To burn or to howl : the Russian "New Wave" and the Beat Generation : are they twins or simply cousins?




Smith, Mark Alan, master of arts in Slavic and Eurasian studies

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Vassily Aksyonov's novel, The Burn and Allen Ginsberg's poem "Howl" are central to my contention that a direct and palpable link exists between the literary, jazz and underground youth movements existent in the USSR and US in the postwar years. In his novel, Aksyonov uses many devices and literary motifs that do not seem out of place in the work of Ginsberg or other members of the Beat Generation. The groundbreaking poem "Howl" utilizes a similar sense of verbal gymnastics that is present in the writing of Aksyonov. Both pieces make use of aspects of the carnivalesque, the grotesque, the medieval concept of the 'safety valve,' Billingsgate and confessional tone, among others in a sort of Dionysian bacchanal. Central to both movements is a sense of rebellion and reaction towards an increasingly conservative society, as well as a search for truth through the use and abuse of illicit substances. It is apparent that a direct correlation exits between the stuffy and isolationist outlook of postwar America and the stagnation and decline of the Brezhnev era Soviet Union as depicted in The Burn. The characters depicted within are searching for something that the system will not and cannot provide. And like Aksyonov, Ginsberg is also concerned with the concepts of the "high" and the "low" with regards to culture. Both authors teeter between the concepts of beauty and beatification and self- abuse and self-destruction in their quest to find universal truth. The Russian "New Wave" of literature, of which Aksyonov was a prominent member, simply shares too much in common with the Beat movement to be a mere coincidence. In this paper I will detail these many similarities and the possible reasons for them, as well as delve deeper into the connection that both literary movements shared with jazz and the culture that surrounds it, and how these subcultures were able to impact both their respective governments and the generations to come.



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