Ginsberg nears the end with serenity
Boyd Tonkin is Literary Editor at The Independent. An award-winning journalist, he was formerly Social Policy Editor of the New Statesman and has broadcast extensively for BBC arts and current affairs programmes. He has judged the Booker Prize, the Whitbread biography award, the Commonwealth Writers Prize and the David Cohen Prize for a lifetime's achievement in literature.
Saturday 05 April 1997
Ginsberg's raucous rejection of social convention has inspired four decades of hipsters, drop-outs and dissidents. His final illness comes at a time when the influence of the Beats on later counter-cultural movements looks as strong as ever. Director Martin Scorsese's film of On the Road, by Ginsberg's friend, Jack Kerouac, will open soon. Bob Dylan - whose style as a lyric writer owes everything to Ginsberg and the Beats - continues to tour around the world and will play at the Fleadh music festival in London's Finsbury Park in June.
Ginsberg, born in New Jersey in 1926 and educated at Columbia University, sprang into the limelight when he published Howl in 1956. His loose-limbed, visionary lines mixed echoes of Blake and Whitman with the drug and jazz culture of post-war Greenwich Village.
The "Beat" mentality that Ginsberg pioneered originally had little to to do with rock `n' roll hedonism. Rather, it gave a harsh American accent to the existential doubt and drift of 1940s Europe. Writing at the outset of the movement in 1952, Ginsberg's friend John Clellon Holmes defined the Beat outlook as "a nakedness of mind ... a feeling of being reduced to the bedrock of consciousness". Drugs were invoked to intensify that state, as were jazz and rock, and sexual adventures.
Although a prominent figure in campaigns for gay rights or against the Vietnam War, Ginsberg never improved on his early verse. For many readers, his claim to greatness rests on Kaddish (1961), a lament for his mother that draws on his Jewish background. Never far from the surface, the mystical elements of Ginsberg's style would flourish later with his commitment to Zen Buddhism.
The stream of verse never dried up, but many recent critics have paid more attention to Ginsberg's journals from the 1950s. They vividly portray the friends, colleagues and sometime lovers who still cast a spell on young rebels around the world.
- 1 Rice Bucket Challenge: India's take on the Ice Bucket Challenge 'for Indian needs'
- 3 ALS ice bucket challenge co-founder Corey Griffin drowns, aged 27
- 5 Teenager dies after suspected ice bucket challenge goes horribly wrong
Pamela Anderson rejects ice bucket challenge because of ALS experiments on animals: 'Mice had holes drilled into their skulls'
Matt Damon uses toilet water in ice bucket challenge to stress sanitation issues in developing world
ALS ice bucket challenge co-founder Corey Griffin drowns, aged 27
Rubble Bucket Challenge: Ice Bucket Challenge adapted in solidarity with Gazans whose homes have been destroyed in conflict
Car tax disc changes: Make sure you know the new rules from 1 October or risk £1,000 fine
Exclusive: We share blame for creating 'jihad generation', says Muslim strategist
Scottish independence TV debate: Pumped-up Alex Salmond bounces back in bruising second round against Alistair Darling
Robin Williams Emmys tribute led by Billy Crystal criticised for including 'racist' joke about Muslim woman
The Rotherham child abuse scandal is a tale of apologists, misogyny and double standards
Jeremy Clarkson is a cultural tumour and needs to be removed, says comedian Frankie Boyle
Air strikes? Talk of God? Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script after James Foley beheading
- < Previous
- Next >
£500 - £550 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client are currently...
£25000 - £28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Generalist HR Administrator - Tunbri...
£7 per hour: Randstad Education Cheshire: We are a large and successful recrui...
£50-£60K Plus Benefits: Charter Selection: Highly successful leading womens l...