Ginsberg, Allen. Howl and Other Poems. San Francisco: City Light Books, 2001.
Capitalizing on Capitalizing in Ginsberg’s Howl
Ginsberg was a literary revolutionary as can be seen in his poetry. He pushed form and genre, theory and confrontation, confession and controversy right to the threshold and over the doorway of societal standards. In pushing and pushing, Ginsberg creates a new vocabulary for certain words by capitalizing them and giving them the significance of the ‘proper noun.’ By capitalizing the first letter of certain words, Ginsberg gives a solid identity to intangible things and redefines their role in a corrupted society that has destroyed the “best minds” of his generation.
Heaven, Terror, Time, Zen, Eternity, Capitalism, Absolute Reality and Space find their niche among the cities and events in section one. None of the words begin a sentence and some are used multiple times, giving them even more validity in their existence. Somewhere along the line the “best minds of [Ginsberg’s] generation” “bared their brains to Heaven,” “cowered…listening to the Terror,” in the midst of “poles…illuminating all the motionless world of Time” and “vanished into nowhere Zen,” “followed a brilliant Spaniard to converse about America and Eternity,” “burned cigarette holes in their arms protesting the narcotic tobacco haze of Capitalism,” or “were run down by the drunken taxicabs of Absolute Reality” (9-13, 16).
Despite Ginsberg’s rants towards hysteria and chaos, there is some hope in the vulnerability of men who “bared their brains to Heaven.” There is a strong sense of redemption in the Eternity that is continuously referred to page to page. This also gives the minds some validity and a sense of ownership of the concept of redemption long held primarily by conservative supporters of the corrupted system. Eternity comes up again as the minds “cast their ballot for Eternity” and “had a vision to find out eternity” (16-17). This Eternity gives a hope for some salvation following their lives and a haven from the everyday chaos of the world. Zen fits into the picture as the earthly and temporary way to achieve peacefulness, completeness, and an earthly break from a frightening journey into madness.
Terror becomes the obvious way for Ginsberg to make the product of a corrupted society tangible. Terror is indicative largely of the effects of society’s dominance. Society cracks down on the minds, inhibiting and tempering them from their full potential. It also harms innocent people in the creation of Terror. Capitalism walks hand in hand with Terror as a product of a corrupt society. It is referred to a “narcotic,” a drug that harms and drains society. By capitalizing and giving these words new meaning, Ginsberg crystallizes a new way of looking at familiar concepts.
This leaves Time, Space and Absolute...