Get help from the best in academic writing.

Ginsberg and Roth Choosing Their Own Judaism

Ginsberg and Roth Choosing Their Own Judaism

I take these things for granted. Tradition and cultural awareness to me is another thing I can shrug off like too much homework. To my generation it’s fashionable to embrace other traditions: mendhi tattoos for the Italians, matzo ball soup for the Pakistanis, McDonald’s for the Nigerians. When did we learn to borrow from everyone else? When did I learn to come to terms with my own identity? The Civil Rights movement started it all. In quick succession, Asians demanded recognition, Native Americans wanted to carve a place back into their country, women wanted to burn their bras. Why not the Jews in America? Allen Ginsberg used his own tradition and his mother’s death to establish that identity, while Philip Roth used a fictional narrative to tell the story of a Jewish family in America. Why compare these works at all? Both are creative accounts of Jewish American culture, one through poetry and one through a fictionalized self. Both use Judaism to express feeling to either tradition or memory. Both are literary works in the 1960s that deal with Jewish self-identity rather than black, white, or other identities. But I’m getting ahead of myself…

Allen Ginsberg says his own work “Kaddish” is “finally, completely free composition, the long line breaking up within itself into short staccato breath units – notations of one spontaneous phrase after another…” (Allen 417). “Kaddish” is a prayer of atonement, making its point through rhythm, repetition and incantation. Ginsberg uses “Kaddish” to express his understanding of his own identity, and also to put that identity into the framework of Judaism. Ginsberg’s mother Naomi went through a series of mental hospitals and psychological outbreaks from Ginsberg’s childhood, eventually receiving a lobotomy and dying shortly thereafter. The Ginsberg family never held a traditional “Kaddish” because too few men were present to do so. Two years later, Ginsberg performed the ceremony with then friend Zev Putterman, and later wrote his own version of “Kaddish” (Asher). He starts his “Kaddish” incanting the spirit of Naomi by pulling up memories of her and her identity. “I walk toward the / Lower East Side – where you walked fifty years ago, little / girl – from Russia, eating the first poisonous tomatoes of / America – frightened on the dock” (Allen 195). In Part IV, Ginsberg then goes on to chant to his mother with the phrases “O mother,” “with your,” and “with your eyes.

The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and Takin’ it to the Streets as Drug-influenced Literature

The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and Takin’ it to the Streets as Drug-influenced Literature

Art influenced by drugs faces a unique challenge from the mainstream: prove its legitimacy despite its “tainted” origins. The established judges of culture tend to look down upon drug-related art and artists, as though it is the drug and not the artist that is doing the creating. This conflict, less intense but still with us today, has its foundations in the 1960s. As the Beatnik, Hippie, and psychedelic movements grew increasing amounts of national attention, the influence of drugs on culture could no longer be ignored by the mainstream. In an age where once-prolific drugs like marijuana and cocaine had become prohibited and sensationalized, the renewed influence of drugs both old and new sent shockwaves through the culture base. The instinctual response of the non-drug-using majority was to simply write drug-influenced art off as little more than the ramblings of madmen. Some drug-influenced artists tried to ignore this preconception, and others tried to downplay their drug use in the face of negative public scrutiny. For some drug-influenced artists, however, it was imperative to gain popular acceptance by publicly challenging the perception and preconceptions of mainstream America.

An article in Newsweek from 1965 included in the anthology Takin’ it to the Streets provides a useful indicator of mainstream society’s distrust of youth culture in general and drug culture in particular. Citing federal and FCC regulations banning the broadcast of “obscene, indecent, or profane material,” the writer of this article appears to be absolutely scandalized by the increasing presence of double entendres in popular music. Here, amid mutterin…

… middle of paper …

…hanged dramatically since the dawn of the 1960s, granting a sort of semi-legitimacy to drug-influenced art that grows stronger and less self-conscious every year. This pervasiveness of drug imagery in our culture today is no accident-it represents the outgrowth of these artists’ introduction of drugs into the popular consciousness. The lingering effects of their efforts to publicize and poetize their altered states of mind can be readily seen in the mainstream culture of America today, which possesses both an awareness of and begrudging respect for the drug experience.

Works and Sources Cited

Allen, Donald. The New American Poetry. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1960.

Bloom, Alexander and Wini Breines. Takin’ it to the Streets. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.

Wolfe, Tom. The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. New York: Bantam Books, 1968.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.