April 18, 2024

Maggie Johnson – The murder that ended up protecting free speech in literature.

The Beats Generation was an era in the 1950s in New York City, post-WWII. When people were tired of conformity and the traditional lifestyle, the Beats Generation’s beliefs helped to reject mainstream American values. The Generation explored sexuality, practiced zen Buddhism, and experimented with drugs. The original three that started it all were Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs all met at Columbia University in 1948. Their impact on America was significant, making people question the society they lived in and step out of it. Lucien Carr was another one, who wasn’t a writer himself but lived alongside them. Seen as a muse for the poets with his long-winded rants. Where Carr goes David Kammerer follows a man who stalked him for 33 years. David Kammerer was Carr’s boy scout who was obsessive over him; following him from place to place. In August of 1944 Carr ends up killing Kammerer, asked to help him cover it up but then turned himself in after one night. The murder of Kammerer was coined as an “honor slaying” because of Kammerer’s sexuality. The group was troubled by the killing, coping by writing the only way they knew.

Several members wrote about the event. Even if it was a few years before they would come up as the voices of the Beats generation, but those origins were starting and Kammerer’s murder was a crucial part of it. Examples included “The Town and the City”, its sequel “Vanity of Duluoz” by Jack Kerouac, and Allen Ginsberg began “The Bloodsong, a crime novel”. He was convinced to quit it to cease negative attention to Columbia.

Carr did remain civilized with the Beats after he was released from prison after two years. However, in 1956 Carr asked Ginsberg to remove his dedication in “Howl.” He asked because the poem hinted at a bond the Beats forged through the murder of Kammerer; Ginsberg did agree. Carr was a voice of reason in Ginsberg’s life, warning him to “keep the hustlers and parasites at arm’s length.” For many years, Ginsberg would visit the Lucien Carr at United Press International where he was an editor over the four decades. He would ask Carr to cover the various causes that he had allied himself with.

Carr started to distance himself from the beats as he wanted a normal life and the generation ended around 1966. After years of writing and their literature being tried for obscenity. The previously mentioned “Howl” was a focus in obscenity trials, the obscenity law deals with the suppression of what is considered obscenity. “Howl” was found not guilty in 1957, as it was deemed to have social value. The verdict was historical as a landmark case for the protection of free speech.  The Beats’ work on censorship is largely why it is no longer enforced on literature. While many were influenced by the Beats, the Beat Generation itself lead more to the hippie movements of the 1960s.

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Maggie Johnson

Hey! I'm Maggie, I am a grade 12 student

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