Category Archives: San Francisco

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.

HUM376 SP22LongList

Pick 3:

John Rollins Ridge, The Life and Adventures of Joaquin Murieta 9780143132653

An invented biography of the legendary figure of Joaquin Murieta, infamous outlaw and avenger.

Isabel Allende, Daughter of Fortune 9780063021747

Gold Rush Era historical romance.

Dashiell Hammett, The Maltese Falcon 9780679722649

The classic hard-boiled detective novel.

Frank Norris, Vandover and the Brute 9781554812394

Gothicky naturalist novel about a young fin-de-siecle degenerate.

C. Pam Zhang, How Much of These Hills is Gold 9780525537212

Imagistic, dense, poetic story of two Chinese children navigating the gold camps.

Alia Volz, Home Baked 9780358505020

Biography/ social document about selling cannibis edibles before age of irritating, boutique dispensaries.

Peter Maravelis (ed.) San Francisco Noir 2 9781933354651

A collection of “classic” SF noir.

Beth Lisick, Edie on the Green Screen 9781733367202

Middle-aged slacker comes to terms with the death of her mother and the banality of techbro SF.

Vendela Vida, We Run the Tides 9780062936240

Haven’t read it yet but Tom Stoppard really liked it. Set in Outer Richmond. 

Maxine Hong Kingston, Tripmaster Monkey 9780679727897

Kingston’s homage to one of her harshest detractors, Frank Chin, and the hippy trippy 60s in SF.