Howl Against Society

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Nowadays subcultures aren’t as exclusive as they used to be. What I mean by this is that everybody is connected through the internet and through that, subcultures borrow from others. Music, clothing and style, among others, are easily borrowed because influences are readily available through the internet, which makes it easier for people to learn about different periods in time and (subconsciously or consciously) adopt aspects of them into their own way of living or style. Our identities are shaped by a wider range of influences than ever because of the internet. The forming of a person’s identity is often determined by upbringing, environment and one’s own nature. The Beat Generation was a subculture whose work has influenced literature and culture for the past 60 years.

The Beat Generation consisted of a group of authors whose writing influenced American literature and culture. One of my favourite authors from the Beat Generation is Allen Ginsberg. Like many of his peers who belonged to the same generation (such as Jack Kerouac, William S.Burroughs and Neal Cassady, to name a few), he was considered to be an outcast of society. In his well-known poem Howl Ginsberg describes the hardships of being such an outcast, mainly by incorporating personal details and experiences of his life. The free verse in his poem sounds melodic at times, while other parts of the poem can sound absurd, like they have no meaning at all. One example of this is when Ginsberg writes: “who lit cigarettes in boxcars boxcars boxcars racketing through snow toward lonesome farms in grandfather night,”. The repetition of ‘boxcars’ in this line sounds meaningless but at the same time seems like a necessary part of the poem to convey madness. I read his poem like a cry of help (hence the title); a protest against a conventional society that the Beat poets found themselves in. Ginsberg’s identity was inextricably tied up to his poetry – in Howl Ginsberg refers to his homosexuality, his friends and his experience as a young male who knows that life is more than an endless cycle of conformity.

What stuck with me from Ginsberg’s poem was the importance of his identity in his writings. His works were very autobiographical but, personally, I think that is where the power of his literature could be found. There are recordings of the author reciting his own poem and his voice interestingly fits with his message. The Beat Generation was a counter-culture who clashed with mainstream society and turned out to significantly impact American culture.

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(Header image courtesy of forcedexposure.com)

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