The Beats in Mexico by David Stephen Calonne (1 Viewer)

Whoa! Been a while since I’ve been here. Thought of posting a few times in the past, but life has taken me to strange places, as it often does, over the past couple years, keeping me busy in the process. Anyways, shoutout as always to Hannah for creating this forum in the first place, and to Trevor for keeping the forum alive. Now, let’s get to what I came back for.

I’ll preface this by saying that, as some of you might already know from my introductory post, I hail from that surreal place down south (or north, I don’t know where you live) called Mexico. I’m going through college right now, like a year/year and half from getting my degree, and I was thinking of doing my thesis about the vision of Mexico present throughout North American literature. It’s a topic I’ve found fascinating for a while. The stereotypes of Mexico have played a big part in influencing Americans’ visions of Mexico. Big sombreros, mule piñatas and Cinco de Mayo, as well as overly macho charros and snarky prostitutes, have pretty much at this point been ingrained into the American collective mind as all things Mexico. Curiously, some of those things have also been assimilated into Mexican culture itself. It’s inevitable, as Sartre talked about (“hell is other people”) to end up seeing your self the way other people perceive you. Since I’m a big reader, I thought why not focus my investigation on this topic relating to literature, and see how American writers’ visions of Mexico shaped Mexico itself. I also thought that a great point of reference to start from was the Beat Generation, since they were frequent visitors and probably the most charmed by that mystical sensuality that Mexico causes in foreign writers. So, I made a quick Google search to start, “Beats in Mexico”, to see what people had written about the topic. The first thing to pop up was David Stephen Calonne’s The Beats in Mexico. I bought it as soon as I saw it… Safe to say, I am now writing my thesis on another topic.

David’s book is a pretty well researched work on the matter. I specially liked how it covers female Beat authors, and explores the problematic topics found in Beat literature, such as Kerouac’s often off-putting romanticization of the “other”, in a critical manner. It gave me an opportunity to revisit some of these authors, particularly in the context of their Mexican travels and writings on spirituality, explore new authors (Bremser, McClure and Kyger were unfamiliar to me) and just dive into the topic pulling straight from the texts and written in a way that grips you throughout the journey into abandoned ruins and Mexico City apartments.

The book’s jacket said David was an editor of Bukowski. So naturally, after finishing the book, I made a quick foray to this forum to see what had been written about the man and his editions on this forum. Then it hit me. He is that David, who posted so many times on here. And that David, also published all those nice Bukowski editions. Weird how things come together (also, I am oblivious).

So, David, I know it’s been also a couple years since you’ve posted here, but I just wanted to congratulate you on the book, first and foremost, and, if you’d allow me, I’d like to make a couple recommendations from my young, barely developed mind, for an appendix or two you might add in future editions.

  • You talk extensively in Bonnie Bremser’s chapter about Maria Sabina. I thought her inclusion was a must. However, I looked through the references and didn’t see a mention of Álvaro Estrada, Mazatec writer who spoke the same language as Sabina and wrote her autobiography. If you haven’t read the book, do so immediately! Reading the words of Sabina herself about how she perceived these foreign (and national) hippies coming to her land and consuming the mushrooms she used for healing through words is fascinating and also incredibly sad (she says the mushrooms lost their power after the visitors started flocking to the sierras of Oaxaca, either to “find God” or just get high for laughs). Estrada’s book is a must for anything Sabina, and an excelent reference for anyone wanting to know how those who never left Mexico when the trip ended saw the visitors.
  • In Margaret Randall’s chapter, I was almost certain you were gonna include a mention of the “Onda” literature movement. They were a bunch of young writers (men, mostly; some problems are shared between countries), who wrote about the dullness of middle class Mexico, which was in the sixties hungry to be a carbon copy of it’s American counterpart. They included renowned Mexican writer José Agustín (if you haven’t read Deserted Cities, it’s a must for understanding Mexican-American relationships and Mexican misogyny), urban legend Parménides García Saldaña, Gustavo Sainz and Jesús Luis Benítez. Heavily influenced by the Beats and Rock N’ Roll, they sought to defy the Mexican literature “mafia”, most notably led by Octavio Paz, by writing the way you were not supposed to write and about taboo topics such as drugs. Like the Beats they were inspired by, they came from mostly middle-class backgrounds and were trying hard to escape them. Many of their texts were published in El Corno Emplumado, so that, along with the heavy Beat influence, is why I say that I found their omission weird.
  • I am almost certain that the widely spread “fact” that the natives of Mexico saw the Spaniards as the return of Quetzalcoatl, is a myth, or, at least, heavily disputed. You mention it a few times and it never stopped irking me. Perhaps just add a disclaimer/footnote that it is a disputed fact and shouldn’t be taken as a hundred percent truth.
Other than these few points, I have nothing to add. Like I said, I loved the book (the cover is everything) and I’m glad to have found it when I did. Also, I could not end this post without mentioning that dedication… much love. Congrats David, hope to see more from you soon.



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