Blending biography, cultural history, and literary criticism, The Bop Apocalypse explores the religious concerns, metaphysical realities, and spiritual pursuits that undergirded the early friendship and literary collaborations of Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and William S. Burroughs.
Presenting a religious biography of the Beats from the mid-1940s to the late 1950s, John Lardas shows that in rejecting many of the cultural tenets of postwar America, Kerouac, Ginsberg, and Burroughs created new visions of both self and country, visions they articulated through distinctive literary forms. Lardas examines how the Beat writers distilled a theology of experience--a religious vision that animated their everyday existence as well as their art--from a flurry of disparate influences that included the saxophone wails of Charlie Parker and Lester Young, the psychology of Wilhelm Reich, the linguistic theories of Alfred Korzybski, the hipster dialects of New York City, and especially the prophecies of Oswald Spengler. Revisiting the major works the Beats produced in the 1950s in terms of critical content, Lardas considers how their lived religion was incorporated into the way they wrote.
The first sustained treatment of Beat religiosity, The Bop Apocalypse takes a sophisticated look beyond the cartoonish reductions of the Beat counterculture. The Bop Apocalypse takes the Beats at face value, interpreting their sexual openness, drug use, criminality, compulsion to travel, and madness as the logical, physical enactments of a religious representation of the world. Far from dallying irrelevantly on the fringes of society, Lardas asserts, the Beats engaged America on moral grounds through the discourse of public religion.