‘The Figure of Thanatos: Processes of Self-creation and Self-destruction in Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg’

Harma, Tanguy. 2018. '‘The Figure of Thanatos: Processes of Self-creation and Self-destruction in Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg’'. In: Séminaire EMMA (Études Montpelliéraines du Monde Anglophone). Université Paul Valéry - Montpellier 3, France 13 February 2018. [Conference or Workshop Item]

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Abstract or Description

This presentation will offer a brief overview of my research project, which is a literary, philosophical and aesthetic exploration of two novels by Jack Kerouac (Tristessa, 1960 and Big Sur, 1962), and one long poem by Allen Ginsberg (‘Howl’, 1956). It focuses on Thanatos, a conceptual figure that will allow us to decipher the paradoxical interplay of creative and destructive strategies in the texts.

In a first part, I will use a theoretical framework that combines the precepts of Existentialist theory with the essentials of American Transcendentalism, a tradition heavily referenced throughout the primary texts. This framework will enable us to apprehend the figure of Thanatos through the interactions between nothingness, processes of alienation and forms of engagement in the texts, which will be transposed within an American context.

In a second part, I will scrutinise the convergence of beauty and death in Kerouac’s Tristessa to illuminate another facet of Thanatos. Through a Kantian definition of the Sublime, I will elucidate the contradictory movement of construction and glamorisation of narrative forms, and their subsequent revocation and annihilation in the novella. This analysis will give way to an innovative reflection on a few idiosyncratic traits in Kerouac and Ginsberg’s respective works.

Item Type:

Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)


Jack Kerouac; Allen Ginsberg; Thanatos; Self-destruction; Self-creation; Thanatos; Transcendentalism; Existentialism; nothingness; alienation; engagement; Sublime; glamorisation; Modernism.

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Departments, Centres and Research Units:

English and Comparative Literature


13 February 2018Completed

Event Location:

Université Paul Valéry - Montpellier 3, France

Date range:

13 February 2018

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

03 May 2018 12:30

Last Modified:

29 Apr 2020 16:45



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