Allen Ginsberg's "Howl" & the Performative Nature of Language & Participating in the Divine in the Very Act of Reading It

"Howl" is a poem I taught for eons as it is such a great way to teach the performative — how language not only says things but does things. I borrow this word, performative, from the philosopher, John Austin who gave an incredible set of lectures that became a book, How to Do Things with Words. I cannot recommend Austin's book more ardently. 

In fact, I'm not sure how anyone makes sense of language — or teaches anything that's written or spoken — without Austin's book. One of the problems I faced when teaching, and continue to face when trying to interact with other human beings in the world, is that most people don't have the figure of the performative in their vocabulary. We are explicitly taught to examine texts for what they say — for their content. We talk about themes and ideas and characters. But we're never taught to examine how texts say what they say and the various things they do in the very act of being uttered — they way they choreograph our bodies, emotions, and social relations.

So this is me talking about the performative via Ginsberg's incredible poem. And how, in the act of reading it, we don't just learn of all the depraved exploits of the Beats: we  participate in Beat-dom, we become Beat, which is to participate in the divine through and with the flesh. Oh yes. Oh yes, indeed.

1 comment:

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