Subject Drugs as a Shield
Posted by Sean Yeh
Posted on Thu Jan 14 01:21:58 1999
From IP  

Drugs as a Shield

Allen Ginsberg's Howl reads as if a long breathless speech that is meant to suffocate its readers with the burning fire of anger. Its repetition and endlessness, moreover, serve as a device of reminder of the despicability of the spinning world that pushes its inhabitants into the very core of the maze of life. The second part of Howl indeed focuses on the embarrassment brought about by Modernity, which is personified as the Canaanite fire god, Moloch.

In the beginning of the second part of Howl, industrialization is first transformed into sphinx ("of cement and aluminum") of the ancient Egyptian mythology. The monster, symbolic of the human civilization, "bashes open their skulls/and ate up their brains and imagination." Ginsberg, I'm convinced, tries to accuse industrialization of its menace and destructiveness by comparing it to sphinx. He further suggests that as time proceeds into a brave new era, people on the contrary lose their capacity of imaging and thinking and are at most dead men walking.

From the second line on, each line of the part is started with Moloch, which ironically makes the part a praising ode to Moloch. The repetitive mention of Moloch, nevertheless, drives its readers into craze by hypnosis.

Moloch brings up a great number of detestable and horrifying images and constitutes the main idea of the second part. To exemplify, by saying "Boys/sobbing in armies!" Ginsberg shows his hate of the war-not to mention "Children screaming under the stairways!" or "Old men weeping in the parks!" which are actually meant to scorn the injustice of society. Thereupon, Moloch can be perceived as the injustice of society and maybe also the horrible ambitiousness of man-"Moloch is the vast stone of war!"

Ginsberg, in addition, questions the existence of the institution of the government by saying "Moloch the crossbone/soulless jailhouse and Congress of sorrows! Moloch whose/buildings are judgement!" and "Moloch the stunned governments!" I'm not sure if Ginsberg is anarchic, but in the passage, he obviously shows his dissatisfaction with the governors.
By saying "Moloch whose mind is pure machinery!" Ginsberg once again indicates the horrible essence of Moloch as modern civilization. Since Modernity's mind is "pure machinery," it certainly lacks a heart that works humanely. Sympathy has therefore vanished nowhere. What's being left here is merely inhumanity. Also, by comparing the veins of Moloch to running money, fingers armies, breast cannibal dynamo, and ear smoking tomb, Ginsberg successfully sets up a dreadful image of Moloch. Examining the composition of Moloch closely, we can find that it is actually composed of capitalism, materialism, industrialization, wars, and all the powers that are thought to make the modern world work.

Pathetically, Moloch, with its destructiveness, is being worshipped as a god. It, instead of man, is the real owner of the skyscrapers, factories, and smokestacks. Moloch, the invention of man, with other inventions together takes over the world and grabs their inventors, man, in the hand. Seemingly, it is no longer man that inhabits the city, but the skyscrapers, factories, and so forth. Furthermore, it is the factories' croaking, instead of the singing of man, that is being heardˇK

Such following comparisons as oil and stone, electricity and banks, are meant to adorn Moloch with more and more Modernity's "spirits" and further deepen the readers' impression of Moloch. As a matter of fact, in a hysteric manner, Ginsberg keeps reinforcing the fright and horror of Moloch into his readers: on the one hand, Moloch makes Ginsberg dream of Angels; on the other, Moloch reminds Ginsberg of lovelack and manless-the continuously-described contradictory images read to me as if Ginsberg was reaching cloud 9 by taking drugs or what. In response to the menace of Modernity, the way of counterattack adopted by Ginsberg is fairly interesting, and, of course, passive.

After the almost ceaseless rite-like praise of Moloch, Ginsberg turns back to Man, who invents Moloch: Ginsberg mocks at man for breaking "their backs lifting Moloch to Heaven!" As far as Ginsberg is concerned, heaven actually "exists/and is everywhere about us!" However, out of ignorance, people invent the fake god, Moloch, to replace the already-existing heaven and willingly have themselves enslaved and embittered by Moloch. In sculpturing Moloch, furthermore, visions, omens, hallucinations, miracles, ecstasies, and so forth, are altogether thrown into the American river and carried nowhere by the flows. As the ancient ceremony of Moloch-worship, such above-mentioned traits are contributed to the god like the children sacrificed (by their own parents!) on the altar.

The line prior to the last line of this part sounds to me as if unstoppable murmurs, or howls, before death. Lastly, to get rid of Moloch, one can only kill himself to end the endless torment-"they jumped off the/roof!"

This is a very sad poem reflecting the nihilism of the 20th century. In an absurdist way of speaking, Ginsberg shows the many horrifying absurdities of existence and resorts to howl to let out the anger. Pathetically, howling, as mentioned above, is but a passive way of relief. Therefore, I guess Ginsberg sort of teases at himself by keeping howling and pretending high on drugs throughout the poem. Aren't drug-taking, howling and masturbation also remarkable absurdities of living in the 20th century?

(To be honest, this poem kind of reminds me of the scotch folks howling in TrainspottingˇK)

HOME PAGE             Contact Me
Forums Powered By
WWWThreads Version 2.7.3