- Feb 2018
"Howl" provides plenty of instances of this. See also, for instance, the line "who cooked rotten animals lung heart feet tail borsht & tortillas dreaming of the pure vegetable kingdom" (52), with a reference to Hinduism (in vegetarianism) which clearly connects to spiritual aspirations.
130). This naked, mystical consciousness was to be induced through whatever means possible - madness, criminality, sexual indulgence, drugs, exhaustion, ner- vous collapse, directionless travel, free-form musical improvisation, or the Beats' own spontane
This is a central point. Criminality and madness are means to get to a consciousness which is spiritual in nature.
I would say that this is particularly central to the Beat movement, and can be seen not only in the authors' literary outputs but in their lives and lifestyles as well. In fact, the Beats were often very closely associated to marginal figures and criminals, for instance to Herbert Huncke (who is believed to have first put forth the term Beat) and Neal Cassady, and some, like Burroughs, directly adopted a rather criminal lifestyle, or one which included social exclusion and marginality.
rg 1984: 108). The turn to marginal figures such as Huncke and Cassady is because of th
I would add that the Beats were fascinated by criminals (a category which includes drug users and prostitutes) as much as they were by people afflicted with mental health problems or considered "insane" by society. These are two types of the people marginalized by society with whom they associated and who they praised.
Distinction into different phases of writing is suggested here too. It is the same distinction I suggested with an added timeline.
In a way the Beat Generation is a gathering together of all the available mod- els and myths of freedom in America that had existed before, namely: Whit- man, John Muir, Thoreau, and the American bum. We put them together and opened them out again, and it becomes like a literary motif, and then we added some Buddhism to it. - Gary Snyde
This is a good quote and raises two ideas:
- Gary Snyder is a very interesting member of the Beat Generation when considering Beat Spirituality because in his explicit involvement in Buddhist practice. His depiction in Kerouac's The Dharma Bums is also revealing of his character and significance in the movement.
- Buddhism mixes, in the Beat Generation, with ideas of freedom (one of the all-times American values). As I want to consider how the Beats reacted to the American values of mid-century society, it is interesting to consider how they personally understood the ideal of freedom. Buddhism is one of the ways in which they re-invented it and connects to freedom from the ego, or the self. Other writers, for instance William Burroughs, considered freedom in more institutional/political ways (see his book Naked Lunch).
Despite the Beats' use of B
Why, though? Kerouac was a lifelong scholar of Buddhism, and so were other Beats like Ginsberg and Snyder. Indeed, Gary Snyder officially became a Buddhist and a disciple of Miura, and Ginsberg had a student-teacher relationship (together with a friendship) with the known Buddhist master Trungpa Rinpoche. This should be enough to consider them, at least at some points in their life, as Buddhists.
be as coherent as the category ("r
A clear division into different categories seems to be central to the argument of why Beat spirituality has not been taken seriously. Not only eclectic/synchretic faiths range across different "categories" of religion (e.g. monotheistic and politheistic, perhaps), but their beliefs probably did not conform to the rules which define different categories.
Constructions of "religion" vary, but most of them are dependent in some way upon Christian presuppositions, distorting the interpretation of other, non-Christian phenomena they might otherwise be wi
Should this be considered to be true? What would support this? I think that modern anthropology of religion would not be so influenced by Christian notions of religion. Certainly, I should do more research about this.
pilgrims, but it is possible to imagine some of the Western biases that are fro
Good point: the idea which some scholars had about Beat spirituality is influenced by Western notions of religion. However, this concept could be further elaborated on.
hors as evidence that the Beats didn't take Buddhism very seriously because it w
This connects to the idea of syncretic faiths.
ecognizable to the Western scholar, one might conclude that what the Beats practiced was spirituality (a messy, individualistic affair of no relevance to students of religion) rather than a properly Durkheimian religion (which requires overt signs
Again, some theoretical/anthropological background considering distinctions between spirituality and religion would be useful, although it would admittedly take much space.
s such: "If we look at this enormous literature, claiming a disputed canonical authenticity, what we find in reality is a shifting mass of teachings with little or no central core, many of which are incompatible with each other and within which we can sometimes detect mutual criticism
This seems to be a good source as concerns Buddhism and its evasion, in its doctrine itself, of more "Western" notions of religion.
authentically Buddhist. Though the Beats lack a center, a center is not necessary (or even desired) - there is no such thing as a "center" to Buddhism, and if Buddhists believed there were a center, they would be bad Buddhists, because Buddhists are supposed to avoid "essentializing" and realize the inherent emptiness of concepts
Central point about Buddhism which strictly relates to Beat spirituality.
scholarship. On this rationale, one might admit there are Buddhist elements in Beat literature, but dismiss them in Stephen Prothero's words as "tangential rather than constitutive
As previously annotated, a useful distinction could be made between different phases of Beat writing (which would, however, vary for every author). In Keroac's and Ginsberg's cases, however, one could roughly say that in a first phase the two were more concerned with the discovery of and focus on the self, and in a successive phase with a more spiritual approach to the self which included questions of its dissolution.
s). If someone practices Buddhism on one occasion and Christianity on another, he or she is thought to be deeply co
This applies to Kerouac. It would be interesting to consider more in detail how Kerouac scholarship considers the writer in this regard.
am population in Western society and not a con- trov
That the Beats were a controversial group (in cultural and also literary temrs) is a significant point.
nt thing called "Japanese religion"? And what is the "religion" part of "Indian religion," "Japanese religion," "Chinese religion," and so forth if "religion" is not a native term yet "religion" is so pervasive in Asian societies that one can scarcely distinguish "secula
This is also an interesting point, and shows to what extent the idea of "religion" mixes with practices associated to culture.
This is an interesting point. Perhaps, Beat spirituality has been somehow associated to ideas of New Age "new religions", as the author suggested in the introduction.
Taxon: taxonomic category.
The first Christian presupposition about "religion" that informs scholarship in reli- gious studies is that there is, in point of fact, such a thing as "religion" as distinct from other forms of human endeavor, and that it is a natural, confessionally neutral category of descripti
What would be the sources for this? Where does this implication come from, exactly? It seems to be intuitively valid, but would be more so with some support.
"Religion" is not a native category. It is not a first person term of self-charac- terization. It is a category imposed from the outside on some aspect of native culture. It is the other, in these instances colonialists, who are solely respon- sible for the content of the term. -Smith 1998: 269
Again, this would be interesting to include when considering more anthropological notions. The writer here seems to be Jonathan Z. Smith, an American historian of religion (contemporary: he died las year). This could be an interesting essay by him on the topic of religions (quote comes from here): http://www.iupui.edu/~womrel/Rel433%20Readings/SearchableTextFiles/Smith_ReligionReligionsReligious.pdf.
This would support my view of religion as applied to the Beats.
ity"). For instance, according to one theorist, spiritually inspired peregrinations are "pilgrimages" when pursued in reference to highly organized and socially stratified systems of belief and practice such as Judaism and Christianity, but become a form of "existential tourism" when pursued in the interest of "spirituality" or "self-under- standing" by hippie readers of Hermann Hesse (Cohen 1992: 54-55). The contempt for countercultural
On-point and funny example about the perceived difference between "pilgrimages" and "existential tourism". Distrust spirituality which goes "counter-culture"; in opposition to mainstream culture.
y learned elites rather than practitioners, and a Durkheimian assumption that religion is somehow at its most genuine when it is organized into church or sect rather than personal or familial in form (a "societal" element that somehow distinguishes "religion" from other categories such as "magic" and "spiritu- a
This could be very interesting and useful to my argument. In fact, if I want to make a point about Beat "embodiment" of their philosophy and literature, I might consider some anthropological notions which go back to performance and embodiment of abstract things by figures such as the shaman or the fool. Including anthropology (in this case anthropologist Durkheim) in ways which would oppose my thesis could be interesting as well, especially if I illustrate how this has been done by other scholars.
s even today - Beat spirituality is tarred as "superficial," "syncretistic," or "tan- gential" to the Beats' "main" concerns, as if alternative spirituality had been nothing to the Beats but a
Important argument, which also exposes common misconceptions about the Beats (see Podhoretz too).
alues. Because the Beats attacked many values of the Christian establishment, they were unlikely to be understood as religious by members of that establishment, such as learne
This seems to be another interesting explanation of why the Beats would not be taken seriously as concerns religion: the attack of "many values of the Christian establishment". Specifically, though, which ones? Some ideas:
- Devotion to God alone (as opposed to devotion to other faiths and other Gods as well).
- Could the notions of suffering and that of sacrifice (often associated to Christianity) contrast with the approach of many of the Beats (especially because of the influence of Buddhism)?
Haphazard: defined by chance; casual.
"Howl is an 'Affirmation' by individual experience of God, sex, drugs, and absurdity. . . the poems are religious and I meant them to be" (ib
From "Howl": "who studied Plotinus Poe St. John of the Cross telepathy and bop kabbalah because the cosmos instinctively vibrated at their feet in Kansas" (first section). https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/49303/howl.
crucial term "Beat" (a term for someone down and out originally borrowed from criminal street jive) as a noun derived from the adjective "béatifie," a
The book I am reading (Naked Angels, by John Tytell) points out that the association of "beatific" to "Beat" came after the "beaten down" one. This, Tytell argues, is representative of a movement of interest of the Beats from themselves (as in their self) to spirituality (and the subsequent interest in the loss of self which Buddhism proposes).
hero 1991: 206). Norman Podhoretz of Partisan Review went further still, claiming that the Beats were "hostile to civilization" and that the movement as a whole amounted to "a revolt of the spiritually underprivileged and crippled of soul" and "an affirmation of death" (ibid., 206). One couldn't ask for a more passionate dis- avowal of the Beats or a more thorough polemic that the movement was profoundly antireligious.
I believe this comes from the essay "The Know-Nothing Bohemians" (Podhoretz). This is the link to the full text to go back to how they are considered "antireligious" and, implicitely, hostile to religious commitment because lacking emotional and intellectual depth. http://sitesarchive.unc.edu/tech/webdesignws/basic/graphics/Readings/knownothing.pdf.
magazine Tricycle. Prothero hypothesizes that this is because of the movement's reputation a
See the second annotation and ideas as to how their spirituality was not taken seriously. It could be well considered to be because of their reputation (this would make sense, especially because people associated to the group, e.g. Neil Cassady, were often arrested for possession of drugs or theft).
ent as a literary phenomenon, the only book-length treatment of Beat Buddhism I w
The book is called "Big Sky Mind: Buddhism and the Beat Generation" (Carole Tonkinson). Consider finding or getting: https://www.amazon.com/Big-Sky-Mind-Buddhism-Generation/dp/1573225010. It contains essays, poems, photographs, and letters between different authors: seems very interesting and useful!
How does this relate to my thesis? Spirituality would need to be an essential part of my thesis, since I wish to consider how the lifestyle of authors of the Beat Generation blurs the defines between what is usually considered "life" and what is usually considered "literature". If I aim to show that they were "practical artists", or "performative artists" in some way (need theoretical background here), their spirituality would be an essential part of this definition, as it was an essential part of their life.
See how in the essay "Prose Contribution to the Cuban Revolution" he says "That's the karma I wanted, to be a saint" (The Essential Ginsberg). Being a saint comes before being a writer.
Protest" (1991), the Beats and their pilgrimages have most emphatically not been
Why have they not been taken seriously? This could be an interesting question to ask. Some ideas could be:
- Beat religiosity has not been taken seriously because it did not usually focus on one religion only, but moved across different faiths (in Kerouac's case, mainly Buddhism and Christianity, and in Ginsberg's Hinduism was an influence as well as Buddhism, if I remember correctly).
- It has not been taken seriously because of the lifestyle which the Beats were known for, which was somehow often lascivious.
It is then interesting to include these aspects in an evaluation of Beat spirituality and then prove that it was nonetheless taken seriously by the authors.
I believe in the sweetness of Jesus And Buddha - I believe, In St. Francis, Avaloki Tesvara,
Religious eclecticism: multiple faiths. This is from the collection of poems Mexico City Blues. In an interview, when asked to whom he prayed, Kerouac replied: "I pray to my little brother, who died, and to my father, and to Buddha, and to Jesus Christ, and to the Virgin Mary" (Carlisle 205). This is the link to the book: https://books.google.ie/books/about/Moral_Powers_Fragile_Beliefs.html?id=C6j45qICcO4C&redir_esc=y.
Famously, Kerouac remained, throughout his life, a Christian, and always considered himself one. It would be interesting to look into the contrast between Christianity and Buddhism as concerns suffering (one elevates it, while the other aims at its annihilation) and how Kerouac approached it too. I remember one article which talked about Kerouac as mainly "a sufferer", possibly from The Times: find it again.
escribes in his article "On the Holy Road: The Beat Movement as Spiritua
This seems to be a very useful article and is quoted multiple times in this one. This is the link to it: https://www-jstor-org.ucc.idm.oclc.org/stable/pdf/1509800.pdf?refreqid=excelsior%3Ab4280ef4f624b5827b9fdccfaf27c31b.