Peer Reviewed

Exclusive to M/m Print Plus

Neo-Avant-Garde Politics and Poetics from a Transnational Perspective: The Conversation between the Beats and Labris

Although the Beats associated with the avant-garde and although “[scholars] understand the Beat Generation in terms of a literary avant-garde,” historically and from the perspective of forms and gestures, they had in fact repeated, distorted and sometimes mocked the avant-garde.[1] They may thus be defined as a neo-avant-garde. Peter Bürger describes the neo-avant-garde as a possible double failure: not only does it repeat the gestures of the avant-garde, which, according to him, failed, but by repeating these gestures, neo-avant-gardes fail again.[2] The United States Beat poets and writers and their Dutch and Flemish counterparts were not so much a failure, but a neo-avant-garde that did much more than repeat the historical avant-garde. Indeed, for some, the Beat program seems to have worked. For instance, the Czech writer and political activist Václav Havel mentioned Beat literature as “a potential instrument for resistance to the totalitarian system that had been imposed on our existence.”[3]

In 1981 Allen Ginsberg concludes his retrospective definition of the Beats by thinking about the effects the movement had on other authors as well as on the society at large: “the fifth meaning of the phrase ‘Beat Generation’ is the influence of the literary and artistic activities of poets, filmmakers, painters, writers and novelists who were working in concert in anthologies, publishing houses, independent filmmaking, and other media.”[4] Because they are so diverse and because their forms were dissimilar, all definitions of the Beats are unsatisfactory. However, general as it is, part of this definition relates to the current criticism on the Beats. Studies have stressed the Beats’ many influences on others and notably their interaction with transnational movements. Because “the Beat movement fashioned personal and artistic identities as specifically American and as ‘Other,’” Grace and Skerl argue that “the art and social dissent of the 1940s, 1950s, and early 1960s of the Beat Generation and parallel groups in other countries fed into the broader and more politicized counterculture of the 1960s and early 1970s, which is when, for the most part, Beat writers become known outside the United States” (“Introduction to Transnational Beat,” 1, 4).

The double perspective of a reconfiguration of the neo-avant-gardes as well as a transnational perspective  extends beyond the mere study of influences that the Beats may have had on Dutch and Flemish literature. So what sort of circulation of the Beat ideology was there? Was the Beat generation an international or even transnational movement?  The aesthetics and politics of the North American Beats illuminate our case studies of Dutch literature in relation to Kerouac and in the journal Labris.

Part I. The politics & aesthetics of the Beats

The Politics of Dissent and the Praxis of Utopia

Politics was one of the defining characteristics of the Beats. Their writing was an attempt to translate or be an antidote to the politically and socially conservative, repressive, capitalistic society they lived in, i.e. McCarthyism, and the sense that the individual had lost its raison d’être. In his 1959 “Poetry, Violence, and the Trembling Lambs or Independence Day Manifesto,” Ginsberg diagnosed “a crack in the mass consciousness of America,” claiming that “America is having a nervous breakdown” (Deliberate Prose, 3). Reflecting the position of many Beat writers, he argues in “Back to the Wall” that “the art work is of one single hand, the mark of individual person: thus in prose developed thru Kerouac Burroughs Selby the nervous transcriptive spontaneous faculty. Thus in poetry the individualized meter reflective of eccentric breathing W. C. Williams thru myself Corso Kerouac Creeley Wieners Snyder etc” (6). He pits this against the political situation of the United States: “How difficult to sustain this in the USA presently occupying its deepest energies in wars (not against communism, for peace has been made with Russia) against the yellow and other races” (6). As a result, theirs was an attempt to write and act from the margins against political, cultural, religious, and individual hegemonies.

Because of the social, political, poetic and academic climate, the Beats—like Dada—challenged the institutions of poetry, of art, and of academia again by creating new anti-institutional institutions, new communities. This effort resulted in recycling some of the constructions of the avant-garde and some of their modes (performance, intervention, manifesto) by trying again to “bridge the gap between art, politics and the world” (Fazzino, “The Beat Manifesto,” 69). Ginsberg’s “Howl” and “Wichita Vortex Sutra,” Kerouac’s On The Road, Burroughs’s Naked Lunch, as well as Anne Waldman’s Fast Speaking Woman, or again Bob Kaufman’s poems, created a politics of opposition, dissent and criticism in order to foster a liberating counterculture via an aesthetics of excess that usually combined paradoxical or even antithetical characteristics such as the alternation of flux and cracks in Fast Speaking Woman, collages and epic or biblical rhythms in “Howl,” glitches and smooth sounds in Burroughs or Kaufman.

Their political aesthetics sought to act in and intervene into the public sphere, as Ginsberg’s first mythical reading of “Howl” at the Sixth Gallery in 1955 demonstrates. As he read his poem, he suddenly took the risk to experiment with the givens of what the literary institutions had prescribed, namely that the text was not to be oralized, that the poem was to be self-contained and a perfectly rounded text on a page. In “Poetry, Violence, and the Trembling Lambs or Independence Day Manifesto,” he argues that the poetry of the beats and the literature going against social normativity “has been mocked, misinterpreted, and suppressed by a horde of middlemen whose fearful allegiance to the organization of mass stereotype communication prevents them from sympathy . . . with any manifestation of unconditioned individuality . . . . Poetry is hated” (Ginsberg, Deliberate Prose, 4). His going from page to stage challenged “schools of academic criticism” who according to him hate poetry, namely the institution of New Criticism (4). This challenge was a way for him to reconnect the experience of literature to life and politics. The social function of literature was recuperated in Ginsberg’s reading at the Sixth Gallery because it created a community, however ephemeral and improvised. Although the Beats stressed the importance of the individual, the constitution of communities was a political, social gesture that was also a mere condition for the emergence of the new literature they promoted.

The editorial and educational communities that the Beats created are probably one of the most interesting enduring achievements of the movement. Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Peter D. Martin’s famous City Lights Books is a staple of the Beat community—it published some of the most famous books of the first generation, such as Ginsberg’s Howl and Other Poems (1956) and its fame is undoubtedly linked to the trial for obscenity that ensued. Moreover, it was the first press to introduce poetry pocket books in the United States. Its being both a publisher and a bookshop ensured that it was a physical space for a countercultural community. Editorially, journals were less important than for other avant-gardes and neo-avant-gardes, yet in the second generation of Beats, such as with Waldman, journals such as Angel Hair sustained the community of Beat poets and beyond.[5]

Educationally, The Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics that Allen Ginsberg, Diane di Prima, Waldman, and Chögyam Trungpa created in 1974 was another ferment of community. The founders invented an alternative educational program where a host of poets—beats and otherwise—have taught and still teach. Each summer, over the course of three weeks, poets of diverse backgrounds teach, lecture, talk, and interact in a communal way. In the first years, prominent poets and writers such as William Burroughs, Robert Duncan, di Prima, Ted Berrigan, Ron Padgett, Clark Coolidge, Jackson Mac Low, John Cage and many others came to participate in the creation of this alternative community. Ginsberg and Waldman managed to create a site both outside and within higher education that practically and effectively put their utopian politics in practice. Borrowing the concept from Hakim Bey, Waldman still refers to the educational program in poetry as a temporary autonomous zone, i.e. a pocket of resistance within the nation.[6] Through education the Beats thus applied their progressive and alternative principles. They did not just think that it would happen alone, but like at Black Mountain College, they tried to construct an alternative space for higher education. And indeed, although Naropa has become a university and Waldman constantly struggles to maintain the importance of a different and non-commercial space, The Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics is still relatively free from the massive neoliberalization of US higher education. With Naropa and with the publications that come out of Naropa such as Civil Disobedience or again the first Talking Poetics, the Beats may be said to rekindle “the avant-garde’s intention of reintegrating art into life praxis” (Bürger, Theory of the Avant-Garde, xli).[7]

While politically the Beats relate to the avant-garde via the connection of life and art, aesthetically, they also reinterpreted some of the distinct politically charged forms of the avant-garde. Burroughs and Gysin reinterpreted the art of collage with their cut-up technique (Gysin famously claimed that literature was 50 years behind art), Ginsberg famously interacted with William Carlos Williams and claimed Gertrude Stein and Walt Whitman as precursors. But they also appropriated the avant-garde genre of the manifesto. While they embraced the manifesto as seriously as Ginsberg in “Poetry, Violence, and the Trembling Lambs or Independence Day Manifesto,” the Beats were also aware of the shortcomings of the genre. For instance, in his “Abomunist manifesto” the Black Beat poet Bob Kaufman mocked the revolutionary pretensions and gravitas of the manifesto:

Abomunists join nothing but their hands or legs, or other same.

Abomunists spit anti-poetry for poetic reasons and frink.

. . .

In times of national peril, Abomunists, as reality Americans, stand ready to drink themselves to death for their country.

. . .

Abomunists do not write for money; they write the money itself.

. . .

Abomunists reject everything except snowmen.[8]

The Dada-like corrosive absurdity of the declaration was followed by “Notes Dis- and Re- Garding Abomunism” expanding on the absurdist mode of the manifesto with statements such as: “Abomunism’s main function is to unite the soul with oatmeal cookies.” At once endorsing the Dada spirit of mockery and contradicting some of Dada’s claims to subversiveness, the “Abomunist” manifesto plays explicitly with the syllable “gard” in claiming “re-gard” and “dis-regard” towards abomunism. Such causticity was also harbored by Burroughs in his “Thanks Giving Prayer,” in which he derides the institution of thanksgiving and a number of American institutions, such as the Presidency, as well as American myths, such as the so-called American dream. In 1964, Amiri Baraka, another black writer, although by then no longer a beat poet, made a similar move with “Black Dada Nihilismus.” David Grundy characterizes the poem as “pre-emptively ironiz[ing] its own claims to transgressive agency.”[9] And indeed, while reenacting an evidently political avant-gardist genre, Baraka’s abrasiveness and Kaufman’s absurdism also point to the political and aesthetic ambiguities and contradictions of the Beats.

Ambiguities and Contradictions

Indeed, the Beat program was often construed as a predominantly white male movement. For all their inclusiveness and their progressive politics, until a recent reappraisal, women and Black Beats were often sidelined, and Beats were often restricted to the famous four males: Kerouac, Ginsberg, Gysin, and Burroughs. The role of women such as Joanne Kyger, Waldman, as well as di Prima and Hetti Jones was largely forgotten, although a later book-poem such as Waldman’s Fast Speaking Woman exposed a forceful feminism and was an intervention into the larger political spectrum as well as a powerful readjustment of the gender politics of the Beats.[10]

The political contradictions of the Beats were further exposed by their dual relation to the media.[11] To Ginsberg they were the roots of many evils, namely of the loss of consciousness of the American people: “the only immediate historical data that we can know and act on are those fed to our senses through systems of mass communication” (Deliberate Prose, 3). Yet, Burroughs was enthused by the magic of tape.[12] Because they wished for a poetics of presence, they seemed to be averse to technology, and yet, as Michael Davidson has shown, they relied heavily on new technologies, such as the tape recorder.[13] While they went against new media, such as in Ginsberg’s anti-TV and anti-telephone poems, they also sought to attract the media and tried to publicize their image for the purpose of political activism and mass protests. Charles Bernstein analyzes this as one of the main problems in the Beats careers.[14] 

In a sense, this relates to the last ambiguity tackled in this article in relation to the politics and aesthetics of the Beats, namely the relation to the “other.” While tape was seen by Burroughs as recording otherness (“it seems that tape recordings made with no apparent input have turned up unexplained voices on the tape”), the presence of the other in Beat writing is not just spectral (Burroughs, “It Belongs to the Cucumbers,” 63). Beat literature is a site of and for otherness, as well as a site for the redefinition of America and American literature.

Their relation to the avant-garde was evidently and self-avowedly transnational as they referred to the likes of Guillaume Apollinaire, Jean Genet, and Antonin Artaud, or again looked back to Dada and futurism, as, for example Kaufman did. But this transnationalism in influence was, at the start at least, mainly European. As many recent studies have shown, the Beat transnationalism, including their reading of international writers, their trips outside of the USA, and their influence on international movements, is a complex issue both steeped in the criticism of capitalistic globalization and yet also part of a wider movement of increasing global American influence, which was sometimes problematic, culturally speaking.[15] Certainly, their trips to Paris, Tangiers, Mexico, Japan were ways to escape conventional America, but these also were infused with problems and complexities. For instance, Kyger’s experience of patriarchy in Japan was dissimilar to Whalen’s, he being more at ease.[16] The question remains whether the Beats were a transnational movement. Hence our approach: we do not want to study transnationalism in terms of influence, nor do we wish to show how a beat movement developed outside of the US—it would be too America-centric and in doing so it would negate local autonomy. Our perspective is a means to think of a transnationalism that does not abolish local and national specificities—even though it is critical of the specificities and of the boundaries that nation-states create. Instead, we present the model of a transnationalism that considers parallel movements and the endeavors of particular, isolated groups (e.g. the Beats and Labris) that sometimes work together in a relation that is something other than influence or collaboration. The study of Labris in the Low Countries is a way to view literary relations between groups and movements as a complex nexus of reinterpretations and recompositions, without transforming oneself into the other.

Part II. The labyrinthic laboratory of Labris: conversations with the Beats

The Flemish experimental magazine Labris is a good example of the dissemination of Beat ideas and poetics transnationally, making it not simply a journal direct influenced by the Beats, but one engaged in both genuine and imagined dialogue. Though they corresponded with several Beat writers, published some of their work in their own magazine (in English or in translation), and wrote essays on the Beats, Labris’s aesthetic legacy is wider. The journal claimed to be the mouthpiece of the “sixtiers,” a group of innovative writers who distanced themselves from their immediate forebears, the experimental fiftiers and fifty-fivers. The neo-avant-garde is always about groups, communities, and belonging, and Labris is no exception to that general principle. The magazine was founded by Jef Bierkens, a Beats enthusiast, Leon van Essche, Ivo Vroom, Hugo Neefs, and Marcel van Maele. Although they stressed their individuality time and again, they considered their magazine a unique place for collective artistic action. It not only advocated a radical neo-avant-garde stand, it lasted—in contrast to most similar magazines in Belgium and abroad—more than a decade, from 1962 until 1973. Labris was fascinated by surrealist avant-gardists, beat literature, neo-avant-garde arts and, like the Beats, by jazz.

Material and Programmatic Aspects

From its very beginning, Labris constituted an exception in the productive climate of neo-avant-garde literature in Belgium. In contrast to a few dozen of other magazines at that time (and even in sharp contrast with its immediate predecessor Kontrast which was printed in full color and presented a “nice” anthology of creative writing and art), Labris opted not for a nicely printed and richly illustrated realization, but, quite on the contrary, for a cheap and more precisely cheap-looking profile. In fact, the magazine was stenciled, a Xerox-made collection of separate pages, stapled together in a rather amateurish manner. The front page was made of heavier paper in one color and contained a typographic artwork by Leon van Essche; in some cases, that illustration served for a whole year, in other instances there was a different illustration for each issue. This specific appearance was no coincidence but a program in itself. On the one hand, it displayed the wish to participate in the neo-avant-garde by leaving out deliberately all indications which referred to established literature. In this respect, the material presentation of the magazine provided associations with “non-bourgeois” literature, with underground, with small group enterprises. Finally, it can be seen as a proof of the editor’s wish to actually “work” in literature, bringing authorship closer to real craftsmanship than to immaterial creativity. Making the issues (typing the texts on stencils, printing those with an industrial machine, sorting all the pages out and stapling them together into issues) was considered a constitutive component of literature, and the author thus presented himself as a “laborer” and by no means as a bourgeois who was afraid to get dirty hands. This can be seen as a Beat attitude in itself. In the US, publications with a similar casual aesthetics appeared, as shown in the so-called mimeo revolution.[17]

This manner of presentation offered, moreover, the possibility to react very fast. Instead of having to wait for several months (sometimes more than a year, in the case of very established traditional magazines), contributions were published almost immediately. This permitted them to present works in progress in order to get reactions from readers and colleagues, or to present unfinished work. As a matter of fact, Labris published several chapters of unpublished experimental novels (for instance from Leonard Nolens, who later became famous as a poet) and quite a number of preliminary versions of creations which appeared in a more official and definitive version later on. Moreover, Labris intended to provide its readers with accurate and actual information concerning all kinds of interesting manifestations and initiatives in the world of neo-avant-garde culture: books and magazines, but also public readings, jazz concerts, innovative films, colloquia, and so on. In fact, since the magazine was distributed only a limited times a year, Labris editors decided to initiate a series of pamphlets called LosLabrisLos (loose Labris loose), which were sent to the subscribers of the magazine. Whereas these loose pamphlets originated in an informative urgency, they gradually transformed into a kind of magazine of their own, concentrating mainly on book reviews, polemical statements and an informative agenda (and only publishing poems occasionally).

In this respect, the process may be considered more important than the artistic result. Labris intended to provide its readers with permanent impulses and a continuous stream of information and experimentalism. This resulted in what could be called a double strategy. On the one hand, isolated articles and poems got published very fast, enhancing the impression of the momentaneous and the associative stream of literary discourse, the ongoing attitude of nonconformism and the stress on the everlasting importance of new neo-avant-garde initiatives, in Belgium but also all over the world. On the other hand, however, this discontinuity also established new forms of continuity and coherence, by relating individual articles and ideas to others. This results in a complex discursive constellation of themes and motives which was intended to stress both the dispersion and the coherence of neo-avant-garde on a large scale.

Consequently (and in contrast to what most literary historians assume), Labris was not primarily interested in the realization of a collective or homogeneous program. Like the Beats, it was a fluid community of individual artists who, however, shared the same idea of literature as a transgressive and deliberately oppositional activity in society. To this end, Labris created a complex portrait of the contemporary neo-avant-garde combining productive elements from jazz and beat, but also from surrealism and the historical avant-garde, which were considered crucial episodes in the liberation of language and the individual’s expression. As a matter of fact, from the onset, heterogeneity, individuality and even conflict were considered essential for the specific experimental and anti-establishment purposes of the new magazine. The very title of the magazine alluded to the mythological labrys, a double-bitted axe. This name is in itself symptomatic of the wish to combine entirely different practices and views on literature. Moreover, the Greek word “labrys” was considered to be related etymologically to the notion of the labyrinth. This was seen as an excellent metaphor for the searching experimental attitude of the writer and the nonlinear, often hermetic structure of the literary text.

This attitude can be explained partly by the history of the magazine; its editorial team had antecedents in two earlier magazines, the moderately modernist Kontrast and the more radical magazine Syntheze. In view of this unity through diversity, it is apt that the first issue of the magazine, which was published in October 1962, does not open with a collective manifesto. Instead, it starts off with a personal statement by Hugo Neefs, the main critical voice in the newly founded magazine, who sketches the foundations of the new literature which Labris intends to promote. He stresses the individual differences but at the same time recognizes a similar desire: to realize the so-called “autonomy of the poem,” a popular phrase used to refer to poetry which aims not at a realistic and anecdotal (autobiographical) portrait but rather at the radical exploration of poetic language as such. Literary language does not reflect reality, it creates realities.

Although these utterances have often been interpreted as a real collective manifesto, Neefs’s text is the first episode in a series of individual statements written by the main collaborators of the magazine. In the following issues of the first year, similar declarations are given by van Essche (an even more theoretically-based program but printed as a constructivist poem), by van Maele (written deliberately as a poem) and finally by Bierkens and Kazan, who writes an associative and even surrealist concatenation of ideas and images, referring more than his colleagues to legendary modernist precursors such as Rimbaud and Hugo Ball, but also to the contemporary poet Robert Duncan, the film icon James Dean, and to jazz. Taken together, this quartet of credos demonstrates the underlying conviction that creative individuality and consistent literary thinking need not contradict each other.

As a matter of fact, in the following years Labris explored two seemingly contradictory tendencies. Editors Vroom and van Essche evolved into concrete-visual poetry, and they realized some internationally oriented issues in which all major representatives of concrete poetry—from Belgium, but also from Eastern Europe, from Great Britain and the US, and even from Brazil and India—published new work on the verge of literature and the arts. In contrast to this “objective” literary program, Bierkens on the other hand explored the “subjective” dimension of literature, radicalizing the romantic esthetic view on the artist as a complete outsider in society, somebody who explores his own inner universe radically and regardless of what others might think.

Explicit Beat References in Labris

A similar broad attitude can be seen regarding the explicit presentation and transformation of Beat literature in Labris. The very word “beat” pops up quite frequently in the issues of Labris (clearly reaching a climax around 1965), but its meaning is by no means consistent. In some cases, the word refers to the general attitude of the younger generation. In this respect it is almost synonymous with other notions, such as “provo,” “angry young men,” or “nozem” (the Dutch word for young people with long hair, who refuse to conform to societal norms). “Beat” is then associated with nonconformity and rebellion on the one hand, and with absolute freedom on the other. The young poet Werner Cranshoff, for instance, publishes in the first issue of Labris, a long narrative poem, entitled “Nomadic,” in which he describes the existential search of the young generation, including a lot of contemporary cultural references.[18] Yet, the term “Beat” is not mentioned as such, although the spirit of the entire poem is clearly “Beat,” depicting a lyrical I which refuses to integrate in society but instead lives in his own world of literature, music and the ambition of a non-bourgeois freedom. Jazz critic Edmond Devoghelaere uses the notion “Beat” a few times, but related strictly to the context of specific jazz records, although he also mentions “Beat” in an article on James Baldwin. His use of the notion of “Beat”—even in the context of a specific literary practice or a generation of writers—remains rather loose and coincidental. 

In contrast, Bierkens himself writes a large number of essays in which several experimental American authors, including Kerouac, Bukowski, Burroughs, O’Hara, and Corso, are presented to the Flemish public. At first, his interest into transgressive and nonconformist writers encompasses all kinds of avant-garde oeuvres, including French surrealist and even romantic writers and poets. Very soon, however, he discovers his contemporaries, especially from the US, and his initial fascination for writers such as Henry Miller and Anaïs Nin develops into a fanatic fascination for Kerouac (and, to a lesser extent, Kerouac’s literary companions as well). Bierkens writes to various American publishers in order to obtain the entirety of Kerouac’s oeuvre, and in a series of essays he takes the Labris reader on an adventurous journey in Kerouac’s life and his textual universe. In fact, those essays often combine biographical information with textual close readings.

Moreover, Bierkens regularly links the Beat writer not only to his immediate context, but also to the prestigious historical avant-garde, for instance, by comparing some of Kerouac’s stylistic devices with James Joyce’s radical language experiments.[19] In this respect, Bierkens not only hopes to gain respect for Kerouac’s writings (especially coming from respectable literary critics, since the typical Labris reader is not interested in such bourgeois evaluations), he also proposes a historical genealogy of the youngest generation of America writers. It is clear that as a writer he identifies himself to a large extent with the seeker Kerouac, who tries to “invent” an entirely free existence and an innovative, extremely subjective and associative style which fits in perfectly with the present times (and with jazz).

This fervent (even obsessional) fascination with Kerouac, both as a person and as a writer, culminates in the book-length essay we will discuss presently. Later on, Bierkens continues to provide his readers with additional notes and new data. In this respect, his articles and the Labris-context provide one of the most detailed and most productive interaction with Kerouac and the literary Beats in Western Europe at that time.

Part III: On the Road to Flanders: Jef Bierkens and Jack Kerouac

Jef Bierkens’s Poetics of Dissent

Born in 1939, Bierkens was a generation younger than Kerouac. His fascination for the Beat writer is by no means a coincidence. As a young adolescent, Bierkens was fascinated by surrealist literature and Beat in a double way.[20] Firstly, they provided the social critique that nourished Bierkens. As we have shown above, both surrealism and Beat severely criticized the norms inherent to bourgeois society, politically (the hegemonic and repressive behavior of so-called “authorities”), ideologically and morally (the so-called universal values of humanity and religion), and even existentially (the urgency to conform to others in order to be an integrated citizen in a democratic state). As an alternative, they demonstrated the richness of ultimate freedom and individuality, ranging from all kinds of transgression (a frequent phenomenon in surrealist literature) to a spiritual journey (as in some Beat novels).

Secondly, the contact with these avant-gardist and neo-avant-gardist literary practices strengthened the young writer in the belief that new times requested new forms of literature. The classical tradition of poetry and fiction was by no means apt to convey the new experiences of the younger generations and thus needed to be challenged or even destroyed. Instead of merely imitating the so-called “eternal” principles of classical poetics, Bierkens started to explore new ways of writing literature. More specifically, he borrowed from the historical avant-garde (notably surrealism) the abundant use of imagery and associations and the destruction of traditional syntax, and from the Beat authors the use of novel word combinations, of stream-of-consciousness, and of seemingly incoherent fragments.

In addition, and even most importantly, Bierkens was captivated by jazz musicians. From their repertoire he learned the importance of rhythm, of the intriguing use of repetition, variation, and contrast, of anti-rhythmic sequences, of silences and pauses in contrast to extensive musical phrases. Jazz music demonstrated the bodily expression via sound by turning both breath and voice into genuine musical instruments. Writing about jazz was not enough for Bierkens. The writing itself should be like jazz, as his monograph on Kerouac makes clear.

Bierkens’s poetry offers typical specimens of what we define as neo-avant-garde. His poems consisted of eruptions of language, isolated words which were not brought together by a clear-cut syntactic connection (inscribed in the very idea of language as a code) but instead depended on the reader to connect them in the reading process. Moreover, the chain of words left behind “useless” words such as articles or prepositions, and the finite verb was often replaced by an infinitive or a (present or past) participle. Finally, a lot of words have a compound structure as they combine two or more words into a complex neologism. Bierkens concentrates on the rhythmic and sound structure of his poetry. In an attempt to imitate the patterns of jazz, Bierkens creates concatenations of stressed syllables and bombards the reader with abundant alliterations and assonances (often combined with anagrammatic associations as well). In this respect, his eruptive sequences resemble the writing practices of Beat authors such as Ginsberg, Kerouac, and Waldman.

Bierkens’s familiarity with Beat literature can also be seen on the thematic level. For instance, he turns the lyrical I into an alter ego helping him to cope with the frustrations of the daily world. Like Ginsberg, he transgresses bourgeois norms and values (religion, moral and sexual conformity, money, and polite language) and maximizes emotions and events. Vulnerable though the lyrical I may be, it resorts to extreme transgressions in violence, mystical experiences, and extreme sexuality, even alluding to rape. Yet, the violent and often offensive language used both by Ginsberg and Bierkens not only attempts to enlarge the subjectivity and the supposedly absolute freedom of the speaker, it also masquerades the fragility of the I in a chaotic universe.

Bierkens’s Creative Dialogue with Kerouac

In March 1965 Jef Bierkens published Jack Kerouac: goudgeneratief, gebopbaar & mistigmistieke madman der droevige verdwazing, the first Dutch monograph on the Beat writer.[21] The book appeared as the seventh issue of the Labyrinth-series, supervised by Labris. Bierkens’s subtitle initiates the dialogue with Kerouac by describing the Beat writer in a rhythmic concatenation of associative images. A possible approximate translation might read: “Jack Kerouac, goldgenerative bebopable & mistymystical madman of sad bewilderment.” This may be read as an enumeration of the characteristics that Bierkens sees as vital to the Beat generation and to Kerouac. First, there is the idea that Kerouac produces gold, an idea which resurfaces in the monograph, for instance in the discussion of Doctor Sax and of Pull My Daisy (Bierkens, Jack Kerouac, 118, 136). Moreover, the image of Kerouac as a gold-digger ties in with Bierkens’s view of the Beat writer as someone who explores the subconscious and, more generally, the underworld, i.e. the world hidden underneath the hypocritical values of capitalism. In this subterranean universe, the Beat artist discovers his forms and his creativity.

Essential to this form and creativity is jazz, and that is the second characteristic of Beat denoted by the title. As we shall see, Bierkens in his book connects Beat with a lot of movements and traditions, but the most important of these is bebop. Literature breathing, singing, and improvising like bebop, literature as a play with the materiality and musicality of language in itself—that is what Beat is all about for Bierkens. Thirdly, there is the religious undercurrent in Beat. In the case of Kerouac, this embraces Catholicism, American transcendentalism, and Zen. The mix results in a personal and ever-changing form of mysticism which looks for transcendence in nature, in the subconscious, and in the senses, rather than in institutionalized forms of religion or in cerebral meditations. This hazy and undefinable spirituality is denoted by the term “mistymystical.”

Finally, Beat refuses the rationality and logic of the bourgeoisie (the “squares” as they are called). In the eyes of the well-adapted conformist, the Beat poet is a madman. In the experience of the poet, the tension between his so-called madness and society’s alleged normality, leads to sadness, desperation, and a feeling of being completely disoriented. The endless travels so typical of Kerouac’s life and work give an unusual narrative form to this bafflement—unusual in that it does not follow a clear path or goal; it looks more like an aimless form of wandering. To Bierkens, this expresses a paradoxical form of fatalism as it seems to embrace fate, while at the same time running away from it.

The book’s title may seem wild and erratic, but it actually contains the essential concepts of Bierkens’s analysis. The book itself is a well-structured and very well-informed analysis of Kerouac’s poetry and prose. Bierkens uses substantial secondary sources on Beat and on Kerouac, not half of which are listed in his twenty-two-item bibliography. He quotes these sources extensively in English. Several times Bierkens quotes from his private correspondence with Kerouac.

The study opens with a general perspective on Beat and Kerouac. This takes the form of a twenty-page dialogue between “J.” and “M.,” probably Jef Bierkens and his literary alter ego Max Kazan (a pseudonym regularly used by the author). After the introduction, the dialogue continues, but now focuses on Kerouac’s poetry. From page 45 onward, “J.” discusses some ten prose works by Kerouac, starting with The Town and the City (1950) and ending with Visions of Gerard (1963).[22] These discussions all follow the same pattern: they start with a long and detailed summary of the sjuzhet (not the fabula) and then go on to a more succinct analysis. In between these discussions of Kerouac’s prose, M. reappears in a brief interlude dealing with the film and script Pull My Daisy (1959). At the end, there is a conclusion which neatly lists all the essential characteristics of Kerouac’s work. On the whole, the book is a useful introduction rather than a wildly poetic and deeply empathic digression—though there are signs of that too. We shall look at this more closely from the perspective of the core concepts expounded in the first part of our article.

(1) Communities, groups and belonging

In line with Labris’s poetics, the first page of Jack Kerouac clearly states that the study will focus on texts and not on the sensational images spread by “weekly magazines such as Time, Life, and Paris Match” (Bierkens, Jack Kerouac, 1; all translations of Bierkens’s text are our own). Literature is not a matter of social images and actions. In Bierkens’s view, too much attention has been paid to “the outward appearance of Beatniks: their clothes and their acta” (1). Bierkens wants to set these aside for “an intensive reading of the literary products of the Beatniks, combined with our own experience of Life-as-a-youngster” (1).  The second aspect of the study—the personal life experience of young people—remains far less visible than the first one, but it pops up every now and then, especially when Bierkens discusses the Beats’ social position as outsiders.

Bierkens makes marginal spaces central to his description of the Beats-as-a-social-group and of the Beats as opposed to other outsiders such as hipsters, junkies, and youth gangs. He is quite critical of these other groups. For instance, gangs are slaves to capitalist materialism; hipsters try to be fashionable and thereby lose their critical edge. However, Bierkens also draws attention to the similarities between the various groups, especially the hipsters. Just like Beats, they try to live in and for the moment, they adore jazz, and they develop their own language. But the differences between the two groups are crucial: the hipsters’ language is simple and stereotypical, whereas the newfound language of the Beats is experimental, rhythmical, and surprising. Both explore sexuality, but for the Beats this is a road to spiritual freedom, whereas for hipsters it is restricted to physical release. In line with this, the Beat movement has more ideals than the hipsters.

According to Bierkens, what unites all Beats, apart from their youthfulness, is their anti-capitalist stance. They all rage against American materialism, which in their (and Bierkens’s) descriptions seems to be riddled with corruption, racism, exploitation of labor forces, and so on. This “revolting tyranny of the mercantile spirit” has led to dehumanization and to the destruction of nature (10). The ideals of the Beat are related to these two aspects: they want to develop a new kind of human being, who is not led by rationality and materialism but by a Reichian embrace of life and of vital instincts. This should reunite man with nature, which in the process would be freed from capitalist exploitation.

The ideals of a new man and a rediscovered unity with nature characterize the Beats as a community, but at the same time they assert the individual’s freedom to distance him- or herself from any group. Bierkens aligns this with Miller and characterizes it as follows: “social critique, living in nature (Big Sur!), good and healthy food, sexual freedom, pantheism, vitality, healthy children, healthy, anti-scrupulous education, safeguarding individual freedom in an absorbing and number-producing community” (96). The idea of children and youth is important here: in his discussion of Visions of Gerard, Bierkens compares Kerouac to “a child—in the good sense of the word” (147): the child is open to life, nature and its miracles, it is not yet spoiled by materialism and by the social struggle for survival. Moreover, it is also important in various avant-garde movements, like Cubism. Bierkens explicitly links “Picasso in his Cubist works” with “the reality of the child” (116–17).

In Big Sur (1962) Kerouac describes how he retreats from society and tries to live in nature, in a cabin in Big Sur. His isolation is disrupted at regular intervals when his Beat friends come to stay with him. At this stage, Kerouac seems to have outgrown the noise and hectic vitality of Beat. Moreover, he is, in his own words, “sick and tired of all the endless enthusiasm of new young kids”—“and I’m supposed to be the King of Beatniks” (141). So, being young and being Beat is not really—or no longer—sufficient to be part of a larger whole, a community. In Bierkens’s discussion of Kerouac’s work, there is talk of friendship and love (usually tragic and failed), but not really of belonging to a clear and well-delineated social unity.

After comparing the Beats to social groups such as the Hipsters, Bierkens goes on to align the Beats with artistic and literary movements and generations, both of the past and the present. As to the present and to poetry, Bierkens draws parallels and points to differences between Kerouac’s poetry and the schools of Black Mountain, the San Francisco Renaissance, the New York Poets, and an upcoming group of poets “who have developed their own sound and poetics” including LeRoi Jones (21). More generally, he links the Beat generation to the interwar Lost Generation (including F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Wolfe, and Stein), but he contrasts their despondency with the Beats’ search for a new spirituality. The latter is embedded in the American tradition of Transcendentalism, exemplified by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Whitman, all of whom Bierkens discusses at some length. The religious family of the Beats is completed by Emanuel Swedenborg and Gérard De Nerval (116). As a matter of fact, Bierkens had already published on most of these authors in Labris before.

The tradition of modernism also leaves traces in the work of the Beats. Bierkens sees forerunners of Kerouac’s “spontaneous prose” in writers such as Charles Baudelaire, Arthur Rimbaud, James Joyce (specifically the Joyce of Finnegans Wake), William Faulkner, and Italo Svevo (32). While these combined social criticism with experimental forms, the traditional realism of socially critical writers such as Sinclair Lewis, Richard Wright, Theodore Dreiser, and James T. Farrell also resounds in the anti-capitalist stance of Beat writers (147). To the Beats, realists are preferable to academic writers, who Bierkens describes as “shitpants” (150).

As to the historical avant-garde, Bierkens repeatedly points to two movements that influenced the Beat generation: surrealism and Dadaism. In his conclusion, he seems to suggest the Beats and Kerouac stand for a post-war type of avant-garde that is as important as those two historical forms: “Jack Kerouac is the antenna of the Beatniks, the antenna of an important post-war generation which to me is as important as the Dada Mouvement and the Mouvement Surréaliste, THE BEAT GENERATION” (151). Like the surrealists, the Beats wanted to free the subconscious and explore the (under)world of dreams and instincts. Kerouac’s spontaneous prose is close to the surrealist écriture automatique (11, 132–34). According to Bierkens, “the poetry of the Beatniks can, in its entirety, be seen as an American kind of surrealism” (30). Beat’s link with Dadaism can be found in its embrace of ordinary, natural life and its dislike of academic, highbrow artistic theory and practice. The Beats did not shy away from more popular art forms, such as film. In passing, Bierkens singles out the burlesque portrayal of dehumanized mankind in the films of Charlie Chaplin (132).   

To Bierkens, all of these links to artistic communities pale in comparison with the close alliance between Beat and jazz. Certainly for Kerouac, jazz is more important than any other artistic or literary tradition: “In Kerouac’s work, I can see the influence of jazz more clearly than the influence of breakthroughs and innovations in the domain of fiction” (88). When discussing the meaning of the term “Beat,” Bierkens accepts the traditional explanations of Beat as broken (or lost) and beatitude, but he insists: “In my view, the word ‘beat’ is most directly linked to jazz-beat: this is proven by the catchphrases GOGOGO and ‘Let’s Swing’, and by the jazz-interpretations of the Beats” (19). Maybe this focus on jazz can be explained by Bierkens’s poetics: to him the text and its form are more important than the context and the themes. Jazz influences Beat precisely on the formal level. Kerouac’s spontaneous prose, his sense of rhythm and his exploitation of the sound of words, is very close to the musical language of bebop and to the scat vocals of jazz.

(2) Avant-Garde Forms

Bierkens’s preference for Kerouac goes hand in hand with his penchant for experimental forms. “To me,” he says, “Kerouac is the most important language-artist of his generation & he uses words like no one else in his clan can (apart from Burroughs). What is important: through his style and technique, Kerouac piques my interest – he stimulates me as an active member of the literary avant-garde” (36). Bierkens immediately specifies Kerouac’s technique as “wordly jazz,” distinguished by its rhythmic and improvisational character (36). “The main achievement of Kerouac resides, to my mind, in the fact that he has used jazz as the undertone for most of his books, he has brought it to the domain of the novel without seriously losing its spontaneous and fantastic creative freedom” (150).

Perhaps more important still is the self-positioning of Bierkens and his Labris friends via the formal link between jazz and literary neo-avant-garde: “The Beats have always tried to get a perfect interaction between Jazz & Poetry, and they have tried to improvise, like instruments in a combo, they have improvised collectively + the message of the poet—in this the Labris boys have been quite successful” (42).

This is the most explicit form of self-positioning in the book. Through its jazz-like experimental technique and form, Labris circulates the essence of Kerouac and the best of the Beat generation. The best resides in the formal play and perfection which characterizes the voice of the Beat writer while at the same time moving away from the superficialities of the writer as a person. Opposed to this, there is the circulation of the Beats’ superficial and exterior aspects, such as the aforementioned “clothes and acta” (1). To Bierkens, that form of internationalization is lethal: “In 1961, the Beat Generation was disbanded completely; their leaders were scattered all over the world” (8). In 1957, the Beats formed a group, much like a jazz combo. In 1961 the combo had already dissolved.

The influence of jazz forms is more obvious in poetry than in prose, but in the best prose, it is still clearly observable. Bierkens discusses the similarities between Kerouac’s poetry and “scat vocal,” which he traces back to Louis Armstrong (39). And again, Bierkens uses this for self-positioning. He even—and this is very rare—talks about his own experience as an adolescent. When he discusses Ella Fitzgerald, he says he cried when he heard her scat singing. In her music, “the sorrow of the world was wrapped up and put away, including my own misery (lack of affection as an adolescent, in short, you know the holy litany of youth) and I wept” (40). Bierkens quotes a letter Kerouac sent him: “The relation between jazz and poetry is this: poetry should be written as tho one were walking thru the fire ordeal. The spontaneity is a discipline a hunnerd [sic] times harder than anything the academicians do biting the ends of their pencils like idiots” (43).

When reviewing Kerouac’s prose, Bierkens is hard on books that tell traditional stories in traditional ways and he applauds works which sound like jazz and which refuse to accept sentimental melodies, that is, old-fashioned story-lines. Big Sur is “a boring book” because the style is powerless and there are no traces of jazz forms (143). Tristessa (1960) is marred by “the superficiality with which Kerouac wrote the book” (106). The structure is simple and the music sentimental. The best of Kerouac’s fiction is to be found in The Subterraneans (1958), which Bierkens sees as the work that is influenced most deeply by bepop. He concludes his essay on the book: “I regard this work as one of the best that modern American literature has given to us” (91). Doctor Sax (1959) is “a masterpiece like The Subterraneans,” though the improvisational nature of bepop has given way to a mannerist and hermetic exploitation of language (118). Book of Dreams (1961) completes Bierkens’s top three. It combines a surrealist exploration of the subconscious with the drive of bepop jazz. The result is “an enormously bopping book in which Kerouac liberates himself from the mechanical dung-routine of everyday life . . . . In literary terms, it has affinities with the écriture automatique of the surrealists and the concise explosions of Miller and Burroughs, but most importantly it is carried along by an exuberant bebop-undertone which grants the whole an orgiastic shimmer” (134).

Apart from its relations with surrealism, scat vocal has ties with Dadaism too: “people often talk about the bond between scat vocal and the Lautgedichte of the Dadaists, I think, for instance of Hugo Ball: gladji beri bimba” (40). Admittedly, Bierkens goes on to correct this idea by pointing to the different functions of sound: with Dadaism it still has thematic and semantic bearings, whereas in scat vocal, it is pure melody and phrasing (40­–41). But this does not deter from the fact that the two are intertwined. Moreover, the difference advanced by Bierkens is in itself quite contentious.

To sum up, the strength of Beat forms can be found in the combination of surrealist, Dadaist and jazz techniques. The combination is not grounded in theoretical reasoning, nor is it academically implemented. It is spontaneous, it derives from the subconscious and the senses. It is, as we shall see now, directly related to life itself.

(3) The Avant-Garde Way of Life

Paraphrasing Michael Fraenkel’s advice to Miller, Bierkens says: “Write like you talk, like you live, feel, and think. The first duty of a writer is to be himself or herself” (12). This exploration of the self is a continuous presence in Bierkens’s analyses and it is often linked to religion, for instance to Zen Buddhism, which taught the Beatniks “to strip the human being from all secondary characteristics which do not belong to his being, and that gives man back to himself” (17). This, as we mentioned earlier, does not refer to any institutionalized form of belief; it is essentially the religion of life itself. When discussing Gregory Corso, Bierkens says that his poetry reflects “the full life” in all its creative and spontaneous power (27).

Again, the bridge between art and life is not to be found in themes and content, but in techniques and forms. At its best, the work of Kerouac and the Beats sings the melodies of life, it swings like life itself. In the evolution of Kerouac, this musicalization of life begins with On the Road (1957): “With every new city they reach, a new melody begins, which, through other melodies and subsidiary themes, gets interwoven with the main melody, which encompasses all the winding and twisting moves, and which is the melody of life. Kerouac’s words in On the Road swing – in contrast to his earlier works” (75). In The Dharma Bums (1958), the trinity life/ art/ religion is celebrated. Zen is shown to be a way of living, like art: “Art and way of life go hand in hand here as both liberate” (96). Religion may traditionally be linked to the spirit and the mind, but in the case of the Beats, it is rooted in the senses and the body. As Kerouac says in Book of Dreams: “Woke up realizing sex is life—sex & art—that or die” (133).

In short, the link between art and life lies in the creative form. The creativity of life is reflected in the spontaneous and musical form of Beat art: “The result of their troubles is a pretty pure improvisational art, with present-day reality as its main motif, which makes the heartbeat of modern man audible, and whose rhythm has been brought in alliance with the rhythm of life as it is now” (136). This form and its direct line to life ensure that Beat art is never abstract, academic or disengaged. Its social engagement and critique are, in Bierkens’s view, to be found here. So, the three dimensions we discussed (social belonging, avant-garde forms, life and art) all come together in the experimental forms the Beats used in line with surrealism, Dadaism, and, most importantly, jazz.


The interaction between Beat and Labris, Kerouac and Bierkens, highlights aspects of their political and artistic views and practices. Both the Beats and Labris reject the capitalist ethos, they write from the margins and in so doing foster alternative communities in which spontaneity and unity with nature are of great importance. Though this may link them up with other groups, they still insist on their own distinctive stance. The social and political logic of distinction still holds.[23] The oppositional drive also characterizes the aesthetic ideas and practices of the Beat and Labris. Both groups distanced themselves from the elitist, highbrow, academic, and classical aesthetics. Both embraced a wide diversity of literary forms, drawing heavily upon both the historical avant-garde and the contemporary jazz scene. In this respect, though, Labris opted more exclusively and more explicitly for experimental techniques (surfacing amongst others in bebop, surrealism and Dadaism) and refused to make use of popular media such as radio and television. This is visible in Bierkens’s presentation of Kerouac’s writing: he pays most attention to the surrealist and experimental Kerouac and has no sympathy for the “simply” autobiographical texts or for the popular image of the author. This further supports our hypothesis that the dialogue between the two implies much more than so-called influence.

The political preference for experimental and “oppositional” techniques does not mean that Labris and the Beats separate their art from life. Quite on the contrary, the seemingly autonomous play with unusual forms and with the materiality of language is proposed as a way to connect art with the basics of life, its physical materiality and spontaneous drive. This is the third aspect our transnational perspective brought to the fore. It harks back to the first, as this connection between art and life unites the writer with nature. In America and in many transnational versions of the Beat, this may quickly have become a lifestyle and a fashion, but according to Bierkens (and Labris) Beat aesthetics becomes uninteresting from that moment onwards. The power of Beat literature resides in its (neo-)avant-garde refusal to ever settle for a definitive political or aesthetic stance. The transnational circulations of Beat aesthetics and Beat writers may be one of the most powerful means to ensure this continued renovation and longevity. 


[1] Clinton R. Starr, “‘I Want to Be with My Own Kind’: Individual Resistance and Collective Action in the Beat Counterculture,” in Jennie Skerl, ed., Reconstructing the Beats (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), 41–54, 41. For references to the avant-garde see Jimmy Fazzino, “The Beat Manifesto: Avant-Garde Poetics and the Worlded Circuits of African American Beat Surrealism,” in Nancy M. Grace and Jennie Skerl, eds., The Transnational Beat Generation (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), 67­­–81. Among other examples, Allen Ginsberg’s “Abstraction in Poetry” in Deliberate Prose: Selected Essays 1952–1995, ed. Bill Morgan (New York: HarperCollins, 2000), 243–245, and LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka’s identifications with and criticisms of Surrealism and Dada in “Black Dada Nihilismus,” first published in The Dead Lecturer (New York: Grove Press, 1964), 61–64.

[2] Peter Bürger, Theory of the Avant-Garde, trans. Michael Shaw, foreword by Jochen Schulte-Sasse (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984), 52–53.

[3] Quoted in Nancy M. Grace and Jennie Skerl, “Introduction to Transnational Beat: Global Poetics in a Postmodern World,” in Nancy M. Grace and Jennie Skerl, eds., The Transnational Beat Generation (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017), 1–11, 4.

[4] Allen Ginsberg, “A Definition of the Beat Generation,” in Deliberate Prose: Selected Essays 1952–1995, ed. Bill Morgan (New York: HarperCollins, 2000), 236–239, 238.

[5] On the impact of mimeo poetry journals, including Beat-inspired publications, see Steven Clay and Rodney Phillips, A Secret Location on the Lower East Side: Adventures in Writing, 1960–1980 (New York: The New York Public Library and Granary Books, 1998).

[6] Vincent Broqua, “Générer, préserver, activer l’archive: Anne Waldman et la Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics,” in Abigail Lang, Michel Murat et Céline Pardo, eds., Archives sonores de la poésie, (Dijon: Les Presses du Réel, 2020), 237–252.

[7] This is the traditional view on the avant-garde.

[8] Bob Kaufman, Abomunist Manifesto (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1959), n.p.,   

[9] David Grundy, A Black Arts Poetry Machine (London: Bloomsbury, 2019), 72.

[10] See Brenda Knight, ed., Women of the Beat Generation (Berkeley, CA: Conari Press, 1996) and Anne Waldman, Fast Speaking Woman (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1975). 

[11] Steven Belletto, “Introduction: The Beat Half-Century,” in The Cambridge Companion to the Beats (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017), 1–22.

[12] William S. Burroughs, “It Belongs to the Cucumbers: On the Subject of Raudive’s Tape Voices,” in Talking Poetics from Naropa Institute (Boulder, CO: Shambhala, 1978), 63–81.

[13] Michael Davidson, “Technologies of Presence: Orality and the Tapevoice of Contemporary Poetics,” in Adalaide Morris, ed., Sound States: Innovative Poetics and Acoustical Technologies (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997), 97–125.  

[14] Charles Bernstein, “Unrepresentative Verse,” in My Way: Speeches and Poems (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1999), 270–72.

[15] For an excellent survey of the literature on the subject and the problems of transnationalism, see Grace and Skerl, “Introduction to Transnational Beat: Global Poetics in a Postmodern World”, in The Transnational Beat Generation, cited earlier in this article.

[16] Jane Falk, “Two Takes on Japan: Joanne Kyger’s The Japan and India Journals and Philip Whalen’s Scenes of Life at the Capital,” in Grace and Skerl, eds., The Transnational Beat Generation, 101–14.

[17] See Clay and Phillips, A Secret Location on the Lower East Side: Adventures in Writing, 1960-1980.

[18] Werner Cranshoff, “Nomadis,” Labris, I/1 (1962), 17–23 and Labris I/2 (1963), 32–37.

[19] Kerouac’s prose is quite often compared to Joyce’s experiments in Labris. For a more comprehensive comparison, see e.g. Jozef Bierkens, review of Satoris in Paris, Labris V/3 (1967), 79–84 and especially, Jozef Bierkens, review of Old Angel Midnight, Labris V/3 (1967), 85–95.

[20] This brief sketch is based on the personal archives of Jef Bierkens, which are kept in the Letterenhuis (Antwerp).

[21] J.G. Bierkens, Jack Kerouac: goudgeneratief, gebopbaar & mistigmistieke madman der droevige verdwazing, [Lier], LABIRINTH Edition 7, 1965.

[22] Bierkens mentions 1951. The dates he uses are not always spot on. We will use the official dates.

[23] Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, trans. Richard Nice (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1984).