Discuss “Howl” in groups for five minutes
…was a turning point in American literary history. Ginsberg
created a new, radically different, space and style for writing,
and he pushed back against the narrow modes of expression
acknowledged by the literary establishment.
Ginsberg’s poem, which must be heard to truly be appreciated
and understood, reclaimed the strength and influence of the
poet’s singing voice; it denied those who insisted poetry in print
was most important. Ginsberg used chants to modulate moods
and build rhythmic power through systems of sound,
compelling audience participation.
Allen Ginsberg’s first public performance
of “Howl” (1955)
“Howl” represents the birth of the 1960’s counterculture,
endeavoring to extoll its ethics explain its meaning, celebrate its
beauty, and defend its ostensibly aberrant and rebellious
The driving force of the poem is the message of community and
tolerance as parts of an ideal America.
He is one of the first to acknowledge sexual “deviants,” radical
activists, extraordinary, unconventional artists, and
experimenters with forbidden substances.
Ginsberg wanted a country that accepted eccentricity and
individualism. He wanted to redeem the society he saw as built
of greed and materialism.
• A collapse of the distinctions between high and low culture.
• Consider the lines: “Mohammedan angels staggering on tenement roofs
illuminated” and “angel headed hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly
connection to the starry dynamo.” Ginsberg fuses the high imagery of the
angelic and celestial with the ramshackle tenement rooftop, with beat
slang and pop language.
• A fragmentation of the self: a de-centering of the individual as
• Whilst Part I begins with an affirmation of the subject – “I saw the best
minds of my generation destroyed” – the “I” is soon dissolved in favor of
the “who.” Each descriptive line is no longer the sole possession of the
subject. They all occupy a general, rather than individual space. After only
a few lines of the poem, the self is completely consumed by the descriptive
‘other’: there is no anchored ‘I’, no centered subject.
• Altered states of consciousness: Part II of Howl was written
under the influence of peyote.
• Many of the effects of the new drugs of the post-war period
could be seen as ‘de-centering’ the subject (through
hallucination or otherwise) in a postmodern way.
• Pastiche: One good example of pastiche is the channel-flipping
viewer: a successive chain of images appear onscreen but are not
connected by any meaningful narrative; rather it is the sensations
of the surface images that the viewer consumes.
• If we read “Howl” looking for the sensations created by the
language, we can see the disruption of the grand narrative.
Ginsberg flips through images so fast we can barely collect
them much less understand them. He also uses shocking
scenes and offensive language to drive us from moment to
moment. This pushes individuality and eccentricism across or
beyond the modernist grand narrative and disrupts our
understanding of the world.
Why does Ginsberg begin most of his lines with “who” in part 1
Why does each “chapter” have long seemingly never ending
sentences and how does it impact the reading?
Why doesn’t “Howl” keep the traditional meter or rhythm of the
poem, but instead keeps a stream of consciousness writing?
Could the ceaseless text be an aesthetic device to describe the
unending bombardment of the world we live in, and perhaps
serve to belittle the reader and make one realize how small one
Why is there so much madness in this poem? Does this go
with his theme of capitalist society failing, because
everyone is going mad by the in obtainable dollar, that is
also repeated a few times.
Is the footnote Ginsberg’s acceptance of his own insanity?
Looking at the examples of madness – what has driven
the geniuses mad?
If we all have this howl inside of us, is there any certain
instance when a howl might be more powerful than
Who are the “best minds” of Ginsberg’s generation?
What is “who” and “I’m” represent about the
message of Ginsberg about the time period he wrote
What is the significance of the city Rockland in
Why does Ginsberg include so many religious
allusions? Was it for Ginsberg’s own sake or for his
readers that he included these religious allusions?
Why is the title significant for the readers?
Does the title “Howl” have any real relation to the
content of the story?
Is there any sort of traditional sense to be found in
What do all the thought’s in “Howl,” come together
Why he is insulting beliefs of some people, to make
Read Gloria Anzuldua pp. 837-38 La conciencia de la
mestiza/ Towards a New Consciousness pp. 838-49
and “El Sonavabitche” pp. 858-62
Post #33: Choose one
QHQ: La conciencia
Discuss themes or meaning in “El Sonavabitche”
Discuss Postmodernism, or Feminist Theory, or
Minority Theory in terms of Anzuldua