DEPERNE Chloé December 2013
Registration no: 13039441
Module code: EL0505
Module name: Post-war U.S. writing
“I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness” (Howl, Allen Ginsberg). Why is madness an important theme in post-war U.S. writing? Your answer should demonstrate thorough knowledge of at least two texts studied on this module.
Madness, according to the English Oxford Dictionary, can be defined as “the state of having a serious mental illness”; “a state of wild or chaotic activity”, or having an “extremely foolish behaviour”. Madness in literature may refer to writers who are known for having mental troubles, but might also refer to the fictional characters who are taking place in the writer’s story. It can also be seen as a psychological book; a book talking about the study of madness with a psychological approach. Here this essay will be focusing on the first definition of madness in literature, using the context of the post-war period in the United States. It will first demonstrate that madness is an important theme in literature at this time because it comes from the suffering of the writers; to eventually show that madness is a weapon for the author to denounce the society, and that madness cannot only be seen as a mental problem, because one can consider that madness and genius are intertwined. These two parts of argumentation will be demonstrated through the analysis of Allan Ginsberg’s and Robert Lowell’s writings.
First of all, one can say that madness is an important theme in post-war U.S. writing because when the author decides to write about it, it is mainly due to the fact that madness is present in his life. Mental illness is usually in creative people themselves or in their direct family or circle of friends. This is clearly demonstrated in the first line of the poem “Howl” written in 1955 and finished in 1956 by Allen Ginsberg: “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness”; here the poet is talking about his friends and associates, who were taking part with him of the Beat Generation, which was a culture countering the mainstream American culture. They were called “best minds” because their thoughts were different from the American hegemonic culture of the time. They were principally art lovers, and writers, such as Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs, who were two great figure of the twentieth century literature. The word “generation” shows that madness is present in the author’s life, because he talks about his time, and his entourage, touched by madness. Indeed, this generation of artists, the “Beats” and the “Beat poetry”, a movement which was born in the 1940s in New York City, were totally marginal in the way they saw politics and culture, in the way they thought and wrote. They fought against social conformity and literary tradition. They had particular practices; they were known for listening to Jazz and Blues, to be interested in Buddhism, and especially...