The Beat Hotel has been closed for nearly forty years. But for a brief period—from just after the publication of Howl in 1957 until the building was sold in 1963—it was home to Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Gregory Corso, Brion Gysin, Peter Orlovsky, Harold Norse, and a host of other luminaries of the Beat Generation. Now, Barry Miles—acclaimed author of many books on the Beats and a personal acquaintance of many of them—vividly excavates this remarkable period and restores it to a historical picture that has, until now, been skewed in favor of the two coasts of America.
A cheap rooming house on the bohemian Left Bank, the hotel was inhabited mostly by writers and artists, and its communal atmosphere spurred the Beats to incredible heights of creativity. Its inhabitants followed the Howl obscenity trial, and they corresponded with Jack Kerouac as On the Road was taking off. There Ginsberg wrote “Kaddish,” “To Aunt Rose,” “At Apollinaire’s Grave,” and “The Lion for Real,” and Corso developed the mature voice of The Happy Birthday of Death. The Beat Hotel is where the Cut-up method was invented, and where Burroughs finished and published Naked Lunch and the Cut-up novels. From a party where Ginsberg and Corso drunkenly accosted Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray, to an awestruck audience with Louis-Ferdinand Céline a year before he died; from a drug-addled party on a houseboat on the Seine with Errol Flynn and John Huston, to Burroughs’s near arrest as a heroin dealer: mischief, inspiration, and madness followed the Beats wherever they went. Based on firsthand accounts from diaries, letters, and many original interviews, The Beat Hotel is an intimate look at a crucial period for some of the twentieth century’s most enduring and daring writers.
Miles (Jack Kerouac: King of the Beats, etc.), who has been intimately involved in the documentation of the Beat scene, focuses here on an international aspect of Beat work: Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs and Gregory Corso's escape from "the conformism and Puritanism of fifties America" during the six years (1957-1963) they lived at a cheap hotel on Paris's Left Bank. During this period, the three pursued such now-famous creative endeavors as "Kaddish," Naked Lunch and "Bomb." Their important work during this time, particularly the "cut-up" method pioneered by Burroughs, had an important formative influence on the next generation of artists, according to Miles. Part scholarly study and part gossip-fest, this account traces the aesthetic, sexual and social goings-on in Paris: "Within the shelter of the Beat Hotel," Miles writes, "they had mapped out many of the paths that the `sixties generation' was to actually follow: the recreational use of drugs and experiments with psychedelics..., investigations into magic and mysticism..., gay rights and sexual freedom , the legalization of `pornography' and challenges to obscenity laws." The hotel on rue Git-le-Coeur, closed for nearly four decades now, still symbolizes the fruitful ground of collaborative creation among the Beats. The significance of this period in Paris for the Beats may be slightly exaggerated by Miles to justify this book-length study, but those interested in the lives of these cult figures will most likely forgive such overdetermination in the interests of learning in an entertaining narrative about important writers now considered American literary heroes.