Art, Literature and Society from 1955-1970


Fear and Loathing in a Clockwork Age

Ah! The noble search for identity. That intangible achievement that all artists lust after and lay in torment over. And during the post war era that struggle reached incredible magnitudes. The world cried out for legions of anti-heroes, who were only virtuous in their unapologetic and brutally honest lack of virtue. And the art world provided as many counter culture messiahs as was needed to "Damn the Man". The Beats, hippies, and punks are evidence that behind the white picket fence of suburbia lay an America that wanted more out of life than the sugar coated portrayals of domesticity and patriotism it received from pop culture. The unfortunate side of authenticity often lead to the conclusion that autonomy was an impossible dream and that just mere existence required an individual to compromise his integrity. The post-war generation developed an interesting love-hate relationship with the mass culture of it?s time. Some, like Andy Warhol, embraced the inevitability of mass culturalization in order to control the beast (yes, this is a reference to Revelations). While others recognized the American Dream as being a hypocrisy and so chose the Golden Eternity instead.

The Beat generation and early hippies sought to separate themselves from mainstream society where they believed they could start anew and fully experience life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The flower child philosophy was in fact very Transcendental, minus the stuffy New England mentality. The sexual, spiritual, and intellectual freedom and autonomy that characterized the Haight-Ashberry scene were closer to the Whitmanesque ideal than anything achieved during his life time.

Postwar America was extremely prosperous from the stand point of the middle class white suburbanite. The only problem was that not everyone fit that mold. And even those who were born into that environment often found it?s conventions limiting and unfufilling. At home the issues facing minorities went, for the most part, ignored. Jim Crow laws were allowed to stand in the south until major Supreme Court decisions like Brown v. Board of Education declared segregation to be unconstitutional. But even still that did not solve the problem of good old fashioned prejudice, which was as rampant as ever. And not every woman was delighted to once again be her husband?s house servant. The war machine of WW2 had given many women their first pay check. And the sense of power and freedom even menial jobs provided was not something many wanted to trade in for being cooped up in a split level tract house with only the companionship of a vacuum cleaner and a screaming five year old.

To the Beats the only solution to a life of domestic stagnation was to pack up and let life lead you down one winding road after another. There was a certain comfort in the unknown. Ambiguity turned survival into a triviality, while one could find the deepest meaning in chance and whimsy. When mere existence doesn?t seem to be guaranteed it?s the little moments of perfection that become one?s focus. No other Beat poet understood that concept as well as Jack Kerouac. "Jack Kerouac single handedly created the beat generation. Although Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso and William Burroughs Brought their separate and cumulative madness to the beat generation, it was Kerouac who was the Unifying Principle."(Krim,p.4)

While Kerouac certainly lived for the moment it would be missing the whole point of his work to claim that was just trying to get his kicks in before it was over. If anything, he eagerly awaited his termination. And found his solace in moments of pure tranquillity, since they were the closest he could come to the state he named the Golden Eternity, which he believed awaited him after death. This was in opposition to his friend and fellow beat Allen Ginsberg. Ginsberg believed "in grasping after life as much as you can because of it?s sweet sadness and because you would be dead someday"( Hipkiss,p.63). The Golden Eternity was a perfect void. The beauty of this state of total nothingness was that existence was reduced to its pure and uncontrived elements. A far cry from the outwardly prosperous, but inwardly hollow and commercial suburban life. Kerouac was a Roman Catholic with a strong fascination with Buddhism and other Eastern philosophies. He melded that into a unique set of beliefs that would not have flown with any Pope,