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The Relationship of the Beat Movement to the 19th-Century Romantic Movement

February 27, 2017


Kenneth Patchen with Anais Nin, Unidentified man and Virginia Admiral, Cafe Reggio, MacDougal St, Greenwich Village, New York City (1940)

Notes Toward a Gone World

The Beats were 20th/21st-Century Romantics. Virtually everything about the Beat Movement—its lifestyles, its revolutionary spirit, its promotion of non-conformity and individualism, its aesthetic theory and poetry (especially) and fiction—would be perfectly compatible to the Romantic Movement.

That said, Romanticism is much more complex, a much broader movement. The Beats are almost exclusively American. Very little influence from European Romantics is evident. Of course, the school poets of British Romanticism prevail. Very little Gothicism from Scott, Radcliffe, etc. matters to the Beats.

But, above all else, both movements embrace subjectivity and reject objectivity. Both celebrate feelings, impressions, emotions in their searches for truth and are suspicious of studied, empirical observation separated from individuality.

Both the Romantics and the Beats see the poet/artist as a creative soul, set apart from others, who seeks to reveal himself/herself to the reader soul to soul.

Exceptions abound to everything I say above and my observations do not take into account the complexity of both movements. However, Romanticism eventually developed into postmodernism with the Beats in the vanguard. The Enlightenment developed into modernism. Twenty years ago or more I would have said that enlightenment>modernism was proving a colossal and evident failure to all while romanticism>postmodernism was predominating in intellectual, aesthetic, spiritual thought. Now I’m no longer sure and I am deeply concerned.


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