Translated by Bruno Cariou
Part 1 of 2
The following essay, written in 1968, and published in Evola’s volume L’Arco e la Clava (The Bow and the Club, 1968), falls naturally into two parts. The first is Evola’s sympathetic critique of the youth rebellion of the 1950s and the 1960s, with a focus on the Beatniks.
I characterize Evola’s critique as sympathetic because he saw the Beatniks’ maladjustment to modern society to be a sign of spiritual health. Furthermore, he was in broad sympathy with the mystical orientation of many Beatniks, as well as their experimentation with sex and drugs as elements of a Left Hand Path to spiritual attainment. But Evola was also concerned to map out the dangers and dead ends along the Beatnik path, using the light of Tradition. The subtitles of this installment and its sequel are my creations.
Much, all too much, has been written on the issue of the new generation, and “youth.” In most respects, the question does not merit the interest it has received, and the importance sometimes granted today to youth in general, associated with a sort of devaluation of all who are not “young,” is absurd. There can be no doubt that we are living in an age of dissolution: so much so that people approximate to the condition of the “rootless,” for whom “society” no longer makes any sense, and nor do the norms that used to regulate life — laws of the age immediately receding our own, that still persists in various places, and which represent merely the morals of the bourgeoisie. Naturally, this situation has been felt especially strongly by the young, and raising certain issues in this regard can be legitimate. However, the type of response that is limited to simply suffering from all of this, unable to free oneself by virtue of any active initiative of one’s own, as might have been possible for the few intellectual individualist rebels of the previous century, has to be isolated and considered first and primarily.
If this is all, then the new generation is merely subjected to the state of things; it raises no real issue, and makes a thoroughly stupid use of the “liberty” at its disposal. When this type of youth pretends that it is misunderstood, the only answer one can give it is that there is simply nothing to understand about it, and that, under a normal order, it would only be a matter of putting such youth back where it belongs without delay, as is done with children when their stupidity becomes tiresome, invasive, and impertinent. The so-called anti-conformism of some of their attitudes, which in other respects are quite banal, follows in addition a sort of trend, a new convention, such that the result is exactly the opposite of a manifestation of liberty. Other phenomena that we have considered in the preceding pages, such as the taste for vulgarity and some novel forms of manners, one may, on the whole, regard as characteristic of this type of youth; some provide the fans of both sexes for prize-fighters, or for the epileptic “singers” of the moment, or for the collective sessions of puppets represented by the “yeah-yeah” sessions, or for such-and-such a “hit record,” and so on, with the corresponding behavior. The absence among them of any sense of the ridiculous makes it impossible to exert any influence upon them, so really one should leave them to themselves, and to their own stupidity, and consider that, if by some chance, some polemics regarding, for example, the sexual emancipation of minors, or the sense of family, appear among this type of youth, these polemics will necessarily possess no substance. As the years pass, the necessity, for the majority among them, of facing the material and economic problems of life, will no doubt ensure that such youths, having become adult, will adapt to the professional, productive and social routines of a world such as the actual one; in fact, this type of youth thereby passes from one form of nothingness to another form of nothingness. No problem worthy the name is raised by any of this.
This type of “youth,” defined by age alone (for, in this context, it would be out of the question to speak of certain possibilities characteristic of youth in the inner, spiritual sense) is heavily established in Italy. Federal Germany presents a very different case: the stupid and decomposed forms of which we have already spoken are much less prevalent there; the new generation seems to have calmly accepted the fact of an existence in which no problems should be raised, of a life in which neither purpose nor good should be sought; they think only of using the resources and facilities that the recent development of Germany has acquired. We may refer to this type of youth as being “without concerns,” and it has gradually left many conventions behind, and acquired new liberties, without strife, but all within a two-dimensional realm of “factuality,” for which any higher interest, in myths, in a discipline, in an idée-force, is unknown.
For Germany, this is most likely a transitional phase, because we turn our attention to nations that have gone further in that same direction, where the ideal of the “welfare state” is nearly achieved, where existence is taken for granted, where all is rationally regimented – we may in particular refer to Denmark, to Sweden, and, in part, to Norway – eventually, intermittently, reactions in the form of violent and unexpected eruptions take place. These are stirred up mainly by youth. This phenomenon is already interesting, and it might be worth examining.
But in order to study its most typical forms one should concentrate on America, and, to some extent, England. In America, phenomena of spiritual trauma and revolt by the new generation have already emerged very clearly, on a large scale. We refer to the generation that acquired the name “beat generation,” and about which we have already spoken in the preceding pages: “beats,” or “beatniks,” or even “hipsters,” to quote another variation. They have been the representatives of a sort of anarchistic and anti-social existentialism, of a more practical than intellectual character (leaving aside certain literary manifestations, of the lowest order). At the moment we write these lines, the movement’s golden, thriving period has already passed; it has practically disappeared from the scene, or has dissolved. Nonetheless, it retains a unique significance, because this phenomenon is intrinsically linked to the very nature of the present civilization; so long as this civilization persists, it is to be expected that similar manifestations will appear, albeit under varying forms and denominations. More particularly, American society, representing, more than any other society, the limit and the reductio ad absurdum of the entire contemporary system, the “beat” forms of the phenomenon of revolt have gained a special, paradigmatic character, and, therefore, should not be considered as belonging to the same level as that stupid youth, of which we have already spoken when considering the case of Italy, in particular.
From our point of view, a brief study of these phenomena is justified, because we share the opinion, expressed by a number of “beats”: namely — and in opposition to what psychiatrists, psycho-analysts and “social workers” think — in a society, a civilization, like ours, and, especially, like that of the USA – one must in general admit that the rebel, the being who does not adapt, the a-social being, is in fact the sanest man. In an abnormal world, values are inverted: whosoever appears abnormal, in relation to the existing milieu, is most probably precisely the “normal” person, in the sense that in him there still subsist traces of integral vital energy; and we do not follow those who want to “rehabilitate” such individuals, whom they consider to be sick, and “save” them for “society.” One psychoanalyst, Robert Linder, had the courage to admit that. From our point of view, the only problem concerns the definition of what we might call the “right-wing anarchist.” We will examine the distance that separates this type from the problematic orientation that nearly always characterizes the “non-conformism” of “beats” and “hipsters.”
The starting point, that is to say, the condition that determines the revolt of the “beat,” is evident. A system is accused, despite the fact that it does not employ “totalitarian” political forms, of strangling life, attacking personality. Sometimes the issue of physical insecurity in the future is brought up, in the form of the view that the very existence of human kind is put in question by the probability of an eventual nuclear war (blown up to apocalyptic proportions); but what is chiefly felt is the danger of spiritual death, inherent in the adaptation to the current system and to its externally imposed conditioning forces (its “heteroconditioning”). America is described as “a country rotten with a cancer that proliferates in every one of its cells” and it is claimed that “passivity (conformity), anxiety, and boredom are its three characteristics.” In such a climate, the condition of the rootless being, the unit lost in the “lonely crowd,” is very vividly experienced; “society, empty voices, meaninglessness.” The traditional values have been lost, the new myths are debunked, and this “demythologization” undermines all new hope: “liberty, social revolution, peace – nothing but hypocritical lies.” “The alienation of the Self as ordinary condition” – such is the menace.
However, one can already note here the most important difference from the “right-wing anarchist” type: the “beat” does not react or rebel by starting from the positive — that is to say, by having a precise idea of what a normal and sane order would be, and firmly basing himself in certain fundamental values. He reacts instinctively, in a confused, existential way, against the prevailing situation, in a manner similar to what occurs in certain forms of biological reaction. On the other hand, the “right-wing anarchist” knows what he wants, he has a basis for saying “no.” The “beat,” in his chaotic revolt, not only lacks such a basis, but would probably reject it, too, were it to be indicated. That is why the phrases, “rebel without a flag,” or “rebel without a cause,” could actually appeal to him. This implies a fundamental weakness, in that the “beat” and the “hipster,” despite their fear of being “heteroconditioned,” that is to say, subjected to externally imposed conditioning forces, actually run precisely that danger, because their attitudes are motivated by, in the sense of being mere reactions to, the existing situation. Accepting everything, impassability, cold detachment, would be a more consistent attitude.
Therefore, when the “beat,” beyond his outwardly directed protest and revolt, considers the actual problem of his inner personal life, and seeks to resolve it, he inevitably finds himself on slippery ground. Lacking a concrete inner centre, he throws himself into the pursuit of thrills, obeying impulses that make him regress rather than develop, as he seeks all possible ways to fill the vacuum and obscure the nonsensicality of life. One precursor of the “beats,” Henry Thoreau, took up Rousseau’s myth of the natural man, of flight into nature, to propound a solution that is illusory; a formula that is all too simple, and essentially insipid. Yet there are those who followed this path, towards a neo-primitive, bohemian lifestyle, nomadism, and vagabondism (such as Kerouac’s characters); who sought disorder, and the unforeseeable character of an existence that abhors every pre-ordained line of action, and all discipline, in favor of an attempt to seize at every moment the fullness of life and existence (one could refer to Henry Miller’s more or less autobiographical early novels: “‘burning consciousness of the present, with neither a ‘good’ nor an ‘evil’”).
The situation is further aggravated by resort to extreme solutions: that is to say, one seeks to fill the inner vacuum and to feel “real,” one seeks to prove oneself worthy of a superior liberty (“the I, without law and without obligation”), by means of violent and criminal actions, which are then given the sense of an affirmation of oneself, as opposed to merely the sense of acts of extreme resistance and protest against the established order, against what is normal and rational. Thus one generates a “moral” basis for unrestrained criminality, without material or passionate motives, driven solely by a “desperate need for value,” because one has “to prove to oneself that one is a man,” that “one is not afraid of oneself,” by “dicing with death and the beyond.” The use of everything frenetic, irrational and violent – the “frenetic violence to create or destroy” – can come into play.
Here, the illusory and equivocal character of solutions of this kind emerges quite clearly. It is obvious, in essence, that in such cases the search for intensified vital sensation serves nearly always as an illusory substitute for a real sense of Self. In discussing extreme and irrational acts, we will, in addition, show that this is not only, for instance, a matter of going out into the street and shooting passers-by at random (as André Breton proposed once to the “surrealists”), or of raping one’s young sister, but also, perhaps, giving away, or destroying, everything one owns, or risking one’s life to save a stupid stranger. One must therefore be able to discern whether what one sees as a “gratuitous” extreme act is not perhaps directed by hidden impulses, whose slave one is, rather than by something attesting to, and realizing, a superior liberty. In general, there is considerable ambivalence within the anarchist individualist: “to be oneself, free from bonds” even while remaining slave to oneself. Herbert Gold’s observation of such cases, lacking in self-examination, is doubtless right: “The hipster is a victim of the worst form of slavery, the slave who, unconscious and proud of his condition of servitude, calls it freedom.”
There is more to this. Many intense experiences that could give the “beat” a fleeting sensation of “reality” make him in essence even less “real,” because they condition him. Wilson brings this situation very clearly into light, by means of a character in his previously mentioned book. This character executes, in a rather “beat” setting, a series of sadistic assassinations of women, in order to feel himself “reintegrated,” to escape frustration, “because he has been frustrated in his pursuit of his right to be a god,” and ends up revealing oneself as a broken and unreal being. “Like a paralytic who always needs stronger stimulants and for whom nothing matters . . . I thought murder was but an expression of revolt against the modern world and its ambushes, because the more one speaks of order and society, the higher the crime rate rises. I thought his crimes were but an act of defiance . . . that was far from being the case — he kills for the same reason that drives an alcoholic to drink: because he cannot do without it.” The same applies, naturally, to other extreme experiences.
We may, in passing, recall, so as to again establish precise distinctions, that the world of Tradition was also familiar with the “Left-Hand Path” – a path of which we have spoken elsewhere, that includes breaking the law, destruction, and orgiastic experience of various forms, but starting from a positive, sacred and “sacrificial” orientation, “towards what is above,” towards transcendence of all limitation. This is the opposite of searching for violent sensations merely because one is internally beaten and inconsistent, merely in order to prolong the sense of existence in one way or another. This is why the title of Wilson’s book, Ritual in the Dark, is very appropriate: it describes a mode of celebration, within a realm of shadow, without light, what could have had the sense, in a different context, of a rite of transfiguration.
In the same way, the “beats” have often made use of certain drugs, seeking thereby to induce a rupture, an opening, beyond ordinary consciousness. And that, with the best intentions. However, one of the movement’s main representatives, Norman Mailer, has come to recognize the “dice game” implied in the use of drugs. Aside from the “superior lucidity,” from the “new, fresh and original perception of reality, now unknown to common man,” to which some aspire by the use of drugs, there is the danger of “artificial paradises,” of surrendering to forms of ecstatic voluptuousness, intense sensation, and even visions, devoid of any spiritual or revealing content, and followed by depression once one returns to normality, which only aggravates the existential crisis. The determining factor here is the underlying attitude assumed by one’s being itself: this nearly always decides the effect of such drugs, in one sense or another. In attestation of that, one might refer, for instance, to the effects of mescaline, as described by Aldous Huxley (an author already acquainted with traditional metaphysics), who felt able to draw an analogy with certain experiences of high mysticism, as opposed to the totally banal effects described by Zaehner (the author whom we have already cited in our criticism of Cuttat), who wanted to repeat Huxley’s experiences, with the aim of “controlling” them, but starting from a completely different personal equation and attitude. However, given that the “beat” is a profoundly traumatized being, who has thrown himself into a confused search for “kicks,” one must not expect anything much positive from the use of drugs. The other alternative will almost certainly prevail, thus reversing the initial apparent gains. Moreover, the problem is not resolved by sporadic escapist openings into “Reality,” following which one finds oneself plunged back into a life deprived of meaning. That the essential premises for venturing on this ground are inexistent is obvious from the fact that “beats” and “hipsters” were for the largest part youngsters, lacking the necessary maturity and avoiding all self-discipline on principle.
Some people have claimed that what the “beats,” or at least some of them, have obscurely sought, is in essence a new religion. Mailer, who said: “I want God to reveal me his face,” radically affirmed that they are the harbingers of a new religion, that their excesses and revolts are transitional forms, that “could give birth tomorrow to a new religion, like Christianity.” All this sounds like empty talk and, today, now that an assessment can be made, there are no such results to be seen. It is quite clear that what these forces lack are precisely superior and transcendent points of reference, similar to those of religions, able to provide a support and a right orientation. “They quest for a creed that saves them,” as someone said, but “God is under threat of death” (Mailer, referring to the God of Western theistic religion). This is why the one who was called the “mystic beat” looked elsewhere, became attracted to oriental metaphysics, and especially in Zen, as we have already mentioned in another chapter. However, regarding this last point, there are grounds to question the motivations involved. Zen exerted an influence on the individuals in question, especially, because of the illuminatory, sudden, free openings into Reality (through satori), which the explosion and rejection of all rational superstructures, pure irrationality, the ruthless demolition of every idol, and the eventual use of violent means, could produce. One can understand that all this would greatly attract the young, rootless Westerner, who cannot tolerate any discipline, who lives adventurously, and who is in a state of rebellion. But the reality is that Zen tacitly presupposes a previous orientation, linked to a secular tradition, and very difficult trials are not excluded. It may suffice to read the biography of certain Zen masters: Suzuki, who was the first to introduce these doctrines in the West, has literally spoken of a “baptism of fire” as preparation to satori. Arthur Rimbaud expounded a method of becoming a seer, through “the systematic derangement of the senses,” and we do not rule out the possibility that, in an absolutely mortally adventurous life, even without a guide, proceeding alone, “openings” of the sort alluded to by Zen could happen. But these would always be exceptions that in fact embody a certain miraculous character, as if one were predestined, or under the protection of a good daemon. One may suspect that the reason behind the attraction that Zen and similar doctrines are able to exert on “beats” is this: the “beats” suppose that these doctrines give a sort of spiritual justification to their disposition towards a purely negative anarchy, towards pure disorder, allowing them to elude the initial task, which, in their case, comes down to giving oneself an internal form. That confused need for a higher, supra-rational point of reference, and, as someone already said, a means of seizing “the secret call of being,” is also completely deviant, when that “being” is confused with “Life,” following theories such as those of Jung and Reich, and when one sees in the sexual orgasm, and in the surrender to the sort of degenerate and paroxystic Dionysianism sometimes offered by Negro jazz, other suitable paths for “feeling real,” for coming in contact with Reality.
With regard to sex, we repeat what we have already said above, in chapter XII, when examining the perspectives of the harbingers of the “sexual revolution.” One of the characters in Wilson’s already cited novel wonders whether “the felt need for a woman is not merely the need in us for that intensity,” whether a higher impulse, towards a supreme liberty, is not obscurely manifested in the sexual impulse. This question could be legitimate. We have already recalled that the non-biological and non-sensational, but, in a sense, transcendent conception of sexuality, has, in fact, precise and non-extravagant antecedents in traditional teachings. However, we need to refer to the discussion we have already presented on this subject in The Metaphysics of Sex, where we highlighted the ambivalence of the sexual experience, that is to say, the either positive or negative “derealizing” and de-conditioning possibilities that it contains. Nonetheless, when the starting point is a sort of existential anguish, to the point where the “beat” appears obsessed with his incapacity to attain “the perfect orgasm” (as described in the aforementioned views by Wilhelm Reich, and, partly, by D. H. Lawrence, who claimed to see in sex a means to integrate oneself in the primordial energy of life, taken for Being or the spirit) – in such cases, there are grounds for thinking that the negative and dissolutionary contents of the sexual experience will predominate, also because the preliminary existential conditions required for the opposite to be true are inexistent: sex and the over-flowing force of the orgasm will possess the I, and not vice versa, as should be the case if all this was to serve as a path. Likewise for drugs: a wasted young generation cannot deal with experiences of this kind (which are also considered, incidentally, by the Left-Hand Path). As for full sexual liberty, as simple revolt and non-conformity, it is dull, and has nothing to do with the spiritual problem.
The negativity becomes more pronounced when “beats” make of jazz a sort of religion, and see in it positive means to surmount their “alienation,” to seize moments of liberating intensity. The Negro origins of jazz (which do not cease to provide the basis for even the most elaborate forms of these rhythms, in the framework of “swing” and “be-bop” sessions), instead of serving as grounds for caution, are valorized. In an earlier chapter, we have already discussed, as an aspect of the spiritual “negrification” of America, the fact that Mailer, in a famous essay, was able to assimilate the position of the “beat” to that of the Negro, and to speak of the former as a “white negro,” and thus to admire certain aspects of the irrational, instinctive and violent Negro nature. Moreover, there has been among “beats” an open tendency to promiscuity, including, on the sexual level, young white girls who have challenged “prejudices” and conventions by giving themselves to Negroes. As for Jazz, one can identify in these circles a more serious appreciation than the mania of that stupid non-American youth mentioned at the beginning of this chapter; but it is precisely for this reason that the matter is so much more dangerous: there are grounds for thinking that, by means of identification with frenetic and elemental rhythms, forms of “downward auto-transcendence” (to use this previously explained expression) are induced, forms of sub-personal regression, into what is purely vital and primitive, partial possessions, that, following moments of paroxystic intensity and outbursts of semi-ecstatic openness, leave one even more empty and unreal. If we consider the atmosphere of Negro rites, and of the collective ceremonies that jazz in its origins and earliest forms represents, that direction seems quite evident, because it is obvious that we are dealing, just as in the macumba and in the candomble practiced by Black Americans, with forms of demonism and trance, with obscure possession, far removed from any openness to a superior world.
Unfortunately, there is little more to extract from an analysis of what the “beats” and “hipsters” have sought, on an individual and existential plane, as a counterpart to a legitimate revolt against the present system, to fill the vacuum, and resolve the spiritual problem. The situation of crisis continues. In exceptional cases only, one may find something of positive value in the case of a “right-wing anarchist.” To be sure, the problem is a problem of human material. As regards practical non-conformism, demythologization, cold dissociation vis-à-vis all bourgeois institutions: there can be no objection, if such a course is seriously followed by the new generation. Following the wish of some representatives of the “beat” generation, we have not dismissed their movement as a passing trend. We have only considered it in its typical aspects; its characteristic problem is a natural expression of the current epoch. Its significance remains, even though its forms have actually ceased to exist in America, or to exhibit any particular allure to the youth.
1. At the time of this writing, a certain foolish and carnivalesque section of Italian youth has taken to describing itself as “beat,” and applies this term to everything. On the level of engagement, there can be no comparison between the American “beat” movement, problematic as it might have been, and the preposterous attempts at “protest” by those epigone Italian “beats.”
2. In what follows we will make some use of the testimonies and essays collected in the anthology by S. Krim, The Beats. The most important essays are those by H. Gold, Marc Reynold, and N. Podhoretz; we may also mention the book by Norman Mailer, Advertisements for Myself. Mailer has also been a spokesman of the “beats” and “hipsters,” and it seems that he did not stop at mere theory, going so far as to stab his wife, as an “acte gratuit.” As for the general climate, we may refer to the novels of Jack Kerouac, On the Road and The Dharma Bums, to which we may also add the novel by the Englishman Colin Wilson, Ritual in the Dark, which tackles the same issue to some extent; in a book that provoked a lot of interest, The Outsider, Wilson had studied generally the figure of “the outsider” to society and to “normal” people.
3. One beat, Jack Green, has provided some interesting descriptions of his experiences with a particular drug, peyotl, in the above-mentioned anthology. He concludes by recognizing that this substance can give “euphoria, but not the great liberation,” and that, had his “eye been trained, he wouldn’t have needed peyotl.” Moreover, he has gathered a few positive elements in his quest, which show that he is aware of the satori doctrine of Zen. Finally, he accounts that for a long period he “has not lived authentic experiences” and that “he rarely seeks them.” He recognizes, in addition, the diversity of possible effects. He writes, among other things: “It is possible that intense preparation and, in part also, the unconscious preparation that comes from contemplative life, provoke a sudden fracture that is felt as an unexpected unity.” Despite the decline of the “beat” movement, American youth, university youth in particular, is far from abandoning the path of drugs. At the moment we write these lines, worry caused by the constantly increasing diffusion among the youth of LSD 25 (Lysergic acid diethylamide), confirms their continuing interest.
4. Such facile claims as this by Mailer are typical: “The hipster has an incidental respect (!) for Zen, he does not discard the mystic’s experience because he has known it himself (?), but prefers to draw the experience from a woman’s body.”