Saturday, October 07, 2006

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

Lies, Illusions, Fake Madness, Fake Art

Part 3

And from here we can finally confront the fourth level of dishonesty in this poem. The poem presents itself, and is intended to be seen, as the scribblings and desperate cry of just such a mad artist at the margin of sanity, or beyond. Because Ginsberg's readership is so primed by an absurd poetics that establishes madness as a qualifying necessity for artistic greatness, the minions bow down in awe. Here it is! The recovered writings of a mad prophet. But like faux marble, scratch the false colors, even with a dull knife, and they flake off.

The poet is not mad and there is nothing honest about the perception of madness he creates. If indeed the world had defeated him, and this was his last half-sane cry, perhaps we could find meaning in his words, and surely we would feel empathy for his broken spirit. But the poet is not defeated. The facts of his life speak loudly and clearly to the contrary. Ginsberg was a fighter and talented self-promoter to the very end. No, this is a paean to self-indulgence, with cynical disregard for the truth

So why is Howl so popular? Although I believe I have laid out some partial answers already, frankly, I ask the question, not to seek an answer, but to expose the real question. What has gone wrong with our literary standards, that we have lost the desire for exemplary art? Why is not moral grandeur the defining feature of our literature?

There is only one way to answer these two questions, and that is to throw off this shabby, ill-fitting and confining garment we call 20th century literature. We need to once again take responsibility for our words and the words that we read and endorse. Authors, not readers, are the creators of meaning. And those authors that take responsibility for the value of their words, will also take responsibility for creating pathways into our future.

Where are those great ones that can imagine a way from here to a desirable future? We have plenty of piddlers who can rant on about the morass and despair they live in. Enough of lies and narcissism, cynicism and despair! If our intentions do not have a clear purpose and meaning, and if that purpose and meaning is not essentially ethical, then we're not ready to sit down and write. Paraphrasing the words of Frederick Turner in his introduction to The New World, "If we're not prepared to imagine a better future, how can we possibly create one?"

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