new journalism

I was listening to an Israeli poet on the radio this morning, as he spoke about the Beat Generation. They were talking about a new translation of one of Kerouac’s earliest books, and it lead to a discussion of the beat generation and beatniks… and what they wanted to change in this world. He belongs to the same generation. He met some of them. But he wasn’t really a part of it. He’s an Israeli poet and was more involved in what was going on here at the time. But since he’s met some of them, and was enthusiastic about them at the time, it seems natural to ask him about that very unusual literary generation, which has been more or less forgotten by most of us, in the long years since then. I too, was an enthusiast at the time. The beat generation influenced the way I looked at the world. And I was dismayed by the conversation, because of one thing he said. He explained that the Beat generation was so called because of the beat (rhythm) that came from the Jazz which they all loved. That wasn’t so. The word beat came from beatitude. Which is what they were looking for. It was what inspired many of them to study Buddhism to varying degrees.

sculpture by my daughter Shulamit

My thoughts on this radio conversation lead me to the consideration of what we might learn about culture, and about the world, from radio and TV programs… and newspapers and journals. I discovered the beat generation while reading a journal one day, many years back. That was a time, when you could really learn some things from the newspapers, the journals, and the radio. I’m talking about a half a century ago. Communication was a little more formalistic then, than it is today. But to a large extent, the journalist tried to be accurate and unprejudiced. He reflected the mores of the society in which he lived, but most writers tried to present an objective reality. There was political commentary too, and gossip columns… but they didn’t masquerade as news.

a plastic flower that sways in sunlight, powered by a light sensor

Back in those days, the common style of writing, found in fiction, was the third person narrative. Little by little, this style was almost completely overtaken by the first person narrative. It wasn’t just the style of novels… The sense of awareness, after the sixties, became much more tuned to personal desires and accomplishments. The message was, ‘look out for the interests of no. 1’. It was me, me, me. Self realization became the most popular philosophical point of view, and with it, the new journalism, which got a great push from the popular writer Tom Wolfe, and then philosopher-writer Norman Mailer, both of whom lived in America. Instead of trying to present an objective reality to the reading public, the writer presented his own very subjective view of what was happening around him, or where he happened to be investigating. The subject of the writing became as much the writer, as the topic that he was writing about.

sculpture by my daughter Shulamit

Since then, the news of the day have become increasingly influenced by this new style. And it is not uncommon for major newspapers and journals, as well as the mass media to present a one sided argument in favor of those causes adopted by the publishing company, the advertisers, or the journalists themselves. There are no apologies. There are no warnings. Very often, certain ideas and points of view are almost unanimously accepted by the forward thinking journalists, and a naïve reader might take opinion for fact, the way the two are intermingled. There are pampered minorities whose causes are trumpeted day and night, and ideological minorities whose attitudes are hardly mentioned, and when mentioned, are often the subject of ridicule. And so, I would suggest to the young, that they look upon the mass media as a source of entertainment and amusement. But that they study seriously any subject that truly interests them. Beware of popular opinion. It is so often wrong.


10 responses to “new journalism

  1. Your daughter is very talented. Thank you for sharing these photographs. You’re blogs are always so interesting and I always look forward to reading them. They are always a joy when they pop into my in-box. Thank you.


  2. Even prior to wording my reply, I find I had similiar thoughts to the first “responder.” Both sculptures are great! And very interesting commentary on the transition from third person writing to first person.

    • Thank you Chris. It is a pleasure hearing that I am well received. It seems to me that this possibility, of commenting on a blog, is a challenge both for the blogger and his or her readers. But hopefully, it can lead to an exchange of ideas in the immediacy of cyberspace.

  3. Interesting post! The Beats were probably the first literary movement to really influence me, and while I used to think that I “outgrew” them, I realize they had a major impact on my life. Gary Snyder’s poetry still moves me and opened the door to Zen. Ginsberg’s exuberant ramblings can still make me smile. They really did change the face of journalism. But I hadn’t known the word came from beatitude! Thanks for that bit of information.

    • You’re very welcome, Jordan. It has been a real pleasure meeting you, and I have just begun to read your blog, but I am sure I will read a lot more. I was a young man, searching for what really mattered in western culture, when I ran into the Beats… and there was something very romantic about what they had to offer. Thank you for your comment.

  4. As a nature photographer, I can’t help noticing the way the slender plants are beginning to embrace your daughter’s sculpture. There’s an impression that the horse is nuzzling the taller plant, and that seeming affection adds to my enjoyment of the photograph.

    Steve Schwartzman

  5. This was a very good piece to remind us of the hazards of taking what we read at face value. It is not unlike the fabled “I read it on the Internet so it has to be true”! 🙂 Shulamit’s sculptures are beautiful and graceful, I like their esthetic very much! It is clear that she has her father’s eye for design.

    • How sweet of you, Josie, to go back and read some of my earlier posts. And yes, though Shulamit studied medicine, and has been a physician for many years, she was a very talented painter as well, and I always enjoyed her art work. Thank you very much for your comment.

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