Chapter 1 Literature in a State of Crisis – Beat Poetry, the Modernist Establishment and the Avant-Garde in Iceland

In: Beat Literature in a Divided Europe
Benedikt Hjartarson
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This article analyses the reception of Beat literature in Iceland, focusing on translations of works by Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs from the early 1960s to the present day. The translation history sheds an interesting light not only on the role of Beat poetry in the Icelandic context, but also on the dynamics of the local cultural field. The first Beat poem to appear in Icelandic was Ginsberg’s “To Lindsay” in 1960, further landmarks being the translation of Kerouac’s On the Road in 1988 and the first collection of Ginsberg’s poetry in Icelandic in 2003. Beat has played only a marginal role within the Icelandic literary system, mainly serving as an extreme example of the modern tradition, the value of which has been linked with progressive modes of artistic expression rather than with Bohemian lifestyle, modes of cultural subversion or a cult of hedonism and excess.

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