Academic journal article Framework

Queer Coupling, or the Stain of the Bearded Woman

Academic journal article Framework

Queer Coupling, or the Stain of the Bearded Woman

Article excerpt

When asked by a participant at a conference why there were no women poets in the Beat generation, Allen Ginsberg responded, "Is it our fault that there weren't any women of genius in the group?" During the selection process for his book of Photographs, Allen likewise had to be reminded that he had not chosen any photographs of women. It was not deliberate; he had not noticed his omission.1

Having explored the contributions of women to the postwar underground in many of my writings,2 Gregory Corso's explanation seemed more apt: "There were women, they were there, I knew them, their families put them in institutions, they were given electric shock. In the '50s if you were male you could be a rebel, but if you were female your families had you locked up. There were cases, I knew them, someday someone will write about them." As Ann Douglas has argued, many of the most gifted women of the Beat Generation didn't survive, "in part because they internalized their male Beat models too intimately."3 Often deferring their own careers in poetry to care for their poet partners, or manifesting their alienation from the male dominated scene in even more self-destructive ways, these women have largely been omitted from the history of the Beat Generation.4

Nonetheless, Douglas suggests that it was the male Beats who provided an example of liberation for the feminists of the next decade.5 Certainly this was true for Underground filmmaker Barbara Rubin, whose notorious 1963 film Christmas on Earth may be the most sexually explicit film of the sixties-stag, avant-garde, foreign, or otherwise. And it is to Rubin that this exploration of female subjectivity, queer coupling, and Judaism in the sixties is devoted.

As I write this, I am sitting here surrounded by a pile of books-Ginsberg's biographies, letters, poems, correspondences, etc. There is also a pile of criticism-about his biographies, letters, poems, correspondences, etc.-about to topple over where I have stacked them. It seems as if everything Ginsberg did was expertly documented. He created his own Allen Ginsberg archive, every scrap of paper filed away and neatly arranged in folders, from grocery lists to napkin doodles. There is a sea of material that still laps at his grave, ample room I suppose for the rest of us to dive in.

I have scoured these materials for any reference about her. But she exists only in fragments. A glimpse of her, here and there. Mostly there. Massaging Dylan's curls on the back of the Bringing It All Back Home (1965) album cover, or hovering on the stairs in front of the Royal Albert Hall in London, where she organized the landmark International Poetry Reading in June 1965. I have a vision of Barbara standing behind the big boys, looming on the side of a photograph, a camera covering her face like a mask. She has been pushed aside to make way for the giants of poetry and prose, the geniuses. Or maybe not pushed aside, maybe self-effaced. Like the skull in Hans Holbein's painting The Ambassadors, she is the stain.6 I no longer know what is real and what I have imagined, so I return to the pile of books to search for some confirmation of my vision. It collapses.

Each of the Ginsberg books is threaded with neon Post-its, a scholar's version of Gretel's trail of cookie crumbs. They mark places where she is mentioned, always briefly. The "filmmaker Barbara Rubin." Allen's "sometimes girlfriend."

If Barbara Rubin is mentioned at all in these hefty homages to the great Dionysian, her life is reduced to a few swift strokes-repeated over and over again in the different versions. Drugs: Many. Obsessions: Ginsberg. Downfall: Hasidism. Always, Ginsberg and Hasidism. Rejected by one, she turns to the other. Or, in alternate versions, her growing interest in Hasidism turns Ginsberg off. One is presented as remedy for the other, but it is a remedy that only makes the patient sicker. Her death in childbirth, a decade after she leaves the farm, proves the disease incurable. …

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