Daniel Sf.


In all of our studies of Beat literature this semester the recurrent theme of appreciating one’s reality and coming to understand it no matter what it is comprised of has been firmly conveyed. Bill Lee saw his junky lifestyle as a metaphor to all life and the fact that everyone has an addiction or driving force in their life from which they cannot escape, try as they may. Jack Duluoz comes to realize that all Maggie really wanted him to be was himself, since her love was not contingent on some perceptual cliché of an idealized relationship, as he thought it was. Japhy Rider and Ray Smith are in a continual quest to find out how their religious and philosophical beliefs in Buddhism can be manifested correctly in their lives, with differing outcomes for both. Each finds that by simply embracing experience with a Buddhist mentality free of over interpretation, their lives represent the Buddhism which each emulates in there personal studies and practice. Ken Kesey and the Pranksters find powerful conclusions about experience through their use of Acid and other psychedelics. In their ending failure to actualize some of their more extreme interpretations, they come to realize that while many of their observations hold important avenues of understanding in experience, nothing is absolute and change is the true characteristic which defines experience. The good times are good and the bad are bad, but nothing truly ever stays the same.

In all these realizations, the Beat Philosophy of appreciating all and any type of experience is represented. The Beats saw that in the hypocritical conformist society of their time certain aspects of society were shunned and labeled as unacceptable or lesser. Yet, in there literary expressions of their own outcast/counter-culture experiences they came to powerful conclusions about life and living it well. Turning away from the mainstream, they realized that experience in and of itself cannot be judged or labeled. It must be appreciated and understood for its own sake. The same lesson can be learned through two different occurrences in life. There is no better or worse, there is only existence and the continuous human pursuit to understand it at its core. But, to understand it we must accept it, not trying to control it, going with the flow and continuing our journey on the road with friends and those with whom we can appreciate the beauty of our experience as it is, for its own sake.

In The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Kesey and the Pranksters in there use of acid, begin to recognize an intersubjective connection that is apparent between one and all through out their psychedelic experiences. The descriptions of this connection they all feel between each other, or “the unspoken thing,” refers to a telepathic ability to know what someone else is thinking and react to it instantaneously. For instance one of the pranksters gets up to open the window and another one is already there opening it since they felt that that was what the other had wanted in the first place. In their recognition of this over arching synchronicity, the pranksters find this to be a metaphor for all life and so look for the interconnected aspects of each facet of their reality. Yet, in looking so hard for the aspects that they recognize while under the influence of acid, their quest is futile since the true nature of experience does not exhibit intersubjectivity in the sense of a telepathic ability among agents. Reality does exhibit an intersubjectivity in the sense that we are all involved in and defined by the relationships we share with the people around us both close and acquaintances. Different roles are attributed to those relationships with respect to the agents involved and those roles are continually mutating due to the continuously changing nature of our conscious experience of living. The Pranksters quest for their extreme version of this intersubjective reality, and subsequent failure, is one that has plagued so many people throughout history in their inability to recognize the true character of reality, and in so doing attribute extra aspects to their conceptions of experience in their quest to come to a true understanding of it. Thus, their experiences are a metaphor to life and the human proclivity toward complicating what is wholly right in front of our faces and ours to understand and cherish for what it truly is. Yet it can not be found through mystical interpretations of the imagination, or in this case the psychedelically enhanced mentality.

The enlightened state or transformed state which has been a main theme throughout the majority of the literature we have been reading holds some significant parallels certain aspects of Buddhism. Aside from the fact that they both start with a B, both are of a inherently philosophical nature through which the practicing individual is elevated to the height of human understanding and enjoyment. The accepting nature of Buddhist practical methods is also comparable to that of the Beats, in so far as the transformed state of being which is center their movement deals directly with coming to understand and accept the realities of life as the come. There is sometimes a nihilist characterization attributed to the beats which in some ways characterizes the behavior hipsters may exhibit but the interpretation of that behavior is off. The careless attitude of the beats is an affirmation of their higher understanding of the fact that things happen all the time and waste energy in trying to control everything around them, the individual looks to find his place and subjective part of the whole of experience since there I no denying one’s component nature as a part of the world.

In Alan Watts essay “Beat Zen, Square Zen, and Zen” he discusses many of the characteristic parallels between Beat philosophy and that of Zen, but also discusses the inherent differences between the two.

“Beat Zen is a complex phenomenon. It ranges from a use of Zen for justifying sheer caprice in art, literature, and life such as one may find in the poetry of Ginsberg and Snyder, and, rather unevenly, in Kerouac. But, as I know it, it was always a shade too self-conscious, to subjective and too strident to have the flavor of Zen. (Watts, 611).

The Beat influenced Zen may not be a mirror image of Zen but in the same way that differs from Zen it adds to the overall progress of human understanding through pure expression. What’s more, Beat Zen for its differences in the over expression of enlightened understanding allow the westerner to come to the same conclusions which the Chinese have thought for thousands of years. Watts speaks about this aspect of melded eastern and western ideas, heeding the reader warning, while describing the practical methods the beats themselves may have used to grasp such long reaching conclusions in the parallels between both sets of ideas. “But the Westerner who is attracted by Zen and who would understand it deeply must have one indispensable qualification: he must understand his own culture so thoroughly that he is no longer swayed by its premises unconsciously,” (Watts, 610). In Beat Zen this understanding of the culture is wholly apparent as the Beats realized that the expression of their feelings represented a practical method of achieving enlightenment but in a westernized and Americanized way. The concept of freedom to say and express oneself how ever one feels is at the heart of this aspect of Beat Zen. These expression exchanges result in the a clarity of understanding about the self and thus provide the westerner with a new and enriched form of meditation of experience which achieves the same ends as the methods used in the east.

“Having said that , I would like to say something for all Zen fussers, Beat or Square. Fuss is all right, too. If you are hung on Zen, there’s no need to try to pretend that you are not. If you really want to spend some years in a Japanese monastery, there is no earthly reason why you shouldn’t. Or if you want to spend your time hopping freight cars and digging Charlie Parker, it’s a free country,” (Watts, 614).

Next Page »