ABSTRACT. What was it really like being a Beat? What exactly shaped the identity of the artists that started both a media craze ridiculing them during the containment era in America and a literary revolution which later brought them recognition as some of the most influential writers in world literature? The term ‘Beat’ referred both to the ‘beaten-down’ state and, at the same time, the state of beatitude one could get from spiritual epiphanies. The Beat artists were enchanted by any ideology having to do with peace and the search for the true nature of the human soul. They used alcohol and drugs in order to find spiritual freedom and inspiration. This consumption practice, along with their back-then scandalous lifestyle, appearance, preferences and subversive reaction to the postwar American ‘heyday of mass consumption’, became a bearer of meaning for their identities both as individuals and as a group. This article will discuss the spiritual space in which the Beats were living while practicing philosophy, enjoying music and consuming alcohol and addictive substances.

Keywords: postwar America; Beat literature; bebop jazz; Zen Buddhism; substance consumption; addiction

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Ovidius University, Faculty of Letters,
Constanta, Romania

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