Allen Ginsberg's Poetry

Two Sides of the Same Coin: How Madness Is Portrayed in Ginsberg’s 'Howl' College

The trope of madness and the figure of the madman are notions that have for centuries fascinated, horrified, and perplexed Western culture. Considerations of madness have influenced myriad literary narratives, starting with the madness of Cervantes’ Don Quixote and moving through the ages, past Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Poe’s Usher, Dostoyevsky’s Raskolnikov, and Camus’ Meursault. Yet the concept of madness has changed throughout the century influenced by the growth of the scientific and medical study of insanity. Increasingly from the nineteenth century, madness has been seen more as a social and medical problem, compared to the previous centuries when madness was regarded as the absence of reason, and therefore, evil. The trope of madness has been drawn on again by the writers of the Beat Generation; indeed, Beat writing thrives with examples of the mad genius, a character who moves across time and space to understand true meaning of the universe, showing an evident fascination with madness and its consequences. Madness is, in fact, one of the main themes of Allen Ginsberg’s poem “Howl.” Ginsberg tackles the theme of madness from two different points of view: on the one hand, he explores madness as a mental condition; on the...

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