The IUP Journal of English Studies
Subversion of "Madness" in Allen Ginsberg's Poetry

Article Details
Pub. Date : March, 2020
Product Name : The IUP Journal of English Studies
Product Type : Article
Product Code : IJES12020
Author Name : Rima Bhattacharya
Availability : YES
Subject/Domain : Arts & Humanities
Download Format : PDF Format
No. of Pages : 12



Allen Ginsberg's writings exhibit a deep interest in psychiatry and mental disorders. For generations, mental illness has been socially tabooed. Although society creates an easily identifiable figure of the "Other" by eliminating the insane from its premises, the Beats, being anti-mainstream, latch onto this identification to develop connections among themselves based on the common ground of psychosis. Ginsberg, who believes in the infinite capacity of human consciousness, is disappointed by the social restrictions imposed on the modern man. This paper discusses his attempts to exorcise shame, guilt, and fear-the inhibitions that Ginsberg believes, act as barriers to an individual's attainment of self-realization and an uninhibited existence. The paper underscores the factors that motivated Ginsberg to evolve spiritually in the direction of living a visionary life. Further, it draws attention to the various experimentations to which Ginsberg subjected himself while searching for divinity.


The Beat generation as a countercultural movement sought a clear demarcation from the mainstream society and the American ideology of the 1950s. They were a distinctive group of people who took delight in their socially ostracized position and did not care about being labeled as "Mad." Madness or mental insanity and its consequences were for them a powerful means of resisting social pressures and restrictions. It also helped develop among the Beat writers a spirit of fellowship based on their desire to break away from the normative style of American literature. Often resulting in exclusion from the mainstream society, madness paradoxically served as a sign of belonging for the Beat generation. Deliberately seeking segregation from the mainstream, the Beat counterculture "took delight in inferior social and economic positions" (Rogoveanu 2009, 247). According to Reynolds (2016, 83), "The word 'counterculture' in and of itself connotes a sense of belonging, even if that sense of belonging exists solely because of one's desire to abandon a previous affiliation." Rather than trying to assimilate into the mainstream American society forcibly and thereby losing their individuality, the Beats preferred to remain as the "Other." Echoing this viewpoint, Mettler (2015, 174) states that the Beats considered the American mainstream to be an "all-encompassing" pernicious system and believed that "the only way to successfully break out [of it] was to do so at a fundamental level." The Beats appropriated the erratic thoughts and behavior of madmen not only to represent their own "rejection of the existing society," but also to launch their own countercultural movement (Mettler 2015, 173). Contrarily, people stigmatized by the American mainstream for their insanity also found refuge among the Beats. However, a community of outcasts like that of the Beats always runs the risk of being transformed into a social structure like the one they try to escape. To avoid this trap, the Beats continued to celebrate their sense of individuality, despite being part of a community constructed on the basis of their self-identification as outsiders. The mad quest of the Beats, therefore, became a means of preserving their sense of identity within the counterculture itself.


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