Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies

"The Mad Ones" and the "Geeks"

Cognitive and Physical Disability in the Writing of Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg

Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies (2015), 9, (2), 153–170.

Abstract

The article explores representations of cognitive and physical disability in the work of Beat authors Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. In Kerouac’s Desolation Angels and Ginsberg’s Kaddish, cognitively disabled characters Lazarus Darlovsky and Naomi Ginsberg are presented as regenerative outsiders; the authors align themselves with these characters as sources of literary inspiration. In Kerouac’s The Town and the City, Waldo Meister’s physical disability problematically serves as an aesthetic symbol of his evil nature, which emblematizes widespread societal decline and urban decadence. The relation of the spectacle and the stare to Beat representations of disability is also addressed; the article illustrates how the Nickel-O cinema in The Town and the City and Naomi in Kaddish are displayed in the manner of freak-show performers. In both cases, the Beats, surprisingly, are not a part of the freak show, but viewers looking in with an objectifying gaze from a place of relative normativity. Interrogating the Beats’ relation to ideas of normativity and outsiderdom, the article also glimpses into a volatile period for the categorization of disability.

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Reynolds, Loni