Sunday, May 01, 2005

Suggested research

Last Monday, I finally presented my findings from this ongoing project to my professor and my class. In my talk, I suggested several paper topics that could still be written on the subject of women of the Beat generation. Here are some:

1. “The Representation of Sex in the Writings of Women of the Beat Generation.”

I'm thinking particularly here of Lenore Kandel's The Love Book, a book of erotic poems that was incredibly controversial when it first came out in 1966. Like Allen Ginsberg's Howl, The Love Book was brought to trial for indecency. Also, Bonnie Bremser's Troia: Mexican Memoirs and Diane di Prima's Memoirs of a Beatnik are filled with incredibly explicit sex scenes. Di Prima admits that her book was mostly fictionalized, while Bremser has said that she was forced to slap the word "Troia" (meaning "whore" in Spanish), onto her title in order to sell it. It's hard now, in a post-Second wave feminist era, to imagine the paradox of these women's lives: sexually liberated but domestically restricted. It would be fascinating to track this paradox through the writings of women--comparing it both to the explicit sexuality in the male writing of the 1960s and also to the reality of their lives.

2. “Jews and Counter-Culture: The Rebellion of Women of the Beat Generation.”

I've already discussed this in a past post.

3. “The Typists: Documentation of Women’s Contributions to Beat Manuscripts.”

Elise Cowen typed Ginsberg's Kaddish. Bonnie Bremser typed her husband Ray's poems. Hettie Jones typed poems for YUGEN, the literary journal that she and her husband LeRoi Jones ran out of their house. Hettie also had a job typing for the Partisan Review, and it was through this association that she was able to get YUGEN distributed through Partisan’s mailing list, thus ensuring a wider audience for the likes of Ginsberg, Kerouac, and Burroughs. Perhaps I'm romanticizing the typewriter era, but it's fascinating to me the role that women played in getting the Beat men's words on paper. Did they, perhaps, make changes along the way? All I know is this brief excerpt from Tony Trigilio's essay "Reading Elise Cowen's Poetry" in Girls Who Wore Black: Women Writing the Beat Generation:

"In his essay "How 'Kaddish' Happened," Ginsberg himself describes Cowen's typing of his "Kaddish" manuscript as, paradoxically, both uninspiring and influential. As for her typing, Ginsberg characterizes Cowen as an insignificant other, the "girl [he had] known for years and had fitful lovers' relations with" and who simply retyped material from his original typed draft of the poem. Yet he also writes that when Cowen gave him a final typed copy of the manuscript, she critically observed: "You still haven't finished with your mother." (p.120)