American Literature Allen Ginsberg's Epic Term Paper

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Ginsberg in fact spent some time in a psychiatric ward and his poem Howel makes the implication that his and his contemporaries madness is caused by the madness of society which, due to its infatuation with technology, has become a demon far worse than any found in humanity's collective mythology.

Jung argues that in modern society, mythology has not actually disappeared, it has just taken a less noticeable form in terms of such concepts as "human willpower." In order to deal with these internal demons, humans now turn to alcohol and tobacco, which is another major theme in Howl. Essentially, instead of embracing our collective myths, humans have internalized them and casts them out by suppressing their meanings and hiding from them through new technology, drugs and alcohol, to such a point that we feel trapped by these demons we no longer recognize and therefore continue to run from blindly.

The cumulative effect of this process is a dehumanizing of the world. In other words, as myths connect us to our past and therefore make us humans and they are continually erased and replaced by scientific understanding, society in a sense becomes less human and more mechanical. As humans lose their connection to each other, the experience isolation from both each other and from the natural world. As Jung points out, humans are no longer "involved in nature and (have) lost the emotional unconscious identity with natural phenomena." Thus, "Thunder is no longer the voice of an angry god, nor is lightning his avenging missile. No river contains a spirit, no tree is the life principle of a man, no snake the embodiment of wisdom, no mountain cave the home of a great demon." In essence, Jung is saying that humans have lost their contact with nature, and along with this the "profound emotional energy that his symbolic connection supplied." (Jung, p. 120).

Thus, the artist, the singer of nature, has nothing left to talk to as his or her audience no longer understands the myths of humanity. The artist is left alone, in an abyss of madness, where the only option left is to return to nature and simply howl.


Campbell, Joseph. The Flight of the Wild Gander: Explorations in the Mythological Dimension. 2nd. Chicago: Regnery Gateway, Inc., 1969.

A that myths are a function of nature as well as of culture, and as necessary to the balanced maturation of the human psyche as is nourishmnent to the body" (p. 3) they may be recognized in themselves as [i]natural[/i] phenomena, opening backward to mystery -- like trees, like hills, or like mountain streams -- antecedent (like the wood of trees) to the "meanings" that have been given them and the uses to which they have been put." (p. 4)

The teachings of a prophet will have 'meaning' of this kind for a whole society: to set and retain it on its path of health. However, the guiding mythic symbols -- the notions of divinity, rites of praise or of atonement, festivals of accord, etc. -- inspired or renewed by such teachings will have a salutary effect only so long as the circumstance prevails, or threatens to prevail, to which the teachings were addressed. A shift, for example, from a hunting to a pastoral age, or from pastoral to industrial, and the myths also will change -- unless artificially retained, in which case they will themselves have become the agents of a disease to the cure of which new visions will arise, new prophecies, new prophets, and new gods.

The common tendency today to read the word 'myth' as meaning 'untruth' is almost certainly a symptom of the incredibility and consequent inefficacy of our own outdated mythic teachings, both of the Old Testament and of the New: the Fall of Adam and Eve, Tablets of the Law, Fires of Hell, Second Coming of the Savior, etc.; and not only of those archaic religious Testaments, but also of the various, more modern, secular 'Utopiates' (let us call them) that are being offered today in their place. Living myths are not mistaken notions, and they do not spring from books. They are not to be judged as true or false but as effective or ineffective, maturative or pathogenic. They are rather like enzymes, products of the body in which they work; or in homogeneous social groups, products of a body social. They are not invented but occur, and are recognized by seers, and poets, to be then cultivated and employed as catalysts of spiritual (i.e., psychological) well-being. And so, finally, neither a stale and overdue nor contrived, plastic mythology will serve; neither priest nor sociologist takes the place of the poet-seer" (p 5-6)

Man, nature, death, society -- these have served simply as fields into which dream-meanings have been projected. Hence the references of the wild motifs are not really (no matter what the rationalizing consciousness may believe) to the sun, the moon, the stars, to the wind and thunder, to the grave, to the hero, or even to the power of the group, but through these, back again to a state of the psyche. Mythology is psychology, misread as cosmology, history, and biography." (33) myth, as the psychoanalysts declare, is not a mess of errors; myth is a picture language. But the language has to be studied to be read. In the first place, this language is the native speech of dream. But in the second place, it has been studied, clarified, and enriched by the poets, prophets, and visionaries of untold millenius...were not bad scientists making misstatements about the weather, or neurotics reading dreams into the stars, but masters of the human spirit teaching a wisdom of death and life...They brooded on the state and way of man, and through their broodigns came to wisdom; then teaching, with the aid of the picture-language of myth, they worked changes on the patterns of their inherited iconographies." (33)

Therefor, in sum: The 'monstrous, irrational and unnatural' motifs of folk tale and myth are derived from the reservoirs of dream and vision. On the dream level such images represent the total state of the individual dreaming psyche. But clarified of personal distortions and propounded by poets, prophetsx, and visionaries, they become symbolic of the spiritual nor for Man the Microcosm. They are thus phrases from an image-language, expressive of metaphysical, psychological, and sociologic truth. And in the primitive, Oriental, archaic, and medieval societies this vocabulary was pondered and more or less understood. Only in the wake of the Enlightenment has it suddenly lost its meaning and been pronounce insane." (34)

Ginsberg, Allen. Howl: Original Draft Facsimile, Transcript & Variant Versions, Fully Annotated by Author, With Contemporaneous Correspondence, Account of First Public Reading, Legal Skirmishes, Precursor Texts & Bibliography. 1st. New York: HarperPerennial, 1995.

Jung, C.G.. Psychology of the Unconscious: A Study of the Transformations and Symbolisms of the Libido. 1st. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991.

Hume, Lynne. "Accessing the Eternal: Dreaming 'The Dreaming' and Ceremonial Performance." Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science 39(2004): 237-258.

Johnston, Allan. "Consumption, Addiction, Vision, Energy: Political Economies and Utopian Visions in the Writings of the Beat Generation." College Literature 32(2005): 103-126.

Raskin, Jonah. American Scream: Allen Ginsberg's Howl and the Making of the Beat Generation. 1st. Berkely: University of California Press, 2004.

Jung, Carl G., M.-L. von Franz, Joseph L. Henderson, Jolande Jacobi, and Aniela Jaffe. Man and His Symbols. 5th Ed. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1971.

There are some Indians in South America who will assure you that they are Red Arara parrots, though they are well aware that they lack feathers, wings, and beaks.

For in the primitive's world things do not have the same sharp boundaries they do in our 'rational' societies.

What psychologists call psychic identity, or 'mystical participation' has been stripped off our world of things. But it is exactly this halo of unconscious associations that gives a colorful and fantastic aspect to the primitive's world."

People shocked by visions. "the terrors that stem from our elaborate civilization may be far more threatening than those that primitive people attribute to demons. The attitude of modern civilized man sometimes reminds me of a psychotic patient in my clinic who was himself a doctor. " p. 45

One cannot afford to be naive in dealing with dreams. They originate in a spirit that is not quite human, but is rather a breath of nature -- a spirit of the beautiful and generous as well as of the cruel goddess. If we want to characterize this spirit, we shall certainly get closer to it in the sphere of ancient mythologies, or the fables of the primeval forest, than in the consciousness of modern man."

In this civilizing process, we have increasingly divided our consciousness from the deeper instinctive strata of the human psyche." (52) p. 56 archetypes as 'primordial images' - archetypes are the manifestation of instinctual urges in the form of symbolic fantasy or imagination

The fact is that in…[continue]

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