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Book description

The Spiritual Imagination of the Beats is the first comprehensive study to explore the role of esoteric, occult, alchemical, shamanistic, mystical and magical traditions in the work of eleven major Beat authors. The opening chapter discusses Kenneth Rexroth and Robert Duncan as predecessors and important influences on the spiritual orientation of the Beats. David Stephen Calonne draws comparisons throughout the book between various approaches individual Beat writers took regarding sacred experience - for example, Burroughs had significant objections to Buddhist philosophy, while Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac both devoted considerable time to studying Buddhist history and texts. This book also focuses on authors who have traditionally been neglected in Beat Studies - Diane di Prima, Bob Kaufman, Philip Lamantia and Philip Whalen. In addition, several understudied work such as Gregory Corso's 'The Geometric Poem' - inspired by Corso's deep engagement with ancient Egyptian thought - are given close attention. Calonne introduces important themes from the history of heterodoxy - from Gnosticism, Manicheanism and Ismailism to Theosophy and Tarot - and demonstrates how inextricably these ideas shaped the Beat literary imagination.


'The Spiritual Imagination of the Beats is a far-ranging, meticulous study of 11 Beat writers’ investigations of heterodox religious traditions across several cultures. … a fascinating, demanding read that should inspire deeper study, whether in particular realms of theological speculation, the archive of Beat works, or their combination.'

David LeHardy Sweet Source: American Literary History

'Calonne’s comprehensive, energetic book explores this search in relation to the lives and works of the Beats. It also, to an extent, embodies it: in its extensive range of focus and level of detail …'

Rona Cran Source: Modern Language Review

‘It is one of the major perks of The Spiritual Imagination of the Beats that Calonne’s straightforward and adequate prose provides easy access to both Beat literature and the tradition and cosmologies of the 'hidden religions' even to readers who are not familiar with either topic. Calonne delivers an incredibly far-reaching, well-founded, and well-researched study which successfully evinces that 'far from dilettantish dabbling in supposedly exotic heterodoxies, the Beats engaged in a serious, scholarly exploration of a variety of philosophical traditions' [(175)], and he has thus pioneered the way for further investigations into the numerous countercultural cosmologies that manifest in Beat literature.'

Stefan Benz Source: Amerikastudien/American Studies

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