The Holy Barbarians

The Holy Barbarians

The Holy Barbarians

The Holy Barbarians

Excerpt

When the barbarians appear on the frontiers of a civilization it is a sign of a crisis in that civilization. If the barbarians come, not with weapons of war but with the songs and ikons of peace, it is a sign that the crisis is one of a spiritual nature. In either case the crisis is never welcomed by the entrenched beneficiaries of the status quo. In the case of the holy barbarians it is not an enemy invasion threatening the gates, it is "a change felt in the rhythm of events" that signals one of those "cyclic turns" which the poet Robinson Jeffers has written about.

To the ancient Greeks the barbarian was the bearded foreigner who spoke an unintelligible gibberish. Our barbarians come bearded and sandaled, and they speak and write in a language that is not the "Geneva language" of conventional usage. That their advent is not just another bohemianism is evident from the fact that their ranks are not confined to the young. Moreover, the not-so-young among the holy barbarians are not "settling down," as the nonconformists of the past have done. Some of them are already bringing up families and they are still "beat." This is not, as it was at the turn of the century, the expatriates in flight from New England gentility and bluenose censorship. It is not the anti-Babbitt caper of the twenties. Nor the politically oriented alienation of the thirties. The present generation has taken note of all these and passed on beyond them to a total rejection of the whole society, and that, in present-day America, means the business civilization. The alienation of the hipsters from the squares is now complete.

Presenting the picture in this way, as a kind of evolutionary, historical process, I must caution the reader at this point that it is merely a preliminary formulation of the picture, a simplification. When I met Kenneth Rexroth for the first time in Chicago back in the late twenties he was as beat as any of today's beat generation. So was I. So were most of my friends at the time. If some of us remained beat through . . .

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