Hear Allen Ginsberg Teach “Literary History of the Beats”: Audio Lectures from His 1977 & 1981 Naropa Courses

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Image by Michiel Hendryckx, via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

It’s not often one gets the oppor­tu­ni­ty to take a course on a major lit­er­ary move­ment taught by a found­ing mem­ber of that move­ment. Imag­ine sit­ting in on lec­tures on Roman­tic poet­ry taught by John Keats or William Wordsworth? It may be the case, how­ev­er, that the Roman­tic poets would have a hard time of it in the cut­throat world of pro­fes­sion­al­ized aca­d­e­m­ic poet­ry, a world Allen Gins­berg helped cre­ate in 1974 with the found­ing of his Jack Ker­ouac School of Dis­em­bod­ied Poet­ics at Naropa Uni­ver­si­ty, almost twen­ty years after he brought hip mod­ern poet­ry to the mass­es with the wild­ly pop­u­lar City Lights paper­back edi­tion of Howl and Oth­er Poems. (Here you can lis­ten to the first record­ing of Gins­berg read­ing that famous poem.)

Dis­missed by the mod­ernist old guard as “vac­u­ous self-pro­mot­ers” in their time, the Beats’ leg­end often por­trays them as paragons of artis­tic integri­ty. There’s no rea­son they couldn’t be both in some sense. The anti-author­i­tar­i­an pranks and pos­es gained them noto­ri­ety for mat­ters of style, and their ded­i­ca­tion to rad­i­cal­iz­ing Amer­i­can lit­er­a­ture pro­vid­ed the sub­stance.

As the Acad­e­my of Amer­i­can Poets writes, “there is a clear work eth­ic that rever­ber­ates in their lives and in their writ­ing, and in the eyes of many read­ers and crit­ics, the Beats fos­tered a sus­tained, authen­tic, and com­pelling attack on post-World War II Amer­i­can Cul­ture,” reject­ing both “the stul­ti­fy­ing mate­ri­al­ism and con­formism of the cold war era” and “the high­ly wrought and con­trolled aes­thet­ic of mod­ernist stal­warts.”

Thanks to the archives at Naropa, we can hear Gins­berg him­self lec­ture on both the style and sub­stance of Beat lit­er­ary cul­ture in a series of lec­tures he deliv­ered in 1977 for his sum­mer course called “Lit­er­ary His­to­ry of the Beats.” We’ve pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured the exten­sive “spe­cial­ized read­ing list” Gins­berg hand­ed stu­dents for that class, which he titled “Celes­tial Home­work.” In the first series of lectures—divided in 18 parts in the archive—hear him dis­cuss the list. The Naropa archive describes the first lec­ture as div­ing “right into the 40’s lives of Gins­berg, Ker­ouac, Bur­roughs, Her­bert Huncke, and oth­ers liv­ing in NYC at that time. From con­sum­ing Ben­zadrine inhalers to the dis­cov­ery of the void, Gins­berg’s account and analy­ses are enter­tain­ing and live­ly as well as insight­ful.” Hear part one of that talk at the top of the post, and part two just above.

Gins­berg focus­es on the 40s as the peri­od of Beat ori­gins in his 1977 class. Anoth­er sec­tion of the course—taught in 1981—cov­ers the 50s, with top­ics such as “Bur­roughs’ rec­om­mend­ed read­ing lists,” “Bur­roughs on drugs and soci­ety,” and “the found­ing of the study of seman­tics.” Hear the first lec­ture in that series just above.

Lit­er­ary His­to­ry of the Beats will be added to our col­lec­tion, 1,700 Free Online Cours­es from Top Uni­ver­si­ties.

Image above was tak­en by Marce­lo Noah.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Allen Ginsberg’s “Celes­tial Home­work”: A Read­ing List for His Class “Lit­er­ary His­to­ry of the Beats”

William S. Bur­roughs Teach­es a Free Course on Cre­ative Read­ing and Writ­ing (1979)

“Expan­sive Poet­ics” by Allen Gins­berg: A Free Course from 1981

13 Lec­tures from Allen Ginsberg’s “His­to­ry of Poet­ry” Course (1975)

Down­load 55 Free Online Lit­er­a­ture Cours­es: From Dante and Mil­ton to Ker­ouac and Tolkien

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness.

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