Gregory Corso: Doubting Thomist

Gregory Corso: Doubting Thomist

Gregory Corso: Doubting Thomist

Gregory Corso: Doubting Thomist


Gregory Corso is the most intensely spiritual of the Beat generation poets and still by far the least explored. The virtue of Kirby Olson's Gregory Corso: Doubting Thomist is that it is the first book to place all of Corso's work in a philosophical perspective, concentrating on Corso as a poet torn between a static Catholic Thomist viewpoint and that of a progressive surrealist.

While Corso is a subject of great controversy- his work often being seen as nihilistic and wildly comic- Olson argues that Corso's poetry, in fact, maintains an insistent theme of doubt and faith with regard to his early Catholicism. Although many critics have attempted to read his poetry, and some have done so brilliantly, Olson- in his approach and focus- is the first to attempt to give a holistic understanding of the oeuvre as essentially one not of entertainment or hilarity but of a deep spiritual and philosophical quest by an important and profound mind.

In nine chapters, Olson addresses Corso from a broad philosophical perspective and shows how Corso takes on particular philosophical issues and contributes to new understandings. Corso's concerns, like his influence, extend beyond the Beat generation as he speaks about concerns that have troubled thinkers from the beginning of the Western tradition, and his answers offer provocative new openings for thought.

Corso may very well be the most important Catholic poet in the American literary canon, a visionary like Burroughs and Ginsberg, whose work illuminated a generation. Written in a lively and engaging style, Gregory Corso: Doubting Thomist seeks to keep Corso's memory alive and at last delve fully into Corso's poetry.


A strict Catholic upbringing gave Gregory Corso a rich intellectual and spiritual heritage, but because he was put up for adoption at the age of six months, he was deprived of the ordinary emotional richness that family life provides. Shuttled between six families before he reached the age of ten (“When I Was Five” 29), Corso developed a sense of humor and an interrogative mind in these insecure circumstances, taking on Catholicism and yet doubting it at the same time, developing dark doubts as to the nature of his understanding of the universe. Corso's poetry references myriad metaphysical and intellectual systems, anticipating developments in postmodern thought and to some extent providing surprising new twists on rather sophisticated themes. For a poet blessed with a mere sixth-grade formal education, Corso's intellectual reach is great. His insecurity led to constant thinking, a thinking that in turn illuminates our own condition. the framework of this study is to place Corso's work into the larger matrix of postmodernist discourse. This work will draw upon Catholic theology as it is reacted to by Darwinism, alchemy, Gnosticism, surrealism, psychiatry, and contemporary critical theory.

Corso's work, like that of the other Beat writers, has been insufficiently studied, and yet it forms an impressive and original oeuvre. While bringing this poetry into productive dialogue with recent literary debates, the commentary will stay close to the poetry, with the illumination of it as the central focus of the text. in the growing conversation of Corso studies, in which two exemplary books already exist, the contribution of the present book is aimed at a metaphysical reading of Corso's poetry, an overlooked and understudied aspect of his writing, although some interesting work has already been done in this area by Michael Skau, Gregory Stephenson, Marilyn Schwartz, and others.

Today, scientists tell us we inhabit a materialist universe, but the poets posit something more. What does Corso see that goes beyond materialism? I believe his work can be read as serious philosophy that focuses on the nature of the . . .

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