Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Concerning Allen Ginsberg's poem "Howl", part 1 of 3

Excavating my notebooks, I found this little essay on Ginsberg's Howl written in 1999. Perhaps I am ranting some [smile], but I think it's interesting reading. I’ll upload it in 3 parts. Here’s the first

Lies, Illusion, Fake Madness, Fake Art

Part 1

Lies, illusion, fake madness, and fake art: that's what our poetics and art theorists have passed on to yet another generation. Exemplified, but by no means originating in Ginsberg's so-called epic, Howl, it is summarized quite neatly in the first line: "I have seen the best minds of my generation...." Reading these words, you can put the book down. Everything that follows is mere hysterics.

This line embodies four lies, and can thus be taken as a defining statement of the artistic and intellectual cul-de-sac we have long been caught in, like those stories of lost hikers we have all heard, who wander round and round in a rather narrow circle, entirely unaware that they are going nowhere and doing absolutely nothing to help themselves, in spite of all their effort.

In what follows, I lay out the four lies Ginsberg has reproduced so cleverly in his poem. I say "reproduced" because there's nothing new here. And I say "cleverly" because by all sales measures, this is one of the most successful poems ever published. Already a second generation is gobbling it up like so much fast food.

The first lie is on the literal level. It is quite obvious and direct. Ginsberg is not describing the best minds of his, or any generation. These are the failed and broken minds and souls of his generation. These are the rejected ones, who are rejecting the world (and themselves), as much as the world is rejecting them.

The truth is anathema to the four-tiered lie Ginsberg has built. The truth is that the best minds for many generations now have been disgusted by art and literature and its futile and impotent and nay-saying view of the world. The best minds have turned to science, math, and occasionally spiritual matters. The best minds have not given up on the world, but rather, are determined to rebuild it. They have left art and literature to wallow in its own drunken swill. With this line of Ginsberg's we get a good lungfull of the smell of modern literature. With catch-phrases like ,"It's not the artist's job to create meaning; that's the job of the reader," we get another deep breath of the same vomit.

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