…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.
Discuss “Howl” in groups for five minutes
Q: If style is just and extension of content, how is the poem
“Howl” presented, and how is this style influencing the
Q: Is “Howl” a work of metapoetry?
Q: Does this poem’s unconventional style force readers to
examine it more closely, or push them away?
What is the significance and repetition of the word “holy?”
Q: Why is the Footnote to Howl separate from the rest of
Form and Style
Q: Who did Ginsberg write Howl for?
Q: In Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl,” how does the narrator
fit in with the facts and exaggerations he speaks of?
Q: Why does Allen Ginsberg repeatedly use the
image of Moloch in Part II of Howl?
Q: Why would Ginsberg pick the title of the poem to be
“Howl” instead of any other title?
Q: with the discussion in class about the author attacking
capitalism and such, could he be taking shots at the
church and religion as well? as part of capitalism?
“Howl” speaks in strong opposition to the society that
surrounded it, but does Ginsberg offer any alternatives?
Q: Why don’t Ginsberg’s greatest minds include anyone
who holds a typically valued role in society?
Are all the people Ginsberg mentions fuck ups?
Q: Why is there such an emphasis on insanity and
obscenity in Howl?
Is Ginsberg trying to argue that the marginalized are
forced into insanity by society?
How does Ginsberg portray his version of “The
Q: How are Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” and Hunter
Thompson’s “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” alike?
Q: Does “Howl” fit into the “hippie” category?
Gloria Anzaldua was
born in the Rio Grande
Valley of South Texas in
1942. She described
herself as a
et/cultural theorist, and
these identities were just
the beginning of the ideas
she explored in her work.
She died in 2004 of
complications related to
Gloria Anzaldua moved to California in 1977, where she
devoted herself to writing. She continued to participate
in political activism, consciousness-raising, and groups
such as the Feminist Writers Guild. She also looked for
ways to build a multicultural, inclusive feminist
movement. Much to her dissatisfaction, she discovered
there were very few writings either by or about women
Some readers have struggled with the multiple
languages in her writings – English and Spanish, but
also variations of those languages. According to Gloria
Anzaldua, when the reader does the work of piecing
together fragments of language and narrative, it mirrors
the way feminists must struggle to have their ideas
heard in a patriarchal society.
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