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Ginsberg Again
October 1, 2007 - 11:52am



Brown University student, 2007:

' as to end up flaccid, immobile, alone on the carpet of a dorm room, shirtless, wheezing, intellectually menopausal, cutting lines on an IBook with a pre-paid Discover card, watching consecutive hours of user-generated porn, in the dark, in a hoodie, apolitical, remorseless, eating salt-and-vinegar potato chips from a bag without a napkin: like some hero, pretending to be otherwise, on a Wednesday, during discussion section.'

Allen Ginsberg, 1956

'...angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night,

who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up smoking in the supernatural darkness of cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities contemplating jazz,

who bared their brains to Heaven under the El and saw Mohammedan angels staggering on tenement roofs illuminated,

who passed through universities with radiant eyes hallucinating Arkansas and Blake-light tragedy among the scholars of war,

who were expelled from the academies for crazy & publishing obscene odes on the windows of the skull,

who cowered in unshaven rooms in underwear...'

A very clever Brown student, for a class project on public political art, fashions a series of official looking plaques with funny, true, provocative prose on them, and attaches them to various university buildings. Sharp-eyed Inside Higher Ed takes note, and in its article about this wonderful gesture quotes befuddled students and professors as they attempt to interpret the things.

UD was particularly disappointed in the interpretation of the professor who teaches the course: "The prose seems to be like an excerpt from a memoir or autobiography or journal..."

This guy's job as teacher is to put the student's gesture - although charmingly done, it's by no means an original one - into as clear a context as he can, so that his students understand the aesthetic and social history that made what the student did possible, and from which the student drew.

UD's guess is that the closest inspiration for the student was Allen Ginsberg's Howl, which features the same long lines of slightly surreal, comic, and sordid description that we see in the student's work, the same mood of exhausted withdrawal and delusional self-mythologizing.

You'd be doing your students a favor if in your class you used this media event as an opportunity to interpret a profoundly influential and original icon (sure, Ginsberg's read his Whitman, Baudelaire, and Rimbaud -- but, like Henry Miller who read the same stuff, he's done something new with them) of American political poetry... Along the way, you might make the point that concepts like creativity and originality get flung around pretty freely at places like Brown, and that they're actually rare and difficult to achieve. Ginsberg knew exactly who his precursors were -- he was deeply read in the French surrealist and similar traditions -- and American students interested in this line of poetic and social expression should know their precursors too.


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