Saturday, November 24

"I Saw The Best Minds of My Generation Destroyed by Madness..."

I first encountered Ginsberg's work in high school, when someone read "Howl" at an open mic and got heckled by the audience.

I think of this poem often.

I think about it every time I hear about a soldier's suicide.

I think about it every time I hear about a child's murder.

I think about it every time I see someone lose hope.

I am not a sentimental person. I do not believe that all of humanity is good, if given a chance, and I do not believe that Everything. Is. Going. To. Be. Fine. But I believe in hope and I believe in grace, wisdom, and courage.

This feels like a type of heresy-- splitting out any one excerpt from this poem, but I can't post the whole thing here, and so much of it is relevant: recreate the syntax and measure of poor human prose and stand before you speechless and intelligent and shaking with shame, rejected yet confessing out the soul to conform to the rhythm of thought in his naked and endless head, the madman bum and angel beat in Time, unknown, yet putting down here what might be left to say in time come after death...

So there is something about this poem that drives me deep and I don't think I can articulate it well. Reading it is like listening to 5,000-year old music rendered through gravel, blades of grass and mummified bones, accompanied by tenor sax. Trying to talk about it is like trying to get a 5-year-old to explain Stravinski's "Firebird," by playing it on a xylophone.

"I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness."

When Ginsberg wrote that, he wasn't referring to elites, or the most brilliant. He was referring to outcasts, diamonds in the rough, the disaffected, the homeless and the drug addicts. He was referring to those of us whom mainstream society would prefer to forget. He was speaking openly about hallucinations, about his own history, about encounters (especially with Carl Solomon, whom he met during a stay in a mental institution) with friends and lovers.

"I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness."

Doctors Scramble to Handle War Veterans' Brain Injuries:

Medical experts are witnessing an increase in the number of brain injuries sustained by soldiers fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, prompting Veterans Affairs hospitals to set up special centers to handle the severe cases.

"I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness."

The madness I'm talking about today: part of it is suicide and brain damage. But more of it is the madness of war, the madness in which soldiers are in a war that soliders neither understand nor respect:

...nearly one-fifth of the soldiers surveyed said they felt the situation in Iraq had not been worth going to war over. In another poll... 54 percent of households with a member in the military said the war was the "wrong thing to do"; in the population as a whole, only 48 percent felt that way. Doubts about the war have contributed to the decline of troop morale over the past year—and may, some experts say, be a factor in the 40 percent increase in Army suicide rates in Iraq in the past year. "That’s the most basic tool a soldier needs on the battlefield—a reason to be there," says Paul Rieckhoff. "...When you can't articulate that in one sentence, it starts to affect morale. You had an initial rationale for war that was a moving target. [But] it was a shell game from the beginning, and you can only bullshit people for so long."

More from Howl:

...with dreams, with drugs, with waking nightmares, al-
cohol and cock and endless balls,
incomparable blind; streets of shuddering cloud and
lightning in the mind leaping toward poles of
Canada & Paterson, illuminating all the mo-
tionless world of Time between...

"I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness."

Someone tell me again what we're fighting for?

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