AMS Response Paper 3
Michael Curcio November 2, 2008
AMS Response Paper Professor Skvirsky
From the “Beats” and Beyond
From the period known as the Beat Generation, all the way up to the phenomenon known as the Culture Wars, there are always differences that we can note. From different displays of art, to the ways that people reacted to it, as time moved on, so did peoples perceptions. Although the Beat Generation emphasized subjectivity and personal experience, and the Culture Wars were a response to art in public spaces, the intervening years allowed for a much different understanding of the changes between public and private space.
The Beat Generation was a period in time where a group of writers came together a started a type of writing that was based on free expression. What started off as a literary phenomenon soon progressed to a life-changing attitude for thousands of people around the world. There are many examples produced during the Beat Generation that explain how the “beat” period emphasized subjectivity and personal experience. In my eyes, the one that seems to portray this in the greatest detail, is Jack Kerouac’s book On The Road, which is often regarded as the bible of the Beat Generation. Kerouac’s book is very representative of the beat generation and its values of liberty and openness. The book which is narrated through the eyes of a young writer, Sal Paradise (Jack Kerouac), is an account of his travels cross country with a character named Dean Moriarty (Neal Cassady). By reading about Kerouac’s journeys, one gets an accurate perception of the Beat Generation through his many personal experiences. The book is definitely representative of the Beat Generations individuality, because it was during this period, where people were looking to develop change. The change during this time, is that of expression and experimentation. The Beat Generation was when people began trying new things and experimenting with other things like drugs, sex, etc. By acting spontaneous and with open emotion people were able to have carefree attitudes and do whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted. Sal, the main character, is very representative of this, because throughout the book, he too is carefree. Although he often repels against the social realms of the time, he was different in that “he no longer cared about anything” (Part 3, Chapter 2, pg 188). He tended to just go with the flow of life and act in spontaneous ways, similar to many of the people living during the Beat Generation. The road in this novel is extremely significant as well. Symbolizing his freedom and individuality, when he sets off “on the road,” there is a promise for a new beginning; a new life. Thus On The Road speaks a lot about non-conformity, identity, and self-realization.
This is a preview of the whole essay
Kerouac conveys his experiences in On the Road by creating scenes and characters that closely mirror aspects of his own life. Like a typical Beat Generation person, Sal really didn’t like to work. Although he understood the value of work and what it meant in terms of supporting a family, he still disliked it very much. Throughout the book, he got several jobs, none of which he kept because immediately after starting, he would quit. Instead, he did what he preferred and went back and forth from New York City to San Francisco looking for a woman to fall in love with. He once said "'Oh I love, love, love women! I think women are wonderful! I love women!'…Great beads of sweat fell from his forehead from pure excitement and exhaustion" (Part 2, Chapter 6, page 140). What is basically being said by Kerouac is that the Beat Generation marked a time of freedom and innocence, where people could go out and express themselves however they chose to do so. This certainly holds true in the book as well, when Sal says "this is the story of America. Everybody's doing what they think they're supposed to do” (Part 1, Chapter 10, page 68). Basically, Kerouac is epitomizing life surrounding the Beat Generation. When he makes this statement in the book, he isn’t just speaking about the characters, he’s speaking about everyone. People during this time, weren’t doing anything that they weren’t supposed to do or didn’t want to do for that matter. Instead, they were starting to focus on themselves and do the things that made them happy. Throughout the book, Sal’s personal experiences are used to portray the characteristics of life during the Beat Generation. In terms of the books representation of public and private spaces, I would say that Kerouac’s book depicts the Beat Generation deeply through Sal’s private life. Although the public knows about him, with regards to space, I think that the Beat Generation shows a time where individuals were just being individuals, and experiencing themselves through their own personal values.
Although Jack Kerouac’s book emphasizes subjectivity and experiences of the Beat Generation, there are many different perspectives of public and private space in the intervening years. In the years following the 1950 Beat Generation, artists began changing the realms of society by invoking expressive notions of their own. Maya Lin “was a senior at Yale University in 1980,” when she began her endeavor as an expressive public artist (111 DPA). She sought to create art that would have a valuable meaning and expressive reaction; that was until she actually did receive a real public reaction of criticism. Although it may or may not have sparked the era known as the Culture Wars, the reaction that Lin received showed the ways in which different cultures disagreed with each other. “More importantly, [the] public culture displayed…the shared notions of civic virtue and the common ideals of the public good- what is best for the general happiness of the people and welfare of the republic” (55 CW).
Maya Lin first began getting recognized when she proposed her Vietnam War Memorial as part of a national competition. She had no idea that that she would win. When she did, her design for the memorial was the topic of much controversy. Even Lin agreed because she said that “so much of it isn’t even the physical presence of the work, but how the work is introduced to the community…in the end, you should get some controversy, because if you are pushing any limits, people will be surprised” (123 DPA). At the time many War Veterans didn’t agree with the Memorial because they didn’t think that it adequately portrayed their sufferings and what the war meant in terms of history. Maya Lin was also attacked because she was a female, Asian, and not a war veteran herself. Vietnam Veterans argued about having a new design for the memorial made and that they would like a commission of Veterans to be able to select it. In the end, Lin’s design was used, and the Veterans came to appreciate her sense of design and strong desire to get the exhibition made. I think that Maya Lin’s Veterans Memorial had a remarkable impact in the public’s view. It wasn’t just its aesthetic value, but rather its ability to influence its viewers, and show the value of the war as a rite of passage for future generations. Her personal vision, became a piece of political artwork within a “public discourse.”
According to Lin, ‘the way you read a book is a very intimate experience and my works are like books in public areas” (121 DPA). What Lin says is that basically her works are similar to books in that they both have a message to convey, the only difference is that hers works are in public places. In relation to this, you can talk about Jack Kerouac’s On The Road, and how he was motivated by the notion that his fiction would affect people. He first asks readers to make connections with his characters not their real-life counterparts; he wants them to connect with Sal's naivety and Dean's madness, and relate it to their own lives. At the same time, he wants them to realize there is more to experience than what is placed right in front of them. Just as the text has meaning beyond Kerouac, the memorials have meanings beyond Maya Lin. I think that the success of her first project led the construction of her second project; the Civil Rights memorial. “In both memorials, the viewer is invited to touch the work, to have a direct connection with the dead person who is named. Because of this interactive nature, both memorials are usually photographed with people in them” (113 DPA). These two projects had a profound influence on the public; it was remarkable to see how the public would come to see pieces of artwork that was engraved with a strong message of historical struggle. Through each one of her political establishments, Maya Lin’s artwork was able to show some sort of change in the publics views of private and public space.
No matter what years in history you are trying to compare, there is no doubt that as time goes on, art changes as well as the public’s reaction to it. From the 1950 Beat Generation to 1990 Culture War era, there has been a definite change in art and public perception. During The Beat Generation, the views of public and private space differed much differently than the views of public and private space during the culture wars. I think that during the Beat Generation the public had an image of art, but didn’t care enough to give it the criticism that future generations later would. During the Culture Wars on the other hand, no matter what happened, when public art was constructed, someone always tried to criticize it or have something negative to say. It was said that “both public culture and…’private culture’ can be understood as ‘spheres of symbolic activity,’ that is, areas of human endeavor where symbols are created and adapted to human needs” (53 CW). Even though both generations were periods of change, the Beat Generations subjectivity and Culture Wars display of public art show just how different the notions of public and private spaces really were during each period.
1. Keourac, Jack. On the Road.
New York: Penguin Group, 1991.
2. Hunter, James. Culture Wars. Pg 3-64
New York: Basic Books, 1991
3. Finkelpearl, Tom. “Dialogues in Public Art”