Whilst no longer enforcing a direct influence upon contemporary culture or within social commentary, in their day the Beat Generation played a significant part in determining the course Western society for over a decade starting from 1950s. This vibrant literary movement – comprising just a handful of anti-establishment writers, came to impact greatly upon cultural and political reassessment following in the 2nd World War.
In his book Hard to Be a Saint in the City, Robert Inchausti, Professor Emeritus of English at California State Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo reveals what he believes to be a spiritual imperative that lay at the heart of the Beat Generation Movement.
At the centre of the Beats collective is Jack Kerouac – an American writer who inspired a number of iconic 1960s figures such as Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, Gary Snyder, and Michael McClure; each of whom, in his own way, made a major contribution to the melting pot of spiritual and sociological influences that eventually gave rise to the mid-to-late 1960s Hippy Movement.
In retrospect it seems only natural to interpret the work of the Kerouac and the Beats within a spiritual context. However, in their time their social commentary was not always assessed in such terms. In his book Inchausti examines their work, beliefs and philosophy from this very perspective; mainly by sifting through and unifying the Beats commentaries with reference to a specific subject areas.
These are in themselves diverse but include such topics as
- Who were the Beats?
- What are their response to the Spirit of their Age?
- Is there a Beat way of writing?
- How do the Beats Conceive Of The Divine?
- Is there a Beat way of writing?
Given the importance of Jack Kerouac in establishing the groundwork upon which the Beats rose to fame a chapter of the book has been given over specifically to his peer’s specific perception of him.
The book closes with a Who”s Who detailing a short bio of the primary characters impacted by the Beats, Credits, and Notes.
It is always interesting to examine the attitude and response of mainstream society during a time of great cultural upheaval. The Beats exposed the most most sublime of all transformations during a vitally important period of change in music, poetry, and literature – changes that much like the Punk Revolution of the 1970s, were so fundamental that the protagonist’s influence were viewed suspiciously and quite often with outright contempt.
Now, sixty years later Inchausti has in this work, clearly demonstrated that at the time the Beats were in fact responding to an oncoming tidal-shift in the Zeitgeist. Some might quite rightly refer to this incoming influence as the spirit of the New Age, for woven throughout these commentaries are spiritual themes that clearly lay down a path to today’s spiritual renaissance.
Whilst in places through this book the Beats do come over as somewhat pretentious and naive their insights often touch a deep philosophical nerve. Indeed, when commentating on social issues of the day it is remarkable just how prescient their writings were and just how little has changed over the past six decades of social revolution in resolving our core social ills.
Hard to Be a Saint in the City is an interesting work and one that can be enjoyed on several levels. From a historical perspective it is a particularly fascinating snapshot of a number of committed individuals who were breathing in the air of a new spiritual wind and interpreting it in their own uniquely way. From a modern perspective the book reminds us that today’s impending spiritual revolution will, once again, be spear-headed by our creative visionaries.