Category Archives: San Francisco

American Experience: The Gold Rush (376)

An excerpt from the transcript:

James Rawls, Historian: In Gold Rush California, men from the United States who had lived lives presumably as upright citizens, came to California with great avarice. They were coming here to get rich quick. And they were frustrated men, because they were not getting rich quick, and they’re looking for someone to blame. What is the cause of my own failure? It’s not me. It’s someone else’s fault.

Narrator: Ever since the first American miners had arrived in California, they had been trying to expel foreigners from the gold fields. But for every one driven out, it seemed, another had come to seek his fortune.

Now, in 1850, there were more than 80,000 Anglo American miners in California, competition was at a fever pitch and anti-foreign sentiment was on the rise.

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KW4 (376)

  1. Spontaneous prose is the method of composition Kerouac elucidates in his short manifesto “The Essentials of Spontaneous Prose.” It indicates a heavy emphasis on spontaneity and improvisation– 2 key characteristics of Bop– and tends to value language for its subjective and musical properties. The Subterraneans is a good example of such prose: passages in that novella often run on for pages and feature sudden pivots and digressions. The purpose of this method is to peel away the confining conventions of rational, predictable writing in favor of rhythm and sound in order to express the truth of our situated, partial perceptions of reality.

8. Heavenly Lane is where Mardou, Leo’s lover in The Subterraneans, lives. The name is significant b/c it implies that Mardou is another “angel”– a beatific and modern figure whose style and sensibilities elevate her above the conformist mass who remain caught in the web of official culture, with its deadening logic and shallow, consumerist dreams. Mardou is Beat– stripped to the basics, often animated by madness, “the child of Bop”– and in these senses she represents something transcendent. Those qualities also stem from her status as African-American. Linked to a marginalized community, she retains something rooted and authentic– or so Leo believes.

3. Mise-en-scène is a film term taken from Villarejo’s short chapter on film form. It encompasses any visual element within the frame such as setting (props, decor), lighting, costume, makeup, and figure behavior. The m-e-s of Robert Frank’s ‘jazz film’ Pull My Daisy offers us a Beat world. A low-rent apartment scattered with Milo’s “tortured socks” and the homely, dilapidated accoutrements of the kitchen form the backdrop of Kerouac’s drama about a visit by the Bishop. Ginsberg (The Subterranean’s Adam Moored), Corso (Yuri Gligoric), and. others– their frantic playfulness and naughty behavior– further elaborate the fundamental beatitude (Beatness) of this world.

7. “America I’m putting my queer shoulder to the wheel.” This line comes from Ginsberg’s poem “America.” It is the speaker’s final statement ( a promise or a threat?)– a very bold one as it amounts to a confession of the poet’s sexuality in an era of crushing heteronormativity. The poem itself constitutes a thorough critique of Cold War culture. Using a sprawling, free-form line and non-standard language “America” points out the absurdity and violence of the official culture of the US, its inability to understand utopian hopes, and its harsh efforts to bend people to its “insane demands.” Personal, subjective beliefs and attitudes thus become part of an anti-conformist arsenal. Asserting his gay identity, the speaker undertakes a cultural-political act. All of this can with profit be compared with the “naked,” often embarrassing confessional stance of Kerouac’s novel. Both texts– and the Beat movement in general– argue that the truth can be revealed only by manifesting the properties and vagaries of Individual Mind.

2. Pull My Daisy is a short film by photographer Robert Frank (The Americans) narrated by Jack Kerouac and ‘starring’ Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, Peter Orlovsky, and David Amram (who also created the film’s score [extra-diegetic sound]). The title, taken from an early poem by Ginsberg, is an example of the Beats’ ‘free’ use of language as championed by Kerouac in his manifesto The Essentials of Spontaneous Prose. It also closely resembles the irony and nonsense that can be found in Ginsberg’s poem “America”. One of the more salient aspects of PMD is the contentious relationship between Milo and his wife Evelyn. As Milo’s friends clamor downstairs, excited to embark on a boys-only evening of pleasures, Evelyn and Milo argue about the Bishop’s disastrous visit. His desires are inconsistent with hers– a major feature of Leo and Mardou’s fated love affair.

5. to blow. The term can be found in Pull My Daisy, The Subterraneans, Sterrit’s short chapter, and Essentials of Spontaneous Prose. Briefly, blowing is closely associated with Jazz performance, particularly an improvised solo. When the quasi-Beat figure in DOA yells “Blow up a storm, Fisherman” he is encouraging the musician to take his musical statement as far as it will possibly go– in other words to express himself (his thought, his sentiment) as completely as he can. This is what Kerouac meant when he told would-be writrs to “blow! now! your way is your way!” To blow is to give voice to individual consciousness and perception. This conceit is portrayed in a more homely and diminutive way when Kerouac, narrating PMD, tells little Pablo to “blow boy blow”. The Beat attitude or stance, then, values self-expression, oddly enough, as an avenue to community and self-transcendence.