The Typewriter Is Holy
by Mark Chmiel
Later this summer at Cafe Ventana, I’ll be facilitating a reading group of the new book, The Essential Ginsberg. I was just rereading Bill Morgan’s history, The Typewriter is Holy: The Complete, Uncensored History of the Beat Generation, and want to share the following passages…
I’ve always felt that the cultural changes that society underwent during the nineteen-sixties were a direct result of the example set still earlier in the forties and fifties by the group I knew as the Beat Generation.
We should think of the Beat Generation as a social circle created by Allen Ginsberg and his friends instead of a literary movement.
The Transcendentalist Movement wouldn’t have been as tasty without Emerson, but the Beat Generation would never have existed without Ginsberg.
The history of the Beat Generation is really the story of this one man’s desire to gather a circle of friends around him, people he loved and who could love him. What united these people was not only a love of literature, but also Ginsberg’s supportive character, a trait that often verged on obsession.
Ginsberg was a genius when it came to encouraging people who didn’t believe that they had enough talent to write or express themselves.
Once someone became Ginsberg’s friend, Allen would never abandon him, no matter what he did.
[Kerouac] was beginning to envision his life’s work as the creation of a great Duluoz saga based on his own personal history. Dulouz was the fictional name Kerouac commonly used for his own alter ego. His books would be neither fiction nor non-fiction, but an amalgam of the two.
Jack saw the style of Neal’s letter as the inspiration he was looking for, and before long he decided to rewrite his entire novel in the same wild, unrestrained manner.
Responding to his new wife’s question, “What was it like to be on the road with Neal?” [Kerouac] addressed the book to her by way of explanation. “I first met Neal not long after my father died… I had just gotten over a serious illness…”
Kerouac’s method pointed Allen in a new direction that he could apply to his own poetry. It reinforced Allen’s new belief that he should write down his thoughts without examining them for literary merit. That idea had come to Jack through Neal’s example.
One day Dr. [William Carlos] Williams suggested that Allen look in his old journals for bits of prose that could be converted into poetry. Responding to that idea, Allen sent several pages of short prose fragments, reformatted to look like poetry on the page.
For the next fifty years, he faithfully kept a journal of his thoughts and activities. Those journals were the beginning of Ginsberg’s career as a writer.