Art and Life: Notes on some Conversations with Allen Ginsberg

It begins with the personal. “Life is full of strange experiences,” he says. Allen Ginsberg finds the extraordinary in the everyday.

“Each one has his inner nature that he has to satisfy,” says Louis Ginsberg, attempting to account for the differences between his own poetry and that of his son. He understands that it is a spiritual process. It begins with wonder at the particularities of a life, at the seemingly ordinary, and expands into something more.

As Allen Ginsberg masters his art, his vision changes. It broadens. “He had expanded his vision from personal to worldview,” writes Michael Schumacher.

While Ginsberg himself says: “It doesn’t matter in the long run … I write for God’s ear.”

The Beats were denied their literary status by the critics of the time, and were viewed as more of a cultural phenomenon than a literary one. They were called “Know Nothing Bohemians” by one critic. They’re writing about life, just chatting about themselves, and so what they produce can’t be called literature. Can it?

The Beats would spend time with all kinds of different people, including criminals. Not that they were more interested in criminals than anyone else. They said they were in search of souls, notes Al Aronowitz. Again, it’s art out of life. Criminals are as human as the rest of us. Our own bad deeds too – and so the Beats hide nothing, reveal the good and the bad in themselves as well as others.

(I’ve been reading First Thought: Conversations with Allen Ginsberg, edited by Michael Schumacher and published by University of Minnesota Press in 2017. Quotations are from the “Introduction” by the editor and “Portrait of a Beat” by Al Aronowitz.)

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