The name of Allen Ginsberg may not be familiar to younger readers, but for a relatively brief period, right at the beginning of that cultural revolution whose evil consequences we are still struggling with, he was regarded as something of a literary giant. Along with his sometime friend and colleague Jack Kerouac, he was one of the founders of the “Beat” movement—which contained within itself the seeds of all subsequent “liberations” (as they were then called) from traditional social norms and constraints. In 1956, when Ginsberg burst upon the cultural scene with his long, free-verse poem Howl, these now old-fashioned norms were still regarded as the products of “Western civilization”—and Western civilization was something that Ginsberg, like his drug-addled hippie successors of a decade later, regarded as a form of social pathology.


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