that issue from his mouth. He squeezes, he grunts, he passes his hand over his eyes and forehead, he stares steadily, he turns away, he scratches, then again faces’ his adversary, and finally speaks-or tries to.
The new hero has cut himself off from cultural and social life and now seems close to abdicating even from himself. Whether he throws words on a page, like the San Francisco novelist Jack Kerouac, or pigment onto a canvas like the "action" painter Franz Kline, whether he mumbles through a movie or shimmies in the frenetic gyrations of rock-’n-roll, he is a man belligerently exalting his own inarticulateness. He "howls" when he has the energy, and when he doesn’t, sits around "beat" and detached, in a funk. He is hostile to the mind, petulant toward tradition, and indifferent to order and coherence. He is concerned chiefly with indulging his own feelings, glorifying his own impulses, securing his own "cool" kicks. His most characteristic sound is a stammer or a saxophone wail; his most characteristic symbol, a blotch and a glob of paint.
He exults in solitude and frequently speaks proudly of his "personal vision." Yet, while outwardly individualistic and antisocial, he is inwardly conformist. He travels in packs, writes collective manifestoes, establishes group heroes like the late movie star James Dean, and adheres to the ethics of the coterie. He is "existential" without having developed any substantial existence. If he has a coherent philosophy, it is one of simple negation without any purposeful individual rebellion to sustain it.
The novelists and poets now centering in San Francisco are the most striking examples of conformists masquerading as rebels. They travel together, drink together, "smoke pot" together, publish together, dedicate works to each other, share the same pony-tailed girls in faded blue jeans and take for their collective theme the trials and tribulations of their own troubled souls.