A free-speech landmark -- 50th anniversary of 'Howl'

Roundup: Pop Culture & the Arts ... Movies, Documentaries and Museum Exhibits

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the precedent-setting free-speech trial over Allen Ginsburg's "Howl and Other Poems," we've reprinted here the introduction to "Howl on Trial: The Battle for Free Expression," (City Lights, 2006).

The "Howl" that was heard around the world wasn't seized in San Francisco in 1956 just because it was judged obscene by cops, but because it attacked the bare roots of our dominant culture, the very Moloch heart of our consumer society. At the end of World War II, I came home feeling disconnected from American life, like multitudes of Americans uprooted by military service. And we didn't stay home long. With new larger perspectives of the world, many of us soon took off for parts unknown. And the "white arms of roads" beckoned westward. I didn't know the actual demographics of it, but I had the sense that the continent had tilted up, with the whole population sliding to the west. It was a time of born-again optimism, but there were also new elements in the smelting pot of postwar America. There was a sense of great restlessness, a sense of wanting more of life than that offered by local chambers of commerce or suburban American Legions, a vision of some new wide open, more creative society than had been possible in pre-war America. And -- as an idolizer of James Joyce's Stephen Dedalus -- I even envisioned myself articulating "the uncreated conscience of my race."

comments powered by Disqus