Ginsberg evokes his use of perplexing lexical choices to explore notions of desolation, disfigurement and destructive nature of American society in Howl and additionally in other pieces of his work. The poem itself, is dedicated to Carl Solomon, a man whom Ginsberg met and became close friends with during the eight months he spent at the Columbia Presbyterian Psychiatric Institute, from 1949-1950. The poem gives the impression that Solomon was much more unstable than Ginsberg. Nonetheless, the speaker thinks that his friend doesn’t belong in a “madhouse” in part because it resembles a prison or military facility, which is “armed”.
Solomon thinks of himself as a political dissident.
In the first line of the section, the speaker tells us that he has been a witness to the destruction of “the best minds” of his generation. Several of Allen Ginsberg’s friends suffered from mental illness (Carl Solomon), drug addiction (William S Burroughs), and alcoholism (Jack Kerouac). All were highly creative individuals; Kerouac (On the Road) and Burroughs (Naked Lunch) were famous authors in their own right.
“Generation” here refers to the “Beat Generation,” a phrase coined by Jack Kerouac in 1948 to refer to the rebellious youth that arose from this era of America. It’s been suggested that the term “Beat” was gleaned from Herbert Huncke, taken from the street language of junkies, meaning “tired; worn down” in a sense, disillusioned. This is incredibly important to describe young men, who in their early-20s we’re seeing the devastation wrought by WWII all over Europe and North Africa.
Kerouac was especially impressed upon by this obliteration, having seen it first-hand as a Merchant Marine. The noun ‘minds’ suggests intelligence and intellect. Ginsberg is successful in making the reader curious as to what made these people so sharp-witted.
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