Adam Al.


“The Trips Festival” has a surreal moment which draws comparison to “Beat Zen, Square Zen, and Zen.” Norman’s personal satori strikes him square in the eyes when he is cracked out on LSD. “There was never a spiritual movement without its excesses and distortions. The experience of awakening which truly constitutes Zen is too timeless and universal to be injured. The extremes of beat Zen need alarm no one since, as Blake said, ‘the fool who persists in his folly will become wise’” (PBR, 613). When Norman believes he is God, he essentially climbs up the scaffold in order to become the “highest” person on stage. This process is like Norman’s quest to heaven – as he climbs higher, he believes more of his personal satori and claims that he is a supreme being and “I” (Wolfe, 261).

Although Norman is riding his high of “God,” he suddenly realizes that Kesey is trying to ruin his enlightenment. “ANYBODY WHO KNOWS HE IS GOD GO UP ON STAGE” (Wolfe, 262) was inscribed on the walls of the huge wild carnival. This very moment is the end of Norman’s realization, but the beginning of another man’s authoritative spiritual experience. Kesey begins to have a literal “God complex” of transforming into a particularly arrogant, educated, powerful person. Perhaps Kesey does not believe he is God, but he surely acts so bigheaded that he might as well believe he is God or some other heavenly figure.

This distinct transfer of power leaves Norman stunned. “What the hell” (Wolfe, 262), said Norman while he gazed into the crowd of Zenned-out peoples. With his last attempt to use God-like powers, Norman put forth the effort to control the crowd with a simple gesture towards the festival below him. While nothing happened, Norman “sinks to the floor” with “eyes glooming up in the acid stare” (Wolfe, 262). The downfall of Norman in this scene is the end of his personal satori, and while he sees his own image of God fade away, he begins to realize that Kesey is the real man of power.

Reading “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test” has drawn one conclusion in my mind – that graduating from acid and moving beyond “weak” drugs is like the world of sports and using steroids in the twenty-first century. Where as the group in Tom Wolfe’s novel gains an almost psychic connection by deciding to bring their message to the masses through acid tests, the out-of-control use of steroids through the past decade has led an entirely new flock of supreme athletes who want to “cheat” their way through a billion-industry. “That it’s time to graduate from what has been going on, to something else” (Wolfe, 8 ) is primarily what athletes, primarily Olympians and baseball players, have been relating to the general public. In addition, by saying that “New York is about two years behind” (Wolfe, 9), it’s as if Tom Wolfe is implying that drugs or any sort of contraband is already in use with no one really magnifying the small issues in the world. Kesey’s theory of an acid movement is similar to Barry Bonds and (any)thing he uses; whether a new test is to be used upon the public or a hybrid drug is to be used to enhance physical play, in the end, there is still the same result of inhibiting people to do something they will regret. “Observance of the day LSD became illegal in California” (Wolfe, 11) is a pin-point example of Americans witnessing the Supreme Court case of the United States versus Major League Baseball. Perhaps this announcement of drugs is just what society needs in order to set new standards – let someone else make the mistake and then we’ll take action. As these pranksters in “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test” became more famous with the hip community, they also became more and more famous with the FBI. The main point of the matter is that once an athlete becomes more recognizable by the public, then the easier it is to accuse him of using a performing enhancement drug. The downfall is unbearable for that person, their home town, family and friends. Opposed to Kesey being captured, when someone is caught with a steroid, the entire public refuses to allow that person a second chance.

Alan Watts describes three different types of Zen in “Beat Zen, Square Zen, And Zen.” In particular, one Zen that stands out is “square Zen.” What makes the square so different is its tradition of satori in Japan. Satori is a Zen Buddhist term for enlightenment, which literally means “to understand.” In relation to a junkie state of mind, one may believe that each junk user is in search of his or her own personal enlightenment. Perhaps one may believe that any Beat writer is also in search of understanding “some” part of their own life. Jack Kerouac, for example, in Maggie Cassidy writes about childhood scenarios that beg to question his own personal life and what he may have experienced – did Jack really want to become a big-time jock? Besides satori, a similar Japanese concept of Buddhism is kensho, or the “awakening.” After reading Beat literature describing the search for perfect drugs, it would be smart to consider the Beat Generation as an era of people who were taking part in a quest for an uplifting jolt; for some people, a drug seemed logical at the time. Drugs – though – were not the only choice. Rip-raps of collages of information were kenshos that tied together straying planets and moons and stars. Much like a Beat trying to understand “life,” the need to be awakened was like a boxer lying unconscious on the canvas, only yearning to smell the salt which would brighten his undying soul. The “Beat Zen” is greatly characterized by Charlie Parker at the end of Watts’s essay: “In the landscape of Spring there is neither better nor worse; The flowering branches grow naturally, some long, some short” (PBR, 614). Each individual has the power to find their own satori or kensho, but obviously there is no easy way to achieve these certain joys. While one may follow a path, another may simply stumble across a road less traveled – perhaps their past life where fear played a vital role in denying any orgasm or satisfaction. In any case, the enlightenment or awakening does not happen over night; nor does it come from writing a book or poem. As an analogy, one may consider a baby when it first walks. After much effort it stands upright, finds its balance and walks a few steps, then falls (representation of kensho). After continued effort the child will one day find that it is able to walk all the time (representation of satori).

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