An excerpt from the new ‘Exit Right’ describes a tumultuous evening when the beatnik confronted the neocon
The trouble is that Podhoretz has a great ridiculous fat-bellied mind which he pats too often. –Allen Ginsberg, 1958
Fortunately [Ginsberg’s] ideas are not for the moment especially fashionable among the middle-class young. And yet there is enough resemblance between the current situation and the cultural climate of the 50’s to fear that his siren song may yet find its insidious way into the ears of yet another generation of restless kids, misleading and corrupting them as it did so many of their forebears in the all too recent past.-Norman Podhoretz, 1997
The young literary critic and editor Norman Podhoretz was at home one evening, in the fall of 1958, when he got a phone call. On the other end of the line was a woman who said she was Jack Kerouac’s girlfriend.
‘I’m here with Allen and Jack who would like you to come see them tonight,’ she said.
For a brief moment Podhoretz thought (hoped) it was a practical joke. Over the past year he had written three essays on the Beats, each one arriving at more certainty than the last that they weren’t the literary redeemers he’d been searching for. They weren’t the ones who would carry his generation, and the culture, out of its Eisenhower-era doldrums.
His culminating piece, “The Know-Nothing Bohemians,” published in the spring issue of Partisan Review, had been brutal. Not only were Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and the rest mostly bad writers, who’d written bad stories and books and poems, they were bad people, champions of dangerous impulses.
‘The spirit of hipsterism and the Beat Generation strikes me,’ he’d written, ‘as the same spirit which animates the young savages in leather jackets who have been running amok in the last few years with their switchblades and zip guns. … Even the relatively mild ethos of Kerouac’s books can spill over easily into brutality, for there is a suppressed cry in those books: Kill the intellectuals who can talk coherently, kill the people who can sit still for five minutes at a time, kill those incomprehensible characters who are capable of getting seriously involved with a woman, a job, a cause.’
A powwow with Ginsberg, with whom he’d been friendly back in college, and Kerouac, whom he’d abused in print, was such a perfectly awful thing to contemplate that it seemed to Podhoretz it almost had to have been cooked up by a friend.
‘But then Ginsberg got on the line,’ wrote Podhoretz in his memoir Ex-Friends, ‘and the minute I recognized his voice and realized that this was no joke, practical or otherwise, I caught myself desperately fishing for some graceful way to avoid what was sure to be a very unpleasant encounter.'”
Read the full article at Tablet