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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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Abstract: The dissertation shows how Victor Turner’s anthropological studies on liminality and communitas apply to the Beat Generation by reviewing works by Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, and Allen Ginsberg.

The social anthropologist, Victor Turner, mentions in brief passages of his studies that the Beat Generation as well as the Hippie counterculture of the 1960s exemplify his theories of liminality and communitas. The objective of this dissertation is to determine whether Turner’s concepts of liminality and communitas apply to the Beat Generation by seeking to find where, how, and to what extent his theories can be implemented while considering their movement and interpreting their literary works. The research is based on Turner’s theories which he proposes in his studies such as The Forest of Symbols (1967), The Ritual Process (1969), and Dramas, Fields, and Metaphors (1974).

First, a research methodology is established based on Turner’s theories to provide for a solid framework for analysis. Second, Turner’s theories of liminality and communitas in regard to literature and more specifically the Beat Generation are briefly presented in order to provide a further foundation for this study. Third, the major focus of this research will apply the methodology to Beat literature and lifestyles to investigate the relevance of Turner’s concepts within them. Fourth, when applicable, the works of the following generation which spawned from the Beats, the Hippie counterculture, will be discussed to use as a comparison since Victor Turner notes that his theories apply to the...

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