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Kerouac defined the Beat turn of mind as oscillating between the poles of existential defeat and spiritual beatitude. Indeed, the Beat writer feels dragged into the 'beaten-down' state of existence in a post-Hiroshima world dominated by a pseudo-religious embrace of technology and consumerism. Yet, the resulting existential 'nakedness' also constitutes a fertile soil for a re-attunement of the senses leading to a sacralization of the profane and to a heightened attention to the movements of consciousness and how it relates to the 'real.' In fact, any critic engaging in an in-depth assessment of Beat mysticism is faced with a double difficulty. On the one hand, Beat religiosity took a number of different forms from writer to writer, this very hybridity demanding from commentators that they be familiar with a wide range of spiritual traditions. On the other hand, the very complexity and dynamic nature of the religious phenomenon as such constitutes a challenge too, especially in contemporary postmodern societies with mutating notions of what constitutes the 'sacred' and the 'spiritual.' In collaboration with Beat specialists worldwide, FRANCA BELLARSI thus investigates what, even fifty years after it first emerged into public visibility, remains one of the most controversial aspects of the Beat bohemia: its complex contribution to American religion and to postmodern spirituality.
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