Note on My Project: This essay is a little unorthodox in a few ways. First, it will cover few, if any, of the magazines discussed during the semester. Second, it will take the form of a detailed chronology, a "syn-chronology". Formally, the essay will be divided into three columns in order to aid the reader (and me) to both visually and temporally comprehend the literary interwinings of the era at hand. For now, I'm simply posting the introduction to the piece and a picture of what the essay will look like.
After the Second World War, into the 1950’s and 1960’s there is a boom of little literary magazines and small presses in New York and Paris. These magazines and presses are publishing young, experimental writers. They are dynamic. Many are short-lived ventures, while others are still with us. In a lot of ways, this trend mirrors the avant-garde European magazine culture of the teens, 1920’s, and 1930’s. Like this earlier era of literary output and energy, Paris is a major influence, an artistic epicenter. To track and understand the social milieu in which this new American literary scene prospered, this essay, in the form of a chronology, takes a synchronic glimpse at the writers, magazines, presses, and literary influences in New York and Paris between 1945 and 1965, while keeping the pulse of the general political and cultural happenings of the era.
Focusing on American writers and publications of this era with both New York and Paris connections, this piece necessarily highlights the Beat and New York School writers. The chronology will bring to the surface important personal and publishing connections to reveal the roots of these literary movements as firmly bedded in Modernist French literature and also heavily influenced by the previous, “Lost Generation” of expatriate American writers.
Major traces the “lost generation” and of Paris’s vibrant literary were all but vanished by the by 1945. Little Anglophone magazines like The Transatlantic Review, Contact, and Transition were long gone. Sylvia Beach’s bookshop, Shakespeare and Company— hangout of Hemingway, Joyce, Stein, Ford Madox Ford and others in the twenties and thirties—was forced to shut its doors during the German occupation. People simply left the country during occupation. After the war, however, doors were opening for a younger generation of American writers. The GI Bill was passed, allowing former servicemen and writers, like Lawrence Ferlinghetti, to study at the Sorbonne. Others, like John Ashbery, came to France on Fulbright scholarships. For these and other left-leaning and countercultural artists, Paris is an artistic haven, free from the repression of McCarthyism and Cold War anxieties that marked the states in the late forties and fifties. The political and cultural disaffection is palpable in Allen Ginsberg’s then very controversial, demonized, banned and highly praised book, Howl and Other Poems, and no more so than his poem “America,” which taps the zeitgeist of young, hip, American intellectuals of the 1950’s. Here are some opening lines.
America I’ve given you all and now I’m nothing.
America two dollars and twentyseven cents January
I can’t stand my own mind.
America when will we end the human war?
Go fuck yourself with your atom bomb.
I don’t feel good don’t bother me…
Your machinery is too much for me.
You made me want to be a saint
There must be some other way to settle this argument. (39)
It isn’t surprising, after reading these lines, that Ginsberg escaped to Paris from 1957 to 1958. And can't we also hear an echo of Gertrude Stein in these lines too, when she said of Paris “It’s not what Paris gives you,” she said, “it’s what it doesn’t take away” (Sawyer-Laucanno 4). It is a push and pull relationship between the U.S. and France; America is pushing these artists out and the romance of Paris pulling them to over the Atlantic.
Of course, the push and pull is not so simple. While Parisian magazines like Merlin, Zero, Points, and Locus Solus and presses like Olympia are publishing avant-garde work by American authors that U.S. publishers and magazines would never consider, the New York scene is shifting as well. A vital antiestablishment literary coterie is developing in New York’s bohemian Greenwich Village and Lower East Side. In the span of these two decades (1945-1965) we find a transatlantic passing of writer’s and work as well as spirit, a passing of the torch from one generation of American writers to the next, from the lost generation to what Jack Kerouac so cleverly calls the “Found Generation” (Phillips 17).
* The Chronology will, of course, be filled in as my research progresses. This is only an example of form. It's an experiment. We'll see how it pans out.
Ginsberg, Allen. "America." Howl and Other Poems. San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1956. 39. Print.
Phillips, Lisa et al. Beat Culture and the New America. Paris: Flammarion. 1995. 17. Print.
Sawyer-Laucanno. The Continual Pilgrimage. New York: Grove Press, 1992. 4. Print