I just finished reading “On the road”, the most important book when it comes to the beat generation culture of the USA in the 50’s. I had a little information about the beatniks in the past, but reading this book gave me a lot more understanding. This movement came as a respond to the society’s conventional lifestyle that drains the thrill, the excitement and passion of life. Many people rebelled against this, claiming a free, nomadic lifestyle where boundaries and inhibitions don’t exist. The beat culture embraced a life where drugs, alternative forms of sexuality, spirituality, the rejection of materialism, and the idealizing of exuberant, unexpurgated means of expression and being were central elements. I won’t say if I’m with or against this movement as it has it ups and downs, but I feel that it has a lot to do with where we are now. People crave drugs, sexual freedom, alternative spirituality and sometimes over-stereotyped ‘hipsterism’ so that they can feel alive, so that they live differently, so that they feel ‘cool’. But if we think about it, most of the time, these people rebel just for the sake of rebellion, there’s nothing underneath this layer and that creates chaos. Drugs, sex, road life, “yolo-based” decisions…. nothing happens without consequences. Serious addiction, over-dose, health issues, STD’s, unwanted pregnancy, AIDS…. so many problems that stay with the person, even after coming back to reality. I’m not saying that rebelling against the conformity will always end up in such cases, but if this rebellion isn’t well thought, then there’s a lot of chances the results will turn out to be disastrous. The road is indeed a limitless field of life-time experiences, new bonds & relationships, interesting discussions and so much more; but safety comes first, and this upcoming generation needs to think a little bit more before jumping into such a fast pasted lifestyle. That’s, at least, how I see things.
Jack Kerouac, Manhattan, 1953
I think that being ‘beat’, sometimes, is necessary to be alive, to be a part of something bigger than our boring and resembling lives; but always being ‘beat’ is to not be ready to look at reality in the eyes. Being drunk, high, on drugs, fearless, horny, thrilled, stoned, excited, delusional, theatrical and careless all the time doesn’t mean your life is awesome, it just means you’re not ready for life yet. Life is about finding a balance, between what we can do to make us feel good and what we can offer so that others or the planet feel as good. It’s about giving and taking, give too much and you’ll end up depressed and feeling nothing in your life, take too much and you’re just a selfish being who’s never satisfied and who isn’t able to give back. When we take things out of life, such as pleasure, love, happiness… we need to remember that these moments were given to us for a reason, maybe to share them with someone, to think about their value and to give back. That’s why I don’t understand people who chose to become ‘beat’ all the time, sinking in addictions, lust, games, adrenaline kickers and so on. They can only take so much until their card game crumbles down, no happiness lasts forever. It’s like eating pizza everyday for years: the pizza becomes ordinary, at one point, it’ll get boring. Without pain, depression, sorrow, grief, loss… how can we feel happiness? Life exists because of death, and the other way around. If we only focus on life, death will shock us in the most unexpectedly painful way possible. And I don’t want that for anyone. So my word on this? Balance, always balance.
Beatniks protesting, Bob Gomel, June 1960
“But then they danced down the streets like dingledodies, and I shambled after as I’ve been doing all my life after people who interest me, because the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or a say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars…”
(Jack Kerouac, On the road, Chapter 1, Page 5).
On the road movie poster
Overall, “On the Road” was a mesmerizing book that takes the reader on a journey to an era when American society was at its dawn of “conformism.” With Kerouac’s colorful descriptions and mind-boggling symbolic references, this novel is quite simply the novel that defines the best what we call the “Beat Generation.” I loved the style of Kerouac, all the beautiful sceneries and metaphores, it inspires me when it comes to feeling alive in this vast planet we live in. There’s a movie that came out a while ago inspired by the book, and i think i’ll look it up as soon as i can to watch it, see if the movie pictures can come close to the ones i made in my head.