Its adherents, self-styled as "beat" (originally meaning "weary," but later also having a musical sense, a "beatific" spirituality, and other meanings) and derisively called "beatniks," expressed their alienation from conventional, or "square," society by adopting an almost uniform style of seedy dress, manners, and "hip" vocabulary borrowed from jazz musicians. Generally apolitical and indifferent to social problems, they propagandized personal release, purification, and illumination through the heightened sensory awareness that might be induced by drugs, jazz, sex, or the disciplines of Zen Buddhism. Apologists for the Beats, among them Paul Goodman, found the joylessness and purposelessness of modern society sufficient justification for both withdrawal and protest.
Among the key figures of the movement were Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac.
Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997) grew up in Paterson, N.J., where his father, Louis Ginsberg, himself a poet, taught English. Allen Ginsberg's mother (whom he mourned in his long poem Kaddish), was confined for years in a mental hospital. Ginsberg was influenced in his work by the poet William Carlos Williams, particularly toward the use of natural speech rhythms and direct observa