Allen Ginsberg, the World's Social Bandit is Gone
By Tony P. Fernandez
Allen Ginsberg, the poet laureate of the beat generation and known around
the world as the master of the outrageous, passed away in New York, last
April 5, 1997 at the ripe age of 70. Ginsberg, whom I admired as a student,
became the counterculture guru of the 1950s. I admired him a lot because
long before others did, Ginsberg stood for openness and freedom of
expression and a lifelong model of candor.
Ginsberg's prose was, in some related way, music to me while I was a foreign
student in the 60s taking up communication courses at an American university.
I kept reading and reading his works and was greatly influenced by his
avant-garde writing. I was enthusiastic about his prose, about his lyricism
and about the honor of writing which came straight from his heart.
His extraordinary list of works ran the gamut of themes under the sun, sex,
homosexuality, obscenity, religion, politics, drugs, hedonism, or any other
ones that eventually generated his worldwide fame because of the indignation
that he inspired.
Indeed, it was during the rebellious 60s that Ginsberg wrote Howl-a profane,
graphic and outrageous poem that shocked the American literary establishment.
Critics called it an obscene work, but for Ginsberg it generated enormous
publicity which later on catapulted him to fame.
As for us, Howl established Ginsberg as the voice of our generation- the
rebellious youth and Flower Children that marched against the Vietnam war
and promoted love -ins and censored Society's hypocrisy.
But as for me, my admiration for Ginsberg was his candor. He was once interviewed
by a magazine editor on the fear of censorship. Asked if there had been a
time that he found it difficult to expose his own expression when he wrote,
Ginsberg's answer struck me as typical of what set him apart as a writer.
Ginsberg stood for freedom of expression and for saying anything, regardless:
"The problem is to break down that distinction: when you approach your Muse
to talk as frankly, as you would talk with yourself or your friends..."
His candor had a profound impression in me as a student, and we talked a
lot about it in the coffeehouses in the Seattle University district during
Ginsberg's death is indeed a great loss to the literary world, and for me
personally because of my profound admiration for what he stood for as one
of America's greatest literary figures.
As the critic John Leonard observed in a 1988 appreciation: He is, of course,
"a social bandit but a non-violent social bandit". For students like me in
the 60's, Ginsberg was no doubt our social bandit.