Lion’s Roar review of ‘The Best Minds of My Generation’


The Best Minds of My Generation

A Literary History of the Beats

By Allen Ginsberg, Edited by Bill Morgan
Grove Press, 2017; 460 pp., $27.00 (cloth)


Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche invited Allen Ginsberg to the Naropa Institute in the early days of the West’s first Buddhist-inspired university. Thus began Ginsberg’s twenty-three-year run teaching a course—at Naropa and later at Brooklyn College—on the literary history of the Beat Generation. Ginsberg’s poetic voice shines through in the forty-nine lectures reprinted in this volume. Many of the Beat luminaries are there: Jack Kerouac, Lucien Carr, William Burroughs, and Gregory Corso, as well as the author of Howl himself. But there’s nothing predictable about this collection, which delves into topics like the influence of jazz musician Charlie Parker’s improvisations on Kerouac’s prose style, the Buddhism in On the Road, and what the Beats scene in Times Square was like in the 1940s.


Assessing the Value of Buddhism, for Individuals and for the World ~ A book review


The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment
By Robert Wright
336 pp. Simon & Schuster. $27.

Anyone writing (or reading) about Buddhism faces a critical question. What is Buddhism, really? A religion, complete with supernatural deities and reincarnation? A secular philosophy of life? A therapeutic practice? An ideology? All of the above? Robert Wright sketches an answer early in “Why Buddhism Is True.” He settles on a credible blend that one might call Western Buddhism, a largely secular approach to life and its problems but not devoid of a spiritual dimension. The centerpiece of the approach is the practice of mindful meditation.

The goal of “Why Buddhism Is True” is ambitious: to demonstrate “that Buddhism’s diagnosis of the human predicament is fundamentally correct, and that its prescription is deeply valid and urgently important.” It is reasonable to claim that Buddhism, with its focus on suffering, addresses critical aspects of the human predicament. It is also reasonable to suggest that the prescription it offers may be applicable and useful to resolve that predicament.

To produce his demonstrations and to support the idea that Buddhism is “true,” Wright relies on science, especially on evolutionary psychology, cognitive science and neuroscience. This is a sensible approach, and in relation to Buddhism it is almost mainstream. Over the years, in a number of encounters, I have found the Dalai Lama and those around him to be keenly interested in science. Wright is up to the task: He’s a Buddhist who has written about religion and morality from a scientific perspective — he is most famous for his 1994 book, “The Moral Animal.”

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August 3, 2017 By Terry McDonell

At the stroke of midnight in Washington, a drooling red-eyed beast with the legs of a man and a head of a giant hyena crawls out of its bedroom window in the South Wing of the White House and leaps fifty feet down to the lawn… pauses briefly to strangle the Chow watchdog, then races off into the darkness… towards the Watergate, snarling with lust, loping through the alleys behind Pennsylvania Avenue.

–Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ’72, 1973

Hunter Thompson thought a lot about money, especially when he was writing about politics. He would say politics was always about the money and he was too. He turned getting paid into theater, stopping just short of sending his editors dead cats in the mail. But at the other end, when he was negotiating assignments, he was a charmer, pulling you into his jokes.


Hunter feasted on Nixon. And it is in his early political writing for Jann Wenner at Rolling Stone, his best work really, that you see an eerie significance reflecting what he might write today if he were covering the White House. You can grab random passages from those pieces and just switch out the name Nixon for Trump.

“It is Nixon/Trump himself who represents that dark, venal and incurably violent side of the American character,” Hunter wrote in Rolling Stone in 1973. And in the wake of the James Comey firings, as the word “Nixonian” became ubiquitous, Hunter’s instinct to make political journalism part performance art underlined how interesting he would be covering Trump. Plus Hunter was taller than Donald.

Hunter followed Nixon from the late 1960s when he wrote in Pageant Magazine that Nixon/Trump was “…a foul caricature of himself, a man with no soul, no inner convictions, with the integrity of a hyena and the style of a poison toad… absolutely humorless; I couldn’t imagine him laughing at anything except maybe a paraplegic who wanted to vote Democratic but couldn’t quite reach the lever on the voting machine.” Ring any bells?

Or try this from The New York Times, no less, on January 1, 1974: Nixon/Trump was a… “mixture of arrogance and stupidity that caused him to blow the boilers almost immediately after taking command. By bringing in hundreds of thugs, fixers and fascists to run the Government, he was able to crank almost every problem he touched into a mind-bending crisis. About the only disaster he hasn’t brought down on us yet is a nuclear war with either Russia or China or both but he still has time, and the odds on his actually doing it are not all that long… Even Senators and Congressmen have been shaken out of their slothful ruts, and the possibility of impeachment is beginning to look real…” Ding, ding, ding!

Also relevant are these excellent recent pieces in The Nation and The Washington Post that point to Hunter’s identification of the Hell’s Angels as having an “ethic of total retaliation” which, flashed forward, is at the heart of Trump’s power base—counted out economically and left behind in their own country. As Donald himself said during the campaign, “Motorcycle guys like Trump.”

Hunter knew those guys too, and he would have understood Trump—and rollicked with the rise and fall of Anthony Scaramucci before he got the chance to push leakers out of Marine One at two thousand feet. “The Mooch” served up such clueless vulgarity as to be even more worthy than Nixon’s two-faced press secretary, Ron Zeigler, who Hunter said was a “bilious pleasure” to deal with.

Hunter’s strongest political coverage began in December 1971, when he moved to a rented house on Juniper Street in quiet, Northwest DC to work on his campaign book. Nixon was in office and Hunter said it was like “living in an armed camp, a condition of constant fear.” He sensed “the slow-rising central horror of ‘Watergate,’” and wrote in Rolling Stone that it was “not that it might grind down to the reluctant impeachment of a vengeful thug of a president whose entire political career has been a monument to the same kind of cheap shots and treachery he finally got nailed for, but that we might somehow fail to learn something from it.”

Now, with Trump in the White House degrading the Presidency and enriching his family at the same time, how far are we really from Jared Kushner getting caught red-handed taking cash bribes across his desk in the West Wing. Hunter would be all over that. And he’d want to get paid for sure, but maybe he’d work for a little less because the assignment was so worthy.


The Accidental Life: An Editor’s Notes on Writing and Writersby Terry McDonell (who is a cofounder of this website), is available now from Vintage.

On Hemingway and the ideal of masculinity

“The masters of the short story come to no good end,” wrote Ernest Hemingway, in a bitterly prescient moment. He was, of course, a master of the short story who came to his own no good end with a shotgun.

But now is not the time to speak of endings. This week marks the 118th anniversary of Hemingway’s birth. Today, no living fiction writer towers over American culture the way Papa once did. His cultivated blend of machismo and existential stoicism captivated a lost generation shattered by war. His elliptical style mesmerized readers for decades — and remains so highly contagious that students still fall prey to its impassive tone and declarative simplicity. The International Imitation Hemingway Competition ran for nearly three decades, ending in 2005 , but the number and quality of entries that poured in over the years suggest it could have gone on forever.

Isn’t it pretty to think so?


I’ve always had an uneasy relationship with this Nobel Prize winner. I got to know the young woman who would eventually be my wife in a seminar on Hemingway. The earth moved, though not at first. If she was attracted to the testosteronic writer, I don’t know what attracted her to me. Hemingway and I were both raised by Christian Science mothers in the Midwest, but beyond that, the similarities end. He had more wives than I’ve had dates. He rushed into danger to get material for his writing; I rushed into writing to get away from danger.

But as I studied his life, all that boxing and boasting and bingeing struck me as symptoms of deep insecurity. Surely, a real man wouldn’t be quite so self-conscious about being a real man, right?

Those tensions are richly explored in a new biography by Mary V. Dearborn, but I can’t help feeling that, for most of us, the secret to appreciating Hemingway’s work lies in staying away from Hemingway’s life. His bravado, his pomposity and, frankly, his inconsolable sadness risk overshadowing his art. What the New Critics called “the biographical fallacy” is always irresistible, but it’s especially tempting when dealing with a writer who aggressively encouraged it. Trying to match up every event in a story to the author’s life is a swell way of reducing a great work of fiction to a flawed autobiography.

~~~  READ MORE  ~~~

Letter from Colorado ~ July 24, 2017 Issue ~ How Trump Is Transforming Rural America by Peter Hessler


In a small Colorado city, Trump’s tone has a deeper influence than his policies.

Illustration by Alvaro Dominguez; map by Nicoolay / Getty

When Karen Kulp was a child, she believed that the United States of America as she knew it was going to end on June 6, 1966. Her parents were from the South, and they had migrated to Colorado, where Kulp’s father was involved in mining operations and various entrepreneurial activities. In terms of ideology, her parents had started with the John Birch Society, and then they became more radical, until they thought that an invasion was likely to take place on 6/6/66, because it resembled the number of the Beast. “We thought we were going to have a world war, there would be Communists coming, we’d have to kill somebody for a loaf of bread,” Kulp said recently.

She was thirteen when doomsday came. The family was living in Del Norte, Colorado, and they had packed gas masks, ammunition, canned food, and other supplies. As the day went on, Kulp said, she began to think that the invasion wasn’t going to happen. “And then I thought, I’m going to have to go to school tomorrow.”

In time, Kulp began to question her parents’ ideas. Her father became a pioneer in far-right radio, re-broadcasting the shows of Tom Valentine, who often promoted conspiracy theories and was accused of anti-Semitism. The Kulp family sometimes attended Aryan Nations training camps. “It was for whites only,” Kulp said. “It would teach you that whites were the supreme race, all of that shit.” She pointed to her heart: “It just didn’t fit in with this right here.”

By the time Kulp was twenty, she had rejected her parents’ racism. She worked as a nurse, eventually specializing in geriatric care, and during the nineteen-eighties she participated in pro-choice demonstrations. Last autumn, she was energized by the Presidential election. In Grand Junction, the largest city in western Colorado, Kulp campaigned with a group of citizens who became active shortly after the release of the “Access Hollywood” recording, in which Trump was caught on tape bragging about assaulting women.

One of the campaigners was a working mother named Lisa Gaizutis. Her eleven-year-old son had friends whose parents had declared that they would move to Canada if the election went the wrong way, so he did everything possible to free up his mother’s afternoons. “He said he’d take care of himself as long as I was campaigning,” Gaizutis remembered, after the election. “He’d text me and say, ‘You can stay late, I’m done with my homework.’ ”

On January 20th, nearly two hundred people attended the Mesa County Republican Women’s DeploraBall. They watched a live feed of the Presidential Inaugural Ball, and they took photographs of one another next to cardboard cutouts of Donald Trump and Ronald Reagan, which had been arranged on the mezzanine of the Avalon Theatre. The theatre has an elegant Romanesque Revival façade, and it was built in the twenties, during one of the periodic resource-extraction booms that have shaped the city and its psyche. Grand Junction, with its surrounding area, has a population of some hundred and fifty thousand, and it sits in a wide, windswept valley. There are dry mountains and mesas on all sides, and the landscape gives the town a self-contained feel. Even its history revolves around events that were suffered alone. Residents often refer to their own “Black Sunday,” a date that’s meaningless anywhere else: May 2, 1982, when Exxon decided to abandon an enormous oil-shale project, with devastating effects on Grand Junction’s economy.

The region is a Republican stronghold in a state that is starkly divided. Clinton won the Colorado popular vote by a modest margin, but Trump took nearly twice as many counties. The difference came from Denver and Boulder, two populous and liberal enclaves on the Front Range, the eastern side of the Rockies—the Colorado equivalents of New York and California. “Donald Trump lost those two counties by two hundred and seventy-three thousand votes, and he won the rest of the state by a hundred and forty thousand votes,” Steve House, the former chair of the state Republican Party, told me. “That means that most of Colorado, in my mind, is a conservative state.”

It also means that Colorado’s economy and culture change dramatically from the Front Range to the Western Slope, on the other side of the Continental Divide. Between 2010 and 2015, the Front Range experienced ninety-six per cent of Colorado’s population growth, and the state’s unemployment rate is only 2.3 per cent. But Grand Junction lost eleven per cent of its workforce between 2009 and 2014, in part because the local energy industry collapsed in the wake of the worldwide drop in gas prices. Average annual family earnings are around ten thousand dollars less than the state figure.