beat generation are several strong principles, the most notable is associated with the founder, Jack Kerouac and his definition of the generation as a whole.
The road" has been a powerful metaphor for freedom from the constraints of ordinary life, ever since Jack Kerouac's On the Road became the Beatnik Bible in the 1950's. Kerouac saw beauty in gas stations and freedom on the road. The metaphor caught the imagination of a generation. Many of the key phenomena of "the Sixties" developed in coherence with this metaphor... getting high on psychedelic drugs was called "taking a trip."
Jack Kerouac and others developed through his mostly autobiographical works the "positive" concept or purpose of the retaliatory generation of the beats.
Within the works of the small elite group of writers associated with the beat generation there are many messages about, life, the world and rejection of conformity. There is little doubt that one of the most foundational aspects of the literature of the beat generation is its reliance on the role of illicit drugs as a theme and even a lifestyle to be both glamorized and acknowledged as a powerful avenue to freedom and knowledge. It is through the years of the production of many of the works associated with the beat generation that the use of drugs became an almost mainstream lifestyle choice. T
The writers/philosophers of the beat generation used the personal exploration of drugs and the thoughts and feelings they elicit to help develop character, storyline and even what most would term a cult following for their thoughts ideas and works. Three of the most profound works expressing these ideas are, Tom Wolfe's The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test, William Burroughs' Naked Lunch and Hunter S. Thompson's Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas. It is within these three works and others associated with the so-called "beat generation" that the ideals associated with free will and self-induced experimental psychoses are best demonstrated. In fact is could be argued that there is more written about the use, role and significance of drugs in these three works than there is simply written about the works themselves.
Prior to a greater understanding of the real consequences of drug use, and in response to the conservative 1950's overdramatic warnings these young men demonstrated the creativity and "wisdom" of the free flow of thought through illicit drug use. Regardless of the argument that the drugs were simply a part of the image, their use had real effects and visible consequences upon the people who lived the lifestyle, be they writers or simply admiring stragglers. In one work associated with an attempt to reconcile the main character in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas with the writer there is a legitimate and poignant connection between the why and the why of drug use during the age.
But at a more prosaic level, Thompson's meisterwerk has had hardly any direct or serious heirs on this side of the Atlantic. And that's because an absolutely essential component of the Thompson satiric armoury was the ingestion of large quantities of mind-distorting drugs. However warped, twisted and cynical Thompson's perception of drugs and their effect, the fact remains that at the time he was writing, the consumption of illegal, mind-altering substances still had a social revolutionary cachet... Drugs are yuppie now, mainstream. The political realities of their illegality remain the same, but they no longer possess much potential for torque, for a clarifying lens to be held up against the culture that refuses to tolerate them.
And are the illegal drugs essential to the gonzo methodology?
Will Self then goes on to describe why drugs were the chosen avenue of creativity in the time of the Beats and so much of what he has to say makes sense in the long and short-term of the subject at hand.
Well, you could remove them from Fear and Loathing altogether and still somehow conjure up an evocation of those same states of mind. But on the whole, given the available options, drugs do really seem to be the best one.
Large quantities of stimulants and hallucinogens produce quite delightfully awful states of paranoia. Chuck some high-proof spirit into this boiler of toxicity and you have a conflagration on your hands. Add some heart-pumping amyl nitrate into this mix and then you'll really be taking your medicine.
Of course what this allows you to achieve is the condition of a harassed, strung-out war reporter crouching in a shell crater, working for a wire agency that might not pay him, or even support his accreditation, while in fact you haven't even quit the bathroom of your soundproof suite. The drugs both enhance and synergise with the feeling that many reporters get when they're exposed: the story they're covering before them, the news service they're representing behind them.
The full gambit of the consequences of these choices can be found within the writing of the time, from the giddy realization of great brilliance to the more than dark demonstration of near suicidal loss of hope. It is all there.
Beat," declared Jack Kerouac, whose On the Road made the Beat Generation an American byword, "means beatific, it means you get the beat, it means...Zen, apple pie, Eisenhower -- we dig it all. We're in the vanguard of the new religion." The husky Canuck and former footballer enthused over the "subterranean hip generation" with its "tendencies to silence, bohemian mystery, drugs, beard, semiholiness..." For the involved minority of the youth, at least, the "beat mystique" was a whole new epiphany, a revelation of how things were, and of how they ought to be.
Jack Kerouac may have coined the generation's name but it was not completely developed as an idea until these admiring writers expressed it through the delusions associated with the lifestyle of drug and alcohol use. The free flow of ideas of the exploration of the dark side and the light side of drug use is present even today and difficult to disentangle from the messages of the works, as the drug use is so much the core of the messages of the works.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is such a product of its times that readers since have had trouble coming to terms with it. To a later generation scared straight by drug-awareness campaigns and trained to "just say no," the quantity and variety of drugs ingested by Hunter S. Thompson (alias Raoul Duke; a.k.a. Dr. Gonzo) and his Samoan attorney alone are no laughing matter. Where others see irrepressible free spirits, this audience sees irresponsible jerks. On the other hand, those who are attracted to the book only for its outrageous humor often fail to appreciate the bleakness of its moral landscape. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is both a jet-black comedy and a doomsday parable.
The demonstration of need, today may be seen in its full temper, with the inclusion of the dangerous path taken by the characters and their writers, yet the creation of an entire genre of work almost entirely associated with illicit drug use is an anomaly within literature. Falling somewhat short of the achievement of the utter spirituality they espoused the writers traveled a dangerous path to destruction and welcomed the good the bad and the ugly of it as part of the whole experience.
Junk yields a basic formula of "evil" virus: The Algebra of Need. The face of "evil" is always the face of total need. A dope fiend is a man in total need of dope. Beyond a certain frequency need knows absolutely no limit or control.... I never had enough junk-- no one ever does.
William Burroughs, Naked Lunch
The genre is such an anomaly that even the political aspects of the drug use and abuse found within the works, or at the very least the political messages it might send has become a part of the demonstration of scholarship on the subject. The writers meant to challenge the authority of their time and in so doing may be seen as challenging even their own sanity.
The antidrug slogan "Just say no!" is an odd response indeed. Say no to what or to whom? Say no to a threat, to something that will draw you too far outside yourself. Say no because you want to say yes. Say no because, somewhere outside yourself, you know that this "you" owes a debt to the yes, the openness to alterity that is foreclosed in the proper construction of subjectivity. Of course, "just say no" never says no solely to a person-- to a dealer or a user; rather, you "just say no" to the yes itself, a yes that is not human but is perhaps the ground of human response. This constant reminder to "just say no," then, is always haunted by a trace of the yes. As William Burroughs asks in Naked Lunch, "In the words of total need, "Wouldn't you'd?" Yes you would" (xi).