“Footnote to Howl”

September 17, 2010

This post somewhat relates to this one and I was originally going to make it a comment there, but then my discussion got too out of hand and, besides, the Footnote deserves its own damn post considering it got virtually zero class discussion.

I’m finding it hard to believe that the discussion of “Howl” has thus far left out the “Footnote”. For, what is the function of a footnote in any piece of writing? To me, I’ve always seen them as author’s comments on a piece of writing, but though sometimes the information may seem unnecessary to the work as a whole, I find that most footnotes are inserted in order to help illuminated the object of the footnote. In this case, I see Ginsberg’s “Footnote” as being one of the main keys to discovering Ginsberg’s reading, or perhaps even the reading he wants us to have, of “Howl”.

We talked a little bit in class about how some thought the “Footnote” to be cynical due to its excess of “Holy” things, but I find myself in the opposing camp. I read nothing but sincerity in Ginsberg’s voice in that part of the poem. I see Ginsberg reclaiming the horrors of the “Howl-land” as Katherine put it. This lends to her reading of section three as well, except for the sanitation in my view. Instead I see Ginsberg embracing the horror in a Naomi sort of moment where he sees “the key…in the sunlight at the window”.

In this way I see “Howl” and the “Footnote” as comforting in a way–the soothing image of arriving at a cottage in the night is incredibly palpable for me–but I think overall the comfort comes from our ability as humans to acknowledge anything in the world (including the good, the bad and the mundane), embrace any of them and reclaim them to be our own “Holy” things. It seems to me that there could be no greater victory for Ginsberg than his ability and ours to do this.

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Post-class Recap: Ginsberg’s “Howl”

September 14, 2010

On a very personal note, when I first finished reading “Howl,”  I felt like death had his hand on my back.  I was filled with an over-whelming sadness, mournfulness,  hopelessness – and I was breathless, I hadn’t noticed how engaged I was, while reading silently to myself, until I stopped. The end felt like running ten miles straight then slamming into a brick wall.

I had to take a time-out.  I was too worked up, too guilty, too shamed.  I  took a ten minute time-out to calm myself down.           And then,     I read it again.

Was anyone else completely shaken by this poem?

Now, to discuss the point that Dr. Scanlon left us with:

Is the end of “Howl” victorious? Is it comforting?

The ending tone of “Howl” depends entirely on how it is read.  The fluid pauses dictate if the final note is of victory (Ginsberg and Carl Solomon proudly standing on the roof of Rockland, unstoppable, and underwear-less) or of a quiet, safe comfort.   Given the choice, I prefer the latter, which emerges if the last poegraph if read like so: “I’m with you in Rockland in my dreams / you walk dripping from a sea-journey / on the highway across America in tears / to the door of my cottage in the Western night”   This interpretative reading functions to separate the reader, who was formerly confronted as the “you” in this direct address, from Carl, who is an unfamiliar, ruined, and dangerous figure. This reading places him safely back into “my dreams,” where the violent, grotesque reality of everyday life cannot harm the reader.

Although the above interpretive reading places the frightening images of Howl-land behind glass, sanitizes them, the ending could also easily (possibly more truthfully) be victorious.  If read straight through, in one breath, the parting emotion evokes that of my above ridiculous image of Carl and Ginsberg. They have wrestled with the land of Howl, and they have emerged heavily scathed but still breathing.

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