Date of Award
College of Arts Humanities and Social Sciences, English and Literary Arts
Beat, Poetry, Protest, Rock, Romanticism, Spontaneity
This dissertation postulates a sub-category of Romanticism: electric Romanticism. As opposed to its “acoustic” forebear, electric Romanticism exists in an electric age, beginning after Henry David Thoreau’s rumination on the telegraph wire as an electric rendering of the æolian harp image. Romantic poets used the æolian harp to analogize the act of writing activities set into motion by spontaneous thoughts, a central attribute of the Romantic literary movement. The modernized electric version of the æolian harp—the telegraph wire—signals that electric Romanticism branches off from its source and evolves along with technology to engage more synchronously with the spontaneous.
Electric Romantics either utilize technology as catalysts for their art or they themselves mimic electricity as they create. This dissertation focuses on four mid-twentieth-century artists who are central to electric Romanticism: Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Bob Dylan, and Janis Joplin. Kerouac’s and Ginsberg’s electric Romanticism resembles the acoustic, but the Beats’ cultural landscape contained technological advancements they used to achieve spontaneous writing—such as typewriters, automobiles, and tape recorders—as well as other more nefarious products of the electric age in wartime that they protested (e.g. nuclear warfare). Dylan’s electric gesture of protest not only achieved the spontaneous, but also redefined what spontaneity in terms of Romanticism looked like in twentieth-century America: the visionary poetic mode modernized for an electric, psychedelic age. The more material versions of electric Romanticism represented by Kerouac, Ginsberg, and Dylan all lead up to Joplin’s rendering, which is more abstract, as she embodied electricity in her performances. Central to her performances was the feedback loop between her and her audience, which hinged on spontaneity; she tapped into that “music in the air” Thoreau wrote about in 1851.
In conclusion, where traditional, “acoustic” Romanticism attempts to achieve spontaneity, electric Romanticism—as represented by Kerouac, Ginsberg, Dylan, and Joplin—is better equipped to attain it. Similar to the telegraph’s power of quickly delivering messages from disparate places, by capturing immediacy in their art, these midcentury poets and musicians fully represent the spontaneous.
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Sasha Tamar Strelitz
Received from ProQuest
Strelitz, Sasha Tamar, "Spontaneous Minds and Electric Romanticism: Kerouac, Ginsberg, Dylan, Joplin" (2020). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 1854.