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Guest Lecture Feb. 16, 2004 An On & Off Beat – Kerouac’s Beat Etymologies Bent Sørensen.

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Presentation on theme: "Guest Lecture Feb. 16, 2004 An On & Off Beat – Kerouac’s Beat Etymologies Bent Sørensen."— Presentation transcript:

1 Guest Lecture Feb. 16, 2004 An On & Off Beat – Kerouac’s Beat Etymologies Bent Sørensen

2 An On & Off Beat Kerouac’s Beat Etymologies Off-Beat On Off-Beat On & Off Beat An On & Off Beat On Again – Off Again An On Again, Off Again Beat

3 Philament The ’Off-Beat’ Issue Call for Papers: Off the beaten track, ex-centric Walk the beat: reporters, cops Beat off: Repel, masturbate Off the beat, out of rhythm

4 Abstract If one does a search in the MLA database for “off-beat” as a title word, the number of hits is limited to four different entries. This can mean one of two things: Either the notion of “off-beat” is seriously under-theorized and something needs urgently to be done about it; or else the notion of “off-beat” is completely marginal to literary and cultural criticism and should best remain so. This talk proceeds in the belief that the former is closer to the truth and that a venture off the beaten track is always worthwhile, and not merely another exercise in academic beating off. Let us therefore examine the etymologies of “beat” and “off-beat”, and use them for a discussion of Jack Kerouac and his cultural politics and poetics.

5 Kerouac and Beat Originator and namer of Beat Generation Beat Daddy of them All King of the Beats Beat Avatar

6 Was Kerouac a cool Beat road-tripper, womanizer and drinker of rot-gut wine?

7 Or - was Kerouac the sensitive writer type, intelligent, rugged, yet handsome?

8 Or – was Kerouac a Mama's Boy and a pussycat?

9 The truth lies somewhere between: Kerouac was an On Again - Off Again Beat…

10 Etymologies: Beat Beat – ’strike repeatedly’ Root: beatan (occurs in Beowulf) Past tense: ’beat’ In Middle English: beted Past participle: ’beaten’ Occasionally ’beat’ (as in ’dead-beat’)

11 Off-Beat forms of ’beat’ ’beatan’ ’beted’ ’beaten’

12 On(e) beat forms of ’beat’ Infinitive: To beat Imperative: Beat (him) Present trense: That beats it all Past tense: I beat him Variant past participle: I’m beat

13 Etymologies: Off Pre-1100: One word for both ’Off’ and ’Of’ Post-1100: Gradually splits into: Adverb: ’off’ Preposition: ’of’ Original spelling: Offe This is of course an off-beat spelling orthographically

14 Off-Beat 1927: Unaccented beat in music 1938: Unusual, unconventional

15 Jive & Jazz 1928: Jive = boasting talk (Louis Armstrong: ’Don’t jive me’) 1918: Jazz = empty talk (college slang) 1913: Jazz = syncopated style of music 1909: Jazz = name of a ragtime dance 1897: Ragtime: Music with syncopation 1597: Syncopation: shifting of accent in music

16 Negative to positive connotations Syncopation: Contraction > Altered beat Jazz: Boast > Musical style Jive: Boast > Dance > Style of talk Off-Beat: Unaccented beat > Cool hipster deviance This movement in meaning is called: Bricolage

17 Beat defined “More than the feeling of weariness, it implies the feeling of having been used, of being raw. It involves a sort of nakedness of mind.” “You know, this is really a beat generation” “Man, I’m beat” “The word “beat” originally meant poor, down and out, deadbeat, on the bum, sad, sleeping in subways” but now means people who “have a certain new gesture, or attitude, which I can only describe as a new more.”

18 Beat á la Spengler “’Beat’ is the Second Religiousness of Western Civilization as prophesied by Spengler”, and it “always takes place in late civilization stage […] The 2 nd Relig. is sublime, it takes place during the coldhearted days of big city skepsis but it is indifferent to that because it is a reappearance of early springtime forms of the culture and as such well-rooted”

19 Beat to Be-át “I went one afternoon to the church of my childhood […] and had a vision of what I must have really meant with “Beat” […] the vision of the word Beat as being to mean beatific… […] I knew it then”

20 Etymology of Beatific Beatifique Beatus Beare Bé – át Beat pronounced with an off-beat becomes Bé –át (ific)

21 Beat to Beatnik -nik Beat-nik Sputnik Nudnik

22 Beat as vision “People began to call themselves beatniks, beats, jazzniks, bopniks, bugniks and finally I was called the “avatar” of all this” “The Beat Generation, that was a vision that we had, John Clellon Holmes and I, and Allen Ginsberg in an even wilder way, in the late Forties, of a generation of crazy illuminated hipsters suddenly rising and roaming America, serious, curious, bumming and hitchhiking everywhere, ragged, beatific, beautiful in an ugly graceful new way”

23 Hippie, Yippie & A Bippie in the middle “I’m a bippie in the middle” “This is not a second-religiousness generation but the very opposite, granted, maybe, yes, our vision of the hitch-hiking Negro saint WAS but that only lasted till 1949 or so … the 1950’s began a new sinisterness in America, and now the “Soaring Sixties” is just really a soaring hysteria.”

24 Old School Catholicism “Being a Catholic, I believe in order, tenderness and piety.”

25 The A-political Blues “Oh the beat generation was just a phrase I used in the 1951 written manuscript of On the Road to describe guys like Moriarty who run around the country in cars looking for odd jobs, girlfriends, kicks. It was thereafter picked up by West Coast leftist groups and turned into meaning like “beat mutiny” and “beat insurrection” and all that nonsense; they just wanted some youth movement to grab onto for their own political and social purposes. I had nothing to do with any of that.”

26 The King abdicates Paradoxically, for a writer who made the open American road his “beat”, he preferred to stay at home with his beloved Memêre, and in the 1960s he rarely went on the road even to lecture or give readings By the time of his death his “beat” had extended to cover all of America and most of the world, as youngsters used On the Road literally as a roadmap for their search, but Kerouac himself had long since abdicated as King of the Road as well as King of the Beats.


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