The Philosophy of the Lost Generation

An excerpt from Exile's Return by Malcolm Cowley and how it influenced later bohemian movements

1. The idea of salvation by the child. - Each of us at birth has special potentialities which are slowly crushed and destroyed by a standardized society and mechanical methods of teaching. If a new educational system can be introduced, one by which children are encouraged to develop their own personalities, to blossom freely like flowers, then the world would be saved by this new, free generation.

2. The idea of self-expression. - Each man's, each woman's purpose in life is to express himself, to realize his full individuality through creative work and beautiful living in beautiful surroundings.

3. The idea of paganism. - The body is a temple in which there is nothing unclean, a shrine to be adorned for the ritual of love.

4. The idea of living for the moment. - It is stupid to pile up treasures that we can enjoy only in old age, when we have lost the capacity for enjoyment. Better to seize the moment as it comes, to dwell in it intensely, even at the cost of future suffering. Better to live extravagantly, gather June rosebuds, "burn my candle at both ends... It gives a lovely light."

5. The idea of liberty. - Every law, convention or rule of art that prevents self-expression or the full enjoyment of the moment should be shattered and abolished. Puritanism is the great enemy. The crusade against puritanism is the only crusade with which free individuals are justified in allying themselves.

6. The idea of female equality. - Women should be the economic and moral equals of men. They should have the same pay, the same working conditions, the same opportunity for drinking, smoking, taking or dismissing lovers.

7. The idea of psychological adjustment. - We are unhappy because we are maladjusted, and maladjusted because we are repressed. If our individual repressions can be removed - by confessing them to a Freudian psychologist - then we can adjust ourselves to any situation, and be happy with it....

8. The idea of changing place. - "They do things better in Europe." England and Germany have the wisdom of old cultures; the Latin peoples have admirably preserved their pagan heritage. By expatriating himself, by living in Paris, Capri or the south of France, the artist can break the puritan shackles, drink, live freely and be wholly creative.

Quoted from the chapter, War in Bohemia in Exile's Return.

When Malcolm Cowley was working with Jack Kerouac to get On the Road published, he suggested to Jack to put something in his book that makes some kind of statement about his philosophy. Well, Jack couldn't come up with any eight aspects of the Beat Generation's philosophy. All he could say was...

...because the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes "Awww!"

Colin Pringle, ed.
Filename: cowley.htm
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