The Beat Hotel BOOK review [Barry Miles]



Book Reviews
The Beat Hotel BOOK review [Barry Miles]
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Jun 1, 2000, 05:12

THE BEAT HOTEL by Barry Miles; Grove Press, 2000

The Beat Hotel refers to Madame Rachous rooming house located at 9 Rue Git Le Couer on the Left Bank in Paris. It was here, a place with shared toilets (holes in the floor), limited electricity, and a significant rat population, that a group of individuals converged and would significantly alter the course of American literature and art. Between 1957-1963, exiles William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, and Brion Gysin, seeking refuge from straight, uptight America traveled to Paris and immediately took advantage of the tolerant environment. They fervently pursued altered states of consciousness through excessive drug use, free sex, and constant questioning of the status quo and meaning of life, and what flowered would later become landmarks of 20th century literature, specifically, Ginsberg's Howl poem and Burroughs's novel Naked Lunch. Miles particular strength is his ability to convey the atmosphere of the era and the day-to-day life these artists lived. Ginsberg emerges as the real spiritual center of the group; he constantly pushes himself and the others to create good work. Burroughs falls in love with Ginsberg, while free-spirit and perpetual womanizer Corso rages on in his own direction, always present and participating, but moving around as well. The unofficial fourth member of the circle is Brion Gysin, creator of the “cut-up” method and Dreamachine. A fascinating and peripatetic artist, Gysin has been too little known and deserves a biography of his own. It was Gysin's idea and discovery of taking texts from newspapers, cutting them out, and putting them back together randomly (“treating words as a painter treats paint, raw material with rules and reasons of its' own”). This “readymade” method of composition would hugely influence Burroughs in his own work, and more so, in his life and personality. In fact, he became a different person, mystical and remote, and this contributed primarily to his and Ginsberg's romantic break-up, although they would remain life-long friends. The book is full of tantalizing anecdotes, such as the time they all went to see Thelonious Monk and virtually the entire audience was tweaked on hash. The Beat Hotel is fascinating, a consummate portrait of artists' creating, living, and loving at a specific point in time, and a must read for anyone interested in The Beat Generation.

-Wade Iverson

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