Samantha Emily Evans,
“I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by…” criticalness. Not madness, but criticalness. On October 10th, 2015, I attended Still Howling, a unique celebration of the 60th anniversary of the first reading of Allen Ginsberg’s ‘Howl’ that took place on October 7th 1955. In the afternoon, there was a symposium with a vibrant panel of experts and in the evening there was an excellent performance with new and older poets and musicians. The evening symbolically finished with a recital of ‘Howl’ by George Hunt and a performance of ‘A Footnote to Howl’ composed and lead by Steven Taylor with a talented chorus.
As you know, I am obsessed with this event. I am doing my entire dissertation on the reading, trying to figure out why this event was so important. One thing I found very interesting was the difference between the older generation and the younger generation performers. The older generation poets spoke of nature and happiness and political issues in a constructive way, but the younger generation poets were simply critical. When Ben Graham and Chris T-T wrote poems inspired by ‘Howl’, they were, upon my first listening, lists of complaints about our generation. For me, ‘Howl’ is not simply a list of complaints, but thirty years of personal memories unleashed, not intended to be critical, but to be true. He is not lamenting the shallowness of his friends lives, but rejoicing and revealing their unappreciated sainthood.
I will confess, when I’ve attempted to write a poem inspired by ‘Howl’, it comes out in a series of complaints. I have a vivid memory of sitting in the car with my family as I tried to explain the issues I have with our present generation, turning black and futile. Facebook, Iphones, and Internet – connected through the machine but not connected by the touch. Traveling the world for the perfect Instagram picture, not for the experience of that first bite of Bratwurst on the busy Berlin street at 1pm. And if it is only for the experience – at least one photo to show that it happened. Too many times I hear, ‘My friends will be so jealous when they see this photo.’ I curdle inside each time I hear this, as our vitalities are transformed into enviable visuals rather than effervescent energies.
I confess again, I often take photos. I don’t usually upload them on facebook, but when I do, I feel a social gratification. After being bombarded by all my facebook friends great experiences, it feels good to publish an album, and say, ‘Hey, me too! My life is great, as well!’ I wish it didn’t feel good, but it does. It helps me keep going, even when my newsfeed causes darkness to descend into my mind.
I confess again, as the Editor of the Tribe – we share articles on facebook, we take photos of smiling people at social events, we read and appreciate the likes, shares, and clicks. Our entire magazine is built on the internet and social media. Our most popular articles are filled with visuals, with images of people having a great time, and predominantly the reviews of social events that not everyone is invited to, goes to, or can afford. We are a site based on critical reviews managed by students at an academic institution, which main purpose is to develop critical minds. More people than ever before attend academic institutions. It is nowadays considered almost mandatory to attend university, a tack-on to our required education until 18, or at least that is how it feels in the middle to elite classes of the Western world. More minds than ever before are being taught to be critical. Is it any wonder why we cannot separate our Academic critical thinking from that of how we think about our personal lives?
Critical has two definitions that are often confused. In one sense it means to looker deeper and more meaningfully into things, and in another, it means to express disapproving comments or judgements. These two definitions are complete opposites, encapsulated by the same word. I want more critical minds, but at the same time I don’t want critical minds.
While I may not like it, I am part of the virtual world that I am trying to revolt from. I am part of the generation I wish I wasn’t a part of.
At the Still Howling conference, I was fortunate enough to talk with Steven Taylor, inspiring creative who was a major figure in the Beat, and Punk!!, scene. He was a member of the Fugs and the False Prophets, as well as guitarist in Allen Ginsberg’s band. I asked him, ‘What time period do you wish you had lived in?’
He replied, ‘None.’
When he asked me in return, I said, ‘Yours.’
For some reason when I read about the counterculture from the 50s until the early 80s, I think, ‘That is time period I should have lived in!’ I should have lived in the time of holy typewriters and legal LSD and free love, of punk and anarchy and the folk revival, the time when poetry was first performed in an art gallery, the time where conversation and printed newspaper, records, and posters were the only form of communication.
Instead, I live in this generation. I am working on being able to say the same as Steven Taylor. This is the time period I have been born into, and thus it is the time period I want to live in. How many times do I have to say that until it is true?
Samantha Emily Evans