“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.

Categories: Uncategorized.

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,