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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 6. Countercultures and the Beat Generation


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Chapter 6. Countercultures and the Beat Generation

Abstract: The Beats are not the only counterculture in history. Other literary and artistic countercultures existed before and influenced the Beats. Links can be made between the movements. The Beats also influenced others.

The Beat Generation claims no patent to the art of rebellion. It is a counterculture among many. Several aspects place the Beats among these recurring revolutions in society; for instance, the lifestyles they lived, their disdain for some contemporary mores and values, their artistic styles, and their attempts to influence change in society with their liminoid works of art follow patterns which fall into previous counterculture movements as well as post-Beat movements. The following analysis seeks to show how the Beats fit into the context of other countercultures, how they were influenced by such groups, and how the Beats influenced other countercultures. Since the 1960s Hippie generation received extensive attention previously in this study concerning Beat influence, it will not be reviewed in detail in this chapter.

Since comparison of every countercultural movement would be massively overwhelming for this study, not every movement will be analyzed here in great detail. Instead, a concentration will be placed on American Transcendentalism, European Dadaism, and the American Lost Generation as a starting point in hopes to provoke further research in this area. These three groups have been chosen for emphasis due to their commonalities such as their discontent with and protest against the...

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