Rockland

September 14, 2010

I don’t remember if we mentioned this in class or not, but apparently Howl is now a movie and it’s coming out later this month. James Franco plays Ginsberg and the film is set right around his obscenity trial. Here’s a short clip of Franco reading I’m with you in Rockland :

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tIZeJmGpKeg&feature=related

I don’t think the end of part 3 of Howl necessarily suggests a feeling of victory. I feel like Ginsberg and Carl Solomon are reacting against the conventions of mainstream society in the fifties, and perhaps this society is represented in the idea of Rockland in the third part of the poem. It’s true that Rockland was a mental hospital and it’s true that Carl Solomon was clinically depressed (as was probably Ginsberg), but I think Rockland also represents the controlling power of authority in general. Ginsberg and Solomon were defiant of the mainstream ideas of the modern American capitalist society and the power of repression that our government possessed; maybe this idea of fighting against authority is a central idea in Ginsberg’s Rockland.

On the title page of the book Howl, I noticed that Ginsberg has included a brief excerpt from Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself. It reads:

“Unscrew the locks from the doors!

“Unscrew the doors themselves from their jambs!

I have always interpreted this line as Whitman wanting America to see the equality  of all people (including women and homosexuals and slaves). For his time Whitman was a very radical thinker: he openly wrote that he helped an escaped fugitive slave; he wrote passages of pretty clear homo-eroticism, and he argued that the beauty of the human body and form was equal in both sexes. Whitman wanted to give a voice to those who were repressed in American society, and I think that Ginsberg wants to follow in the same vein by voicing the plight and struggle of people in his generation who rebel against the conventions of 1950’s mainstream American society. “Howl,” the title itself suggests an animalistic  cry for freedom from this restrictive society.

But I don’t think there is ever a real victory attained or anything won; there is only the solace in fighting and the realization of human companionship and connection during this struggle against authority.  For Ginsberg, perhaps this feeling of solace comes in the freedom of the soul: “we wake up electrified out of the coma/by our own soul’s airplanes roaring over the/ roof they’ve come to drop angelic bombs the/ hospital illuminates itself  imaginary walls collapse (26).” While this passage certainly is suggestive of a victory, i think that it more-so represents Ginsberg having a vision. Otherwise, wouldn’t he have chosen to end his poem here, with the suggestion of real freedom? Instead the very next line is: “I’m with you in Rockland.” The very last line is suggestive of a connection Ginsberg feels to Solomon and perhaps to all his fellow non-conformists in their struggle against conventional authority.

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