“Exterminate all rational thought”

-William Burroughs

Image Credit: Discogs


The Beat Generation was an American social, and literary movement originating in the 1950s that was led by artists, mainly poets, who wished to express their alienation from convention society by adopting the styles, mannerisms, and vocabulary of jazz musicians. The central elements of Beat culture were the rejection of standard narrative values, spiritual quests, the exploration of American and Eastern religions, the rejection of economic materialism, explicit portrayals of the human condition, and experimentation with psychedelic drugs. They were especially concerned with the joylessness and purposelessness of modern society, and sought to transform poetry into an expression of genuine lived experience.

Their form of poetry was frequently chaotic and liberally sprinkled with obscenities and frank references, with a lot of political dissent as well. By the 1960s, aspects of the movement bled into the Hippie movement, and other counterculture movements. Their opposition to the Vietnam war, and imperialism gained them the label “Beatnik” - a combination of the Soviet satellite Sputnik, and Beat Generation - which hinted at them being detached from mainstream society, and hence pro-Communist. They had a lasting impact on music as well, influencing artists like Bob Dylan, Jim Morrison, Steely Dan, Bono, etc.