This article explores ways in which the poems Allen Ginsberg wrote against the Vietnam War entailed resisting what he viewed to be effects of “coldwar subjectivity” – in particular, the automation of thinking and feeling. Many of these poems are what Ginsberg called “auto poems”: lyrical ﬂights of autobiography dictated while traveling in automated transport. I argue that in an auto poem like “Wichita Vortex Sutra,” Ginsberg develops a poetic “potentialism” whereby lyric language is made a vehicle for new possibilities and powers of individual feeling and dissent. Combating the anaesthetizing effects of war propaganda and statistics, Ginsberg’s potentialism is also aimed at short-circuiting the mass media’s role in mechanizing language. I go on to discuss how Ginsberg develops his antiwar poetics in relation to three counterculture events: the march on the Pentagon in October 1967; the demonstrations at the August 1968 Democrats’ Convention; and the demonstrations at the August 1972 Republicans’ Convention.
“BACK! Back! Back! CENTRAL Mind-Machine PENTAGON …”: ALLEN GINSBERG AND THE VIETNAM WAR
ALEX HOUEN IS SENIOR LECTURER IN MODERN ANGLOPHONE LITERATURE AND AMERICAN STUDIES IN THE SCHOOL OF ENGLISH, UNIVERSITY OF SHEFFIELD. HE IS AUTHOR OF TERRORISM AND MODERN LITERATURE (OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS, 2002) AND NUMEROUS ARTICLES ON WAR, MILITANCY, AND AVANT-GARDISM.
Alex Houen; “BACK! Back! Back! CENTRAL Mind-Machine PENTAGON …”: ALLEN GINSBERG AND THE VIETNAM WAR. Cultural Politics 1 November 2008; 4 (3): 351–374. doi: https://doi.org/10.2752/175174308X339207
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