Beat Subterranean: Tactics of Assemblage and Worldmaking in Beat Generation Writing
My dissertation argues that the core beat trope of the subterranean can be developed as a productive means of literary analysis. I show that beat writers conceive of themselves and their work as existing within vast "underground" networks of radical and avant-garde art and literature, and by locating the beats within such assemblages, the subterranean offers, above all, a model for reconceptualizing beat geography. While the Beat Generation has been regarded as quintessentially American, beat writers are intensely interested in and engaged with the world at large, particularly third-world, colonial, and postcolonial spaces. After an introduction that lays out the history of subterranean thought in literature, philosophy, and cultural studies, Chapter One argues that the beats, in particular those associated with the San Francisco Renaissance of the 1950s and 60s, follow the American Renaissance writers of the previous century in asserting their worlded view of US literary history. Chapter Two reads a series of beat "travelogues"--including Kerouac's Mexico City Blues, Burroughs and Ginsberg's Yage Letters, and Brion Gysin's novel The Process--that reveal the complexities of beat writing at its most worldly. To situate the beats within in these wider contexts and longer trajectories of literary and cultural history is also to emphasize the role of female and minority voices in the beat movement. In the second half of my dissertation, which discusses the beats in relation to the twentieth-century avant-garde (futurism, dada, and chiefly surrealism), I argue that it is in the work of African-American Beat writers Amiri Baraka, Ted Joans, and Bob Kaufman that we find the strongest commitment to international avant-garde traditions. My dissertation concludes with the suggestion that contemporary writers such as Maxine Hong Kingston and Juliana Spahr can be characterized as "post-beat" insofar as their poetics of place, identity, and community borrow from and transform the practices and concerns of worlded beat writing.