Academic journal article ARIEL

Indian Journals and Allen Ginsberg's Revival as Prophet of Social Revolution

Academic journal article ARIEL

Indian Journals and Allen Ginsberg's Revival as Prophet of Social Revolution

Article excerpt

Countercultural political and social histories may well remember Allen Ginsberg's renditions of beatnik religious and narrational adventures into underclass liberal intellectualism and social ethics as the expression of the true sublimity of "Beat," if only because he anticipates the massive protest vehicle of 1960s counterculture. In addition, biographical assessments assert the fact that spiritual metaphors of discovery and deracialized ethno-studies could galvanize intellectual and social revolutions against the anesthetizing power of American capitalist-technological authoritarianism (Raskin, Schumacher). Hence, analytic readings tend to point out pronounced differences with Jack Kerouac, Ginsberg's spiritual mentor, and William S. Burroughs, a onetime lover who had forewarned the young Ginsberg not to adopt a political liberalism that mimicked "the most damnable tyranny, a sniveling, mealy-mouthed tyranny of bureaucrats, social workers, psychiatrists, and Union officials" (qtd. in Johnson 113). Robert Johnson describes Burroughs's instructional tone: ideologies obstructed the thinker's point of view, and liberalism "was a plot to create conformity--politically, economically, and, as his letters to Ginsberg consistently argue, sexually" (106).

Ginsberg's two-year trek to India between 1961 and 1963 was, in fact, the narrative force which catalyzed his rebirth as prophet, icon, and countercultural messenger, causing him to move further from Kerouac's spiritual adventuring while transforming anguish into redemption that made possible the development of a truly countercultural outlook and protest rhetoric. First, a reading of Indian Journals implies a decisive moment of authorial self-doubt, borrowed from the poet's sexual and philosophical anxieties which were the result of dependence upon Burroughs and Kerouac as a "protege." Depression, both in and after the publication of "Howl," is intimately connected with Ginsberg's relationship to his mentors. His poetry during the late 1950s and early 1960s profile the isolating psychic frustrations of an intellectual gay dissenter obsessed with finding meanings, yet unable to realize sustained selfhood while confronted with American capitalist-military dominance. Notwithstanding his translation of drugged depression into poems such as 1959's "Lysergic Acid" and 1963's "Mescaline," the tone of his entreaty was often quite simple. In 1962, he pleaded with Kerouac in a letter: "what will happen to my mind which has lost its idea?" (Indian Journals 11). My sense is that two regenerative themes characterize the transformation of "beatnik" Ginsberg into the ebullient, concrete, and synthetic hippie poet who would truly challenge American structures of domination. The first was intellectual: Hindu India manifested Ginsberg's concept of "world," materially crystallized his understanding of liberal international possibility, and expanded the urgency of learning from the "Eastern" anthropological/cultural traditions, redeveloping social ethics away from the rhetoric of colonialism, postcolonialism, and globalization.

Orientalist configurations of otherness, too, were challenged, making vocalizations of true narrative communicativity between "White" and "Other" possible. Here, a reading of the makings of poems such as "Stotras to Kali Destroyer of Illusions" marked an interesting change, a moment where Ginsberg rewrote the mythology and typology of American domination to present a ubiquitous sacrificial demon which had amalgamated and destroyed man's intellectual and social being. This poem, which was in a constant state of revision in the early 1960s, empowered the focus of poetry once again to challenge the rhetoric of war, democracy, and authority within the American social landscape. The second effect was mystical and spiritual: Ginsberg's drugged depression at the outset of his journey became pleasantly romanticized, set in a country with a long history of tolerance for mysticism, shamanism, and underground rebellions against the State. …

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