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Howl(-ing) at America: Foucauldian confession-asresistance in Howl and America by Allen Ginsberg

Birt, Brad (2005) Howl(-ing) at America: Foucauldian confession-asresistance in Howl and America by Allen Ginsberg. Honours thesis, Murdoch University.

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Abstract

In this thesis I provide readings of the long poems Howl and America by Allen Ginsberg. Locating the poems in their social, political and cultural context, I argue that Ginsberg is oppressed for his sexuality, drug use, mental fragility, political perspectives and concern for the marginalised. By drawing on notions of power relations, confession and resistance from Foucault’s The history of sexuality, volume one: an introduction, I outline a theoretical framework for the “confession-as-resistance” and argue that through his poetry it is possible for Ginsberg to simultaneously “confess” and “resist”. From his position of below-ness in relation to the various cultural and institutional structures that dominate him, Ginsberg offers, in his writing, confessions that simultaneously articulate the “truth” about himself and those close to him, and resist the domination that he experiences as a marginalised member of his society. He is able to do so because the act of confessing – a discourse in which the confessing subject is also the subject of the confession – mobilises his agency, reasserts his subjectivity and provides opportunities to resist, to counter the subordination he experiences.
In chapter two I provide a close reading of Howl and suggest that Ginsberg’s resistance is possible because within the confession he has the opportunity to articulate a discourse of his choosing. The resistant confession is seen in the words he chooses, the people to whom he directs his confession, the form it assumes, and the “space” in which it is delivered. Focusing on America, in chapter three I develop the idea that in providing a confessional discourse the confessing subject can simultaneously interrogate those who oppress it, challenging assumptions about the unity of the subject and exposing its instability. In doing so, the potential for social change in the readers’ context – even beyond the poem – is realised. Reading Howl and America as instances of the confession-as-resistance produces enhanced readings of the poems that are valuable to contemporary readers because they address issues of inequality, oppression and the possibility of enacting one’s agency to effect social change.

Item Type: Thesis (Honours)
Murdoch Affiliation: School of Arts
Notes: ORCID # 0000-0001-9594-006X
Supervisor(s): Surma, Anne
URI: http://researchrepository.murdoch.edu.au/id/eprint/53847
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