Celebrating the Beat Generation at Centre Pompidou

With its new exhibition, Centre Pompidou traces the steps of the pivotal literary and artistic movement that changed our cultural landscape.

Mexique, Bernard Plossu, 1966 © Bernard Plossu

The Beat Generation, that was a vision that we had … in the late forties, of a generation of crazy, illuminated hipsters suddenly rising and roaming America, serious, bumming and hitchhiking everywhere, ragged, beatific, beautiful in an ugly graceful new way – a vision gleaned from the way we had heard the word ‘beat’ spoken on street corners on Times Square and in the Village, in other cities in the downtown city night of post-war America – beat, meaning down and out but full of intense conviction.

– Jack Kerouac, “Aftermath: The Philosophy of the Beat Generation”, Esquire, March 1958.

“Beat” perpetuated the romantic, bohemian myth of the lost generation. Jack Kerouac added a contemplative subtlety to it: in “beat”, he said, we should also hear the word “beatitude”. And of course, “beat” also reflects the rhythm of jazz and the Bebop culture that inspired the prosody, rhythm and improvisatory techniques of Beat poetry.

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