Christopher Se.


What have the beats taught us? This is a question that I wondered as I sat in the final meeting of Professors Kupetz’s Beat Generation class. I found myself sitting amongst a sea of similarity, short skirts, pastel polo shirts, and “Nantucket red,” which is pink, no matter how you put it. There is some great irony that the Beat Generation class is filled with what I am sure Mailer would have labeled as “square” kids. Now, do not get me wrong, it is a great class and it was largely engaging, but how does someone that spends their morning figuring out which pastels will fit in the best grasp what the beats were trying to do. The essence of the beats was moving out of the deeply entrenched socially conservative funk of the post war era, but we are now in a post war era. With Wal Mart and Target slowly sucking the life from every small town in the range of their shadow, the people in these suburban playgrounds are simply rocking with the ebb and flow of what corporate America says. So then are the Beats stuck within the limestone walls, their message marginalized into the poor grammar of ten page papers drilled out the previous night? I doubt it. I think that the people today are afraid to step outside the carefully marketed pastels that they so carefully plan themselves in, but I think that in everyone there is a touch of anti conformist. There has to be some prerequisite interest in the beats other than there reputation as the founders of cool in America. Perhaps there is a sense of learning about/ feeling rebellion from 9-10:45 every Tuesday and Thursday, and within these parameters they can see how far they are comfortable going with their rebellious feelings. I mean, I have a feeling there are very few people in that class would be willing to take off their canary shorts and popped collar polo shirt just because everyone else was wearing the same outfit in public, but maybe they fulfill their rebellious needs reading about the best of the anti conformists for class and not actually living it.

The goal of the bus in the Electric Kool Aid Acid Test presented some interesting dilemmas that are somewhat contradictory to the overall goal of the pranksters. The pranksters through their acid test adventures sought to experience a new reality, one that would show the true nature of reality through acid. The interesting part of this is that the pranksters seem to remove themselves frequently from this goal by creating elaborate acid test scenarios that are so convoluted with day-Glo clothes and paint, lights and complicated sounds that it is difficult to see where reality used to even be. An example of this is the redwood forest behind Kesey’s house at La Honda. The initial description by Sandy is that it is a naturally beautiful and interesting place that really strikes a natural chord within the pranksters. In the interests of making it a better location for acid tests, the Pranksters rig the woods up with sound and lighting.
You would think that the experiences that the Pranksters describe having on acid with plain uninterrupted reality would lead to them desiring to retain a natural forest for naturally based acid tests, but this does not seem to be the case. At the end of the book, the Acid Test graduation that fails seems to be a far removed experience from nature, which it seems like Kesey was trying to get closer to. I think that this may be part of the reason that the end goal of the Acid Test graduation failed because they realized that all the lights clothes and paint were completely impermanent and not really a part of what they were going for in the first place.

At the end of Dharma Bums, an interesting evolution occurs in Ray’s character. As Ray finishes his job as a fire lookout, Ray, after providing a prayer (like he remembered Japhy doing) to his campsite, he says, “thank you shack,” and then “Blah.” This phrase “blah,” although simple and at the end of the story, brings some conclusion to the journey of Ray. At many points in Dharma Bums, Ray exclaims his enlightenment. When he is visiting his family especially, he seems to believe that he is enlightened such that his family is unable to understand his journey or way of life. I believe that the final observance of his shack and realization of material impermanence, as illustrated in the final paragraph of Dharma Bums, is Ray’s final understanding of what Buddhism really means, and therefore something of a deconstruction of the “enlightenment” he thought he had achieved. Early in the book, while describing Japhy’s Buddhism he proclaims that he is “an old fashioned dreamy Hinayana coward of later Mahayanism.” During this he throws off Japhy’s allegories as being “a lot of silly Zen Buddhism.” When the Shakyamuni Buddha, (the historical founder of Theravadan Buddhism which then evolved east to Japan and into Zen) was giving his teachings under the Bodhi tree, he held up a flower, and one of the monks listening smiled. This was the apparent beginning of Zen. As Ray stands and appreciates the campsite he has inhabited and the surrounding environment at the end of his summer, he realizes Zen impermanence. Ray seemed so sure of his proclamation debunking Zen and proclaiming his flavor of Buddhism as best, but it is really through his journey that he realizes the theoretical core of Buddhism and the major pillar of Zen, while at the same time finally being humbled by realizing Japhy’s point of view.

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