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Liminality and «Communitas» in the Beat Generation

Aaron Christopher Mitchell

The Beat Generation questioned mid-twentieth century America and sought the margins of society. This book analyzes the literature and lifestyles of the Beat authors Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, and Allen Ginsberg in regard to Victor Turner’s anthropological studies. The Beats separated from society by willingly entering the rites of passage. Liminal symbolism is apparent in their literature such as in movement, time, space, pilgrimages, and monstrosities. In their liminal stage, they established «communitas» and developed anti-structure. They questioned society and made proposals to change it in their liminoid literature. The Beats shared similarities with previous countercultures, and they influenced the following Hippie Generation.

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Chapter 2. Anthropology and the Beat Generation

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Chapter 2. Anthropology and the Beat Generation

Abstract: Changes in how cultures are interpreted and how literature and anthropology are combined are introduced by considering works by Clifford Geertz, James Clifford, and Doris Bachmann-Medick. Victor Turner’s ideas on literature and anthropology as well as the Beats and Hippies are discussed.

2.1  Anthropology and Literature

Throughout the second half of the twentieth century, significant development and deconstruction of theories occurred in the field of cultural anthropology granting literary studies new incentive and methods to interpreting as well as reinterpreting texts.122 As so far discussed, this work concentrates on implementing Victor Turner’s use of liminality and communitas; however, he does not stand alone in the application of anthropology to literature and vice versa. Therefore, a brief discussion about its development in the latter half of the twentieth century will follow before focusing more explicitly on Victor Turner and how his theories apply to the Beat Generation.

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