Remapping the Body Politic: Languages and Bodies in The Fall of America

© 2012 Sean M. Donnell

 

            “To recognise another body is to be open to dialogue, debate and engagement with the other’s law, and the other’s ethics.”—Moira Gatens (85)

            “Language is a Trojan Horse, and an untheorized language invariably reinforces prevailing hegemonic values.”—Jed Rasula (399) 

            Continuing in the tradition of Planet News, Allen Ginsberg weaves a powerful patchwork out of his travels across a Vietnam-era United States in The Fall of America.  This collection represents a unique—as well as uniquely postmodern—admixture of ideologies.  In his “After Words for The Fall of America,” Ginsberg describes his poetry in this collection as “taperecorded scribed by hand or sung condensed, the flux of car bus airplane dream consciousness Person during Automated Electronic War years, newspaper headline radio brain auto poesy & silent desk musings, headlights flashing on road through these States of consciousness” (Poems 815).  In this description, we see Ginsberg erasing the boundaries between prose, poetry, religion, politics, philosophy, language—even modes of travel. 

            An amalgamation of discourses such as this illustrates what Linda Hutcheon terms “border tension” in her Politics of Postmodernism.  According to Hutcheon, what earmarks the postmodern is a tension between the borders of critique and complicity within a discourse.  In other words, a discourse may criticize the dominant culture, but in so doing it also “acknowledges that it cannot escape implication in that which it nevertheless still wants to analyze and maybe even undermine” (Hutcheon 4).  Hutcheon further notes, “There are other kinds of border tension in the postmodern too: the ones created by the transgression of the boundaries between genres, between disciplines or discourses, between high and mass culture, and most problematically, perhaps, between practice and theory” (18).             

            Ginsberg’s poetry in The Fall of America exhibits a wide variety of these boundary transgressions, but perhaps none are as noteworthy and relatively unexplored as those instances involving the poet’s political ideologies, use of languages, and theories of the body.  In The Fall of America, Ginsberg infuses “traditional” poetic language with the politically charged rhetoric of newspaper headlines and popular song lyrics.  He also politicizes and sexualizes the culturally constructed body politic as easily as he does the bodies of lovers, acquaintances, and strangers.  As David R. Jarraway asserts, “Ginsberg polices no barricades” (83).  Hence, Ginsberg collapses the distinctions between the usually discrete categories of politics, language, and the body.  By conflating these boundaries, Ginsberg creates a new geography within his poetry—one that delineates the boundaries of political bodies as well as the body politic, that examines the language of politics as well as political language, that constructs the language of bodies as well as body languages.  To put it another way, Ginsberg uses this poetic space in The Fall of America to define a new and uniquely postmodern political ideology from the constituent elements of the political corpus, the political rhetoric that he seeks to debunk.  Examining some of the instances in which politics, the body, and language are collapsed and reformulated should prove instrumental in mapping the boundaries of Ginsberg’s poetic geography in The Fall of America. 

            While the body has become an increasingly politicized site in postmodern theory, concepts of the body—and its cultural extension, the body politic—have been around for centuries.  In his treatise, Leviathan, for example, seventeenth-century political theoretician Thomas Hobbes provides what is still considered an eloquent representation of the body politic:

[B]y art is created that great LEVIATHAN called a COMMONWEALTH, or STATE, in Latin CIVITAS, which is but an artificial man; though of greater stature and strength than the natural, for whose protection and defence it was intended; and in which the sovereignty is an artificial soul, as giving life and motion to the whole body; the magistrates, and other officers of judicature and execution, artificial joints; reward and punishment . . . are the nerves, that do the same in the body natural; and wealth and riches of all the particular members are the strength. . . .  Lastly, the pacts and covenants, by which the parts of this body politic were at first made, set together, and united, resemble that fiat, or the let us make man, pronounced by God in the creation.  (qtd. in Gatens 80)

Inherent within Hobbes’ description of this political corpus, however, is an implicit exclusionary principle.  In essence, the body politic is a patriarchal construct, or as Moira Gatens asserts, “a creation of ‘the word’ of men united” (80).  Moreover, this particular political body draws its strength from financial weal, so those who are unable to contribute or who are prohibited from contributing to the financial well-being of the body politic are proscribed from participation within the body.  Thus, Gatens concludes:

At different times, different kinds of beings have been excluded from the pact [of the body politic], often simply by virtue of their corporeal specificity.  Slaves, foreigners, women, the conquered, children, the working classes, have all been excluded from political participation, at one time or another, by their bodily specificity.  (82) 

Essentially, those who are prohibited from participation in Hobbes’ body politic are those who do not conform to the bodily image of the dominant culture.  Hence, we can easily extend Gatens’ definition to include anyone who does not fit within a white, male, heteronormative constituency: people of color, homosexuals, women, the physically challenged. 

            Such distinctions are important when considering the political climate of the United States in the late 1960s.  While it is true that this country’s patriarchal hegemony has made some remarkable advances in representing other bodies within the body politic since the time of Hobbes, Vietnam-era America has proven one of the more turbulent moments in U.S. history, especially with regards to the sex and race of the other.  Gatens’ definition of the modern political corpus seems eminently pertinent to a discussion of this period:

[T]he modern body politic is based on an image of a masculine body which reflects fantasies about the value and capacities of that body.  The effect of this image shows its contemporary influence in our social and political behaviour which continues to implicitly accord privilege to particular bodies and their concerns as they are reflected in our ways of speaking and in what we speak about.  It refuses to admit anyone who is not capable of miming its reason and its ethics, in its voice.  Its political language has no vocabulary and no space for the articulation of certain questions.  (84)

According to this definition, the American culture of the sixties allowed only an affluent, white male constituency full participation in the political corpus.  Since the American body politic was created in their image, only they could speak with impunity from within its boundaries.  Any racial or sexual other would have either been denied a voice, or been forced to adopt a hegemonic voice.  Since, as Jarraway argues, “the project of Post modernism is . . . to problematize the highly regulated, masculinist, and exclusionary economy of Western art” (82), a consideration of how Ginsberg’s poetry in The Fall of America problematizes the body politic seems inherently pertinent to this discussion. 

            Before we examine this element in Ginsberg’s poetry, however, let us first return to the question of language and the politics of language in the poet’s work.  In The San Francisco Renaissance, an interesting study of the Bay area Beat movement, Michael Davidson attempts “to clarify the nature of the Beats as political poets” (Rasula 221).  In itself, Davidson’s examination of Beat politics is noteworthy; however, by identifying the Beat poets with the Language poetry movement, Davidson performs what will probably become an important critical maneuver for Beat criticism.  In his description of Davidson’s study Jed Rasula notes:    

[P]art of the task of The San Francisco Renaissance was to delineate a genealogical portrait of a mythopoetic site, by which the revivalism of the Beats could be transposed not to their direct heirs (second or third generation Beats) but to the “language” poets of the Bay area, who rose to prominence in the eighties by proclaiming a politics of the sign.  (222)

Linking the Beat poets with the Language poetry movement provides significant commentary on the political activism of Language poets, but more importantly, it also suggests that the Beat poets could have similarly utilized a “politics of the sign.”  This implication allows an examination of Beat poets from a brand-new perspective: that of the Language poet (or, perhaps it would be more precise to say, proto-Language poet).  While crediting the Beats with the same level of political investiture in language that, say, Charles Bernstein has is probably not very prudent, it does seem plausible that Beat poets in general, and Ginsberg in particular, place political stock in the form of their poetic language as well as in its political content.  Hence, studying Ginsberg’s political investment in language seems as fruitful a course of action as studying the body politic.

            Perhaps a propitious place to begin an examination of Ginsberg’s Fall of America is with Alicia Ostriker’s observation that the collection “is less ‘composed’ than it is a series of notebook-written and tape recorded footnotes to Ginsberg’s spiritual and political travels during the bleak war years 1965-1971” (125).  This point helps to underscore the importance of language within this chronicle of Vietnam-era America .  More than simply footnotes to his travels, The Fall of America is Ginsberg’s painstaking attempt to essentialize his travels, to allow the reader to experience his spiritual growth rather than merely read about it.  In this sense, the “composing” of poetry denotes for Ginsberg a fashioning, an abstraction of language to the point that it no longer accurately represents the experience it describes.  Regarding this phenomenon Ginsberg observes:

[E]xperience as well as reason shows that when we have to reduce our multiple-sensory consciousness of an event which we know about into words, we have to abstract so much that we eliminate most of the details of the event. . . .  So a language description of an event is not identical with the event, is an abstraction of the event.  And it is such an abstraction that it picks out only certain aspects of the event that we’re preoccupied with at the moment.  And so in no way can a language description of an event be said to be comprehensively representative . . . of an event.  (Verbatim 26)

To minimize this language abstraction in The Fall of America, Ginsberg attempts to incorporate everything into his poems, thus abandoning poetic and literary forms.  As James Heffernan asserts, “Ginsberg seeks to individuate the form of his poetry just as sharply as he individuates its content” (191).  In this respect, Ginsberg’s poetry resembles that of the contemporary Language poets.  By refusing to follow poetic and grammatical convention, Ginsberg emphasizes the denseness, the opacity of the language.  

            Unlike the Language poets, however, making a political statement about language is not the main factor motivating Ginsberg in The Fall of America.  While his use of anti-poetic language in the collection is meant to denaturalize the language, the poet’s rationale for this distanciation, this Brechtian Verfremdungseffekt, appears to be more of a measured resistance against the hegemonic power structure present in the United States during the Vietnam era. In essence, Ginsberg identifies American language as a function, a construct of the American political machine.  This standard American discourse emanates from the body politic, and its purpose is to stultify those members of the political body who are not representative of the political corpus.  Hence, Ginsberg’s resistant language is more an oppositional response to the language of the body politic than it is a commentary on the politics of language in general.

            Written and spoken language are only one part of the body politic’s discourse; television and radio broadcasts constitute another part, one which Ginsberg calls the electronic media and describes in such apocalyptic terms in his poetry and other writings.  Countering the language and electronic media of the body politic is the mantra, or body chant.  As Ginsberg describes it, this mode of discourse is one of the only methods of escaping from the language of the body politic:

[T]here are one or two uses of language that are identical with truth, as in certain poetry practice, where language is used as mantra, purely as magic spell, not as rational description (which one would usually assume to be nearer to truth), where any attempt at rational description is abandoned from the very beginning and it is understood that the language is purely magic spell, and that its function is to be only magic spell, or mantra, or prayer, so to speak—that its function is only to be a physiological vehicle for feelings and understood as such. (Verbatim 25)

So language as mantra, as magic spell, is perhaps a more accurate description of Ginsberg’s poetry in The Fall of America.  He uses this mantra-language as a counter to the discourse of the body politic; the alienation of the text stems from Ginsberg’s attempt to distance his language from the political discourse and the electronic media.  In positioning himself against the body politic and its manifestation of electronic media, Ginsberg clarifies the relationship between the two:

Television is a connecting neurological link between the separate cells of the body politic our culture.  And our communications network is dominated by capitalistic usury—in other words you’ve got to make money on it.  To the extent that the body chant is an assertion of a nonusurious common communal communistic sharing of soul among all members of the body politic, not merely members of the body politic, but the members of the body of nature, including the animals and the trees and the grasses . . . to the extent that the highest communal chant is a chant of unison and oneness with all of nature, and that capitalism and our economic system require the excessive chopping up of nature into lumber, or the mining and exhausting of nature—to that extent I think it’s partly our economic system that forbids us to chant.  Partly the very nature of the machinery.  (Verbatim 33-34)

This passage illustrates how the language of Ginsberg’s poetry in The Fall of America is essentially very political, occupies an extremely resistant position; however, his use of Eastern philosophy combined with concepts borrowed from the poetry of William Blake tends to obscure this position initially.  Ironically, Ginsberg’s particular use of language in The Fall of America is so anti-establishment that few critics bother to examine it as a resistant discourse.  Instead, most critics either focus on the Eastern philosophy or examine his poems for allusions to Blake. 

            Ginsberg makes his political position quite clear, however, with regards to language.  In The Fall of America, Ginsberg occupies a position not only in opposition to the language of the body politic, but also emphasizing non-referential language as the key to poetic expression:

A word on the Politicians: my poetry is Angelical Ravings & has nothing to do with dull materialistic vagaries about who should shoot who.  The secrets of individual imagination—which are transconceptual & non-verbal—I mean unconditioned Spirit—are not for sale to this consciousness, are of no use to this world, except to make it shut its trap & listen to the music of the Spheres. (qtd. in Heffernan 189)

That Ginsberg strives to connect his poetry with a non-verbal state of consciousness is essential in understanding his political position on language in The Fall of America.  Such a description underscores his desire that poetry be experienced rather than read or interpreted in the language of the body politic.  Further, Ginsberg’s construction of a poetic language separate from the discourse of the hegemonic power structure initiates a primal moment of resistance, thus creating a linguistic space capable of accommodating the voice of the other.  In other words, creating a discourse resistant to the body politic engenders a political corpus for the other, a political body from which other bodies can speak.  As such, Ginsberg’s poetic language in The Fall of America often presents itself as without borders, as inviting the encroachment of other discourses.  Such an interpretation makes sense out of Ginsberg’s description of  The Fall of America as “a poem including history . . . dissociated thought stream . . . newspaper headlines and all the pop art of Stalinism and Hitler and Johnson and Kennedy and Vietnam and Congo and Lumumba and the South and Sacco and Vanzetti—whatever floated into one’s personal field of consciousness and contact” (qtd. in Ostriker 124).  Even in describing this collection, the poet invites the reader to experience his blurring of boundaries, his refiguring of discourses.

            Let us now consider some poems from The Fall of America so that we can examine in greater depth Ginsberg’s construction of resistant language and sexual imagery to delineate a new political position from which the other begins to be heard.  An impressive collection of poems, The Fall of America represents one of Ginsberg’s most prolific periods in his artistic career.  While only spanning six years, the collection contains almost eighty poems and constitutes practically one quarter of the total Collected Poems.  Even if we discount the evident quality of poetry in this collection, The Fall of America is one of Ginsberg’s most important works for reasons of sheer quantity.

            An important concept running through this collection is Ginsberg’s equation of the body politic with Maya, or the world illusion.  A concept that the poet probably picked up while reading Edward Carpenter’s Towards Democracy, Maya is a Hindu term which, loosely defined, envisions our present concept of reality as an all-encompassing illusion that blocks our senses from envisioning Brahma, or the supreme and eternal essence or spirit of the universe (Carpenter 102).  In several instances throughout The Fall of America, Ginsberg makes use of the term.  For instance, the poet inquires in “Elegy for Neal Cassady” “If anyone had strength to hear the invisible / And drive thru Maya Wall” (Poems 487).  Later Ginsberg remembers Neal Cassady’s touch as “Hope beyond Maya-meat” (Poems 487).  In “Rising over night-blackened Detroit Streets,” the poet exhorts “Masters, fathers, mayors, Senators, Presidents, Bankers & workers / sweating & weeping ignorant on your own plastic-pain Maya planet . . .” (Poems 513).  Ginsberg makes a truly poignant reference to Maya in the very last poem of the collection, “September on Jessore Road ”:

How Many souls walk through Maya in pain

How many babes   in illusory rain?

How many families   hollow eyed lost?

How many grandmothers   turning to ghost?  (Poems 575)

In each of these instances, Ginsberg uses the concept of Maya as an illusory, even painful state of consciousness that often goes unnoticed.  In other texts the poet refers to this state as mind consciousness, a condition in which the language of the body politic supersedes the more essential body consciousness:

I try to silence that [language] babble and feel with my body more, exist in the feeling.  Because what it is, finally, that highest level of consciousness, is . . . a body consciousness as well as a conceptual consciousness. . . .  If mind consciousness is stilled, that is if the matter babble behind the ear, yakety-yak ticker-tape conceptual language consciousness linear gossip inside the cranium, is shut up . . . then you have sharper sense consciousness, smell, taste, touch, optical, because you’re not beclouding the doors of perception with preconception, you’re not inventing universes which overlie this universe. (Ginsberg, Verbatim 6-9)

We see from this description that Maya is overcome by shutting out the mode of linear thought prevalent in mind consciousness in favor of the non-verbal expression of the senses through body consciousness.  To put it another way, one who aspires to overcome Maya must first conquer the language of the dominant culture, for it is this language that propagates Maya.  It should be stressed that Maya is not a state that one transcends; it is not real, so one must merely wake up from the world illusion.  As Linda Hutcheon argues, “There is nothing natural about the ‘real’ and there never was—even before the existence of mass media” (33).  The body politic’s notion of “reality” is no more than any other representation of the real.  To believe that it is reality is the essence of Maya.

            Another important image in The Fall of America is Ginsberg’s representation the body politic’s constituent members of as sexualized bodies.  Time and again, the poet deconstructs the image of the body politic by first identifying members of its constituency and then stripping them of their subjectivity by objectifying, sexualizing and/or fetishizing their individual bodies.  For example, in “Wichita Vortex Sutra,” Ginsberg declares, “Truth breaks through! /  How big is the prick of the President? / How big is Cardinal Vietnam? / How little the prince of the FBI, unmarried all these years! / How big are all the Public Figures? / What kind of flesh hangs, hidden behind their Images?” (Poems 395-96).  By first identifying individual members of the body politic (in this particular case, Lyndon Baines Johnson, President of The United States of America; Ngo Dinh Diem, the President of Vietnam and devout Catholic; and J. Edgar Hoover, Director of the FBI) and then sexualizing the “members” of these members, Ginsberg reduces them to mere pieces of flesh.  He calls into question the legitimacy of any public figure elevated to a status higher than “skin bag,” for, as Ginsberg reminds us, behind all of these effigies lies nothing but a person ultimately reducible to a hairless ape. 

            Reducing these constituent members of the body politic to mere parts of bodies also serves to ironize and to deconstruct the political corpus in another vital way.  In a subtle maneuver, Ginsberg is removing the agency from these constituents of the body politic and placing them in the position of the object of sexual desire.  As Moira Gatens notes:

Representations of the human body are most often of the male body and, perhaps, around the borders, one will find insets of representations of the female reproductive system: a lactating breast, a vagina, ovaries; bits of bodies, body fragments.  They appear there in a way that reminds one of specialised pornographic magazines which show pictures of isolated, fragmented, disjointed bits: breasts, vaginas, behinds.  Female-bits, fragments to be consumed, devoured, a bit at a time.  (Gatens 82).

By reducing male images of the body politic to sexualized objects, Ginsberg is placing them into the position of the fetishized object.  They become objects of specular fascination, at once desired and castrated by the viewing subject.  The body politic is forced to occupy the position of the other, and is thus reduced to the uncomfortable position of subordinate. 

            Later in “Wichita Vortex Sutra,” Ginsberg delineates a dyad in which members of the body politic, represented as either elders or simply elderly, are juxtaposed with a delegation of young people who, not being constituents of the body politic, represent the marginalized bodies subsumed within the political corpus.  Inherent in this dyad is a tension between the groups, perhaps even a resistance to the political hegemony (which, as we will see, is fully realized in later poems).  Thus, in “Vortex” we see “students waken trembling in their beds / with dreams of a new truth warm as meat, / little girls suspecting their elders of murder / committed by remote control machinery, / boys with sexual bellies aroused / chilled in the heart by the mailman / with a letter from an aging white haired General / Director of selection for service in Deathwar” (Poems 404-05).  In this instance, the elders and the aging white haired General occupy an antagonistic position in relation to the little girls and boys. Ginsberg initially endows these young men with the vitality of youth, that is, until they come into contact with the elder generation.  Then they become “chilled in the heart.”  Hence, the political corpus not only lacks the vitality of youth, it also robs the younger generation of their vitality.  It is also interesting how Ginsberg portrays the body politic as operating by proxy.  The mailman is the instrument of the General, and the elders suspected of murder use “remote control machinery.”  Such a depiction removes the humanity from the body politic, depicting its constituency as a mechanized and depersonalized force.  Creating a dyad between such obviously disparate groups serves to accentuate the inhumanness of the body politic through its decorporealized mechanization as well as its apparent lack of care for a marginalized group ostensibly under the care of the political corpus.

            We see this dyad fully realized in “Elegy Che Guevara,” where the political body is not only juxtaposed with an image of youthful vitality, but also the bodies of its constituency are placed in direct comparison with these images of youth.  Already a veteran of many political insurrections—including the overthrow of the Batista regime in Cuba —a war-hardened Che Guevara could hardly have been considered a “boy” when he was shot to death at the age of thirty-nine by Bolivian army forces in October 1967.  Yet Ginsberg (who was only forty-two at the time) takes pains to identify the Argentine-born revolutionary with boyhood in his elegy, using “boy” four times in little more than a page of poetry to describe Guevara.  As in “Wichita Vortex Sutra,” Ginsberg wants create a dyad between an aging body politic and a young, vital, and this time resistant other.  In this poem, Ginsberg makes direct comparisons between Che’s revolutionary body and the aging bodies of prominent political figures. Ginsberg proclaims, “More sexy your neck than sad aging necks of Johnson / De Gaulle, Kosygin, / or the bullet pierced neck of John Kennedy / Eyes more intelligent glanced up to death newspapers / than worried living Congress Cameras passing / dot screens into TV shade, glass-eyed / McNamara, Dulles in old life . . .” (Poems 484).  At the time of Che’s death, LBJ was fifty-nine; Charles De Gaulle, President of France, was seventy-seven; Aleksei Kosygin, Premier of the Soviet Union, was sixty-three; Robert McNamara, U.S. Secretary of Defense, was fifty-one; and Alan W. Dulles, former head of the CIA and partner in the famous New York law firm, Sullivan and Cromwell, was 77.  While none of these men were ancient, it is an interesting maneuver for Ginsberg to sexualize the necks and eyes of perhaps the most powerful men in the world at the time.  Finding the bodies of these men inferior to perhaps the most celebrated revolutionary in recent history not only fetishizes the necks and eyes of these men, it also positions them in an inferior position to a subject who is radically resistant to their hegemony.  Of course, the only one in that group who could have been viewed sympathetically by Ginsberg was Kennedy, and his wounded neck becomes a monstrous symbol of the body politic as a maimed body.  It becomes a body sickened unto death by the murderous age at hand, an age that the political corpus was instrumental in fashioning. 

            Whether through sexualizing and/or fetishizing the body politic, or through describing the political corpus as a site of decrepitude, Ginsberg’s poetry helps to redress the boundaries of the political bodies from both within the hegemony as well as from a marginalized, possibly resistant position in relation to the political corpus.  Poetry like Ginsberg’s in The Fall of America aids in diffusing the formerly stark boundaries of the body politic as well as in delineating a separate sphere in which the other finds a voice.

            One final delineation in The Fall of America is Ginsberg’s scrutiny of the language produced by the body politic.  Not only does the poet refuse to adhere to language conventions forwarded by the dominant discourse, but by writing mantra-language poetry to combat and question the “black magic” language of the political corpus, Ginsberg obfuscates the language of the body politic and helps to find the language of the other.  “Wichita Vortex Sutra” is perhaps the finest example of this in The Fall of America.  Ginsberg begins this poem by describing how the body politic uses its language for the propagation of war rhetoric:

Put it this way on the radio

Put it this way in television language

                                              Use the words

                                                                language, language:

                                                                                                            “A bad guess”

 

            Put it this way in headlines

                        Omaha World Herald— Rusk Says Toughness

                                                                        Essential For Peace

            Put it this way

                        Lincoln Nebraska morning Star—

                                                                        Vietnam War Brings Prosperity (Poems 399)

Pulling actual headlines from Nebraska newspapers during his cross-country travels while writing The Fall of America, Ginsberg demonstrates how the political corpus recuperates a linguistic faux pas while simultaneously constructing a powerful rhetoric supporting the Vietnam War.  In 1966, Senator Aiken declared that the “policymakers” who originally maintained that the situation in Indochina could be handled with less than 8,000 American troops had simply made “a bad guess.”  Needless to say, by the time this poem was published, America had committed over half a million troops to the “police action” in Vietnam .  By combining calls for “toughness” and declarations that the war brings “prosperity” with the damage control rhetoric of “a bad guess,” however, the body politic successfully creates a macabre advertisement for institutionalized murder.  As Ginsberg asserts, “The war is language, / language abused / for Advertisement, / language used / like magic for power on the planet: / Black Magic language, / formulas for reality—” (Poems 401). The rhetoric of the war is so powerful here that it actually corrupts the discourse of the mantra.  As Ginsberg pointed out earlier, the poem, the mantra was a magic spell to counteract the killing rhetoric of the body politic.  Yet in “Vortex,” the political rhetoric has the power to create its own magic, corrupting the mantra and reinforcing the World Illusion. 

            Yet this poem is still a sutra, a ritual chant designed to convey a religious precept or maxim.  As Ginsberg explains near the end of the poem, “I lift my voice aloud, / make Mantra of American language now, / I here declare the end of the War! / Ancient days’ Illusion— / and pronounce words beginning my own millennium” (Poems 407).  The poet wishes to subsume the corrupted “Black Magic” American language of the body politic into his mantra-language, thus ending the war because there will no longer be a rhetoric to support it.  Without the language of the political corpus, the Vietnam War becomes a deathly absurd pantomime.  Ginsberg will end the war by removing the World Illusion from the political rhetoric.  In the poet’s desire, we see the conversion of Black Magic language into mantra-language, creating a new discourse apart form the language of the body politic, an inception point for the emergent discourse of the other, a discourse for others. 

            In light of the implicit tension between the borders of critique and complicity within a discourse that Linda Hutcheon outlines in The Politics of Postmodernism, it would indeed be foolhardy to contend that Ginsberg is transcending the political discourses of language and body to create a new position for the voice of the other in The Fall of America.  Hopefully, however, this discussion demonstrates that Ginsberg’s poetry in this collection is a point of debarkation, a beginning point for the further mapping out of a geography that fully provides a voice for those who are not represented in the body politic of the dominant culture.  Such a process is a necessary first step in the creation of polymorphous political bodies and languages that represent truly diverse constituencies. 


Works Consulted

Politics and Poetic Value.  ed. Robert von Hallberg.  Chicago : U of Chicago P, 1987.

Universal Abandon?: The Politics of Postmodernism.  ed. Andrew Ross. Minneapolis : U of Minnesota P, 1988.

Carpenter, Edward.  Selected Writings, Volume 1: Sex.  London : GMP, 1984.

Gatens, Moira.  “Corporeal Representation in/and the body Politic.”  Cartographies: Poststructuralism and the Mapping of Bodies and Spaces.  ed. Rosalyn Diprose and Robin Ferrell.  St. Leonards, AUS: Allen & Unwin,  1991.

Ginsberg, Allen.  Allen Verbatim: Lectures on Poetry, Politics, Consciousness.  ed. Gordon Ball.  New York : McGraw-Hill, 1974.

---.  Collected Poems: 1947-1980.  New York : Harper, 1984.

Heffernan, James A. W.  “Politics and Freedom: Refractions of Blake in Joyce Cary, and Allen Ginsberg.”  Romantic and Modern: Revaluations of Literary Tradition.  ed. George Bornstein.  Pittsburgh : U of Pittsburgh P,   1977.

Hutcheon, Linda.  The Politics of Postmodernism.  London : Routledge, 1989.

Hyde, Lewis.  On the Poetry of Allen Ginsberg.  Ann Arbor : U of Michigan P,      1984. 

Jarraway, David R.  “‘Standing by his Word”: The Politics of Allen Ginsberg’s Vietnam ‘Vortex.’”  Journal of American Culture.  (1993): 16.3, 81-88.

Kirby, Vicki.  “Corpus Delecti: The Body at the Scene of Writing.”  Cartographies: Poststructuralism and the Mapping of Bodies and Spaces.  ed. Rosalyn Diprose and Robin Ferrell.  St. Leonards, Austral.: Allen & Unwin, 1991. 

Merrill, Thomas.  Allen Ginsberg.  Boston : Twayne, 1988.

Miles, Barry.  Ginsberg: A Biography.  New York : Viking, 1989.

Miller, Toby.  The Well-Tempered Self: Citizenship, Culture, and the Postmodern Subject.  Baltimore : Johns Hopkins UP, 1993. 

Ostriker, Alicia.  “Blake, Ginsberg, Madness and the Prophet as Shaman.”  William Blake and the Moderns.  Albany : SUNY Press, 1982.

Rasula, Jed.  The American Poetry Wax Museum : Reality Effects, 1940-1990.  Urbana : NCTE, 1996.