Paris of the Beats

William S. Burroughs in Paris

From BBC Radio 4:

Think of American writers in Paris and the chances are the first people to come to mind are the Lost Generation of the 1920s – Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Stein and friends. But a period every bit as significant in the development of American letters and the culture more broadly is often overlooked.

Professor Andrew Hussey tells the story of how a dirty, run-down hotel in the medieval heart of Paris became in the late 1950s and early 1960s a bohemian mecca, attracting some of the most important figures of the Beat Generation. And not only did those individuals live there, they also thrived among the more liberal social attitudes than they’d grown up with in America, creating some of their most important work. Allen Ginsberg wrote much of Kaddish, William Burroughs completed Naked Lunch, Gregory Corso rote BOMB; it was here that the famous cut-up technique so important to Burroughs and so influential on modern culture was invented by Bryon Gysin, and also the place where the Dream Machine – a means of inducing drug free hallucinations – was developed by Burroughs’ lover Ian Sommerville.

Andrew will also show that the Beats were much more engaged with their French surroundings than has previously been thought, meeting many of the most important European artists of the day and witnessing the frequent violence that the Algerian War brought with it to the streets in their immediate vicinity. He will make clear that the Beat movement – so often identified as strictly American in its focus – was in fact passionately internationalist and a key influence in global avant-garde political aesthetics. [Listen]

Presenter: Professor Andrew Hussey
Producer: Geoff Bird.

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