Towards a Secular Spirituality
…on the commonalities between Beat poetry, Zen buddhism and Christian theology
Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy!
The world is holy! The soul is holy! The skin is holy! The nose is holy! The tongue and cock and hand and asshole holy!
Everything is holy! everybody’s holy! everywhere is holy! everyday is in eternity! Everyman’s an angel!
Alan Ginsberg — Footnote to Howl
Alan Ginsberg’s Howl has become a landmark of American poetry, a poem to define the feeling of a whole generation (who has never heard the chilling opening lines “ I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked”?).
The Beats surrounding Ginsberg turned into a counter-culture movement of sorts, although they weren’t necessarily politically motivated in their early days. They paved the wave for the San Francisco Hippie movement, which was politicized during the Anti-War movement, and stigmatized in conservative circles (as seen in the repressive, anti-scientific moves against psychedelics, more on which I wrote about here).
But when reading Kerouac, Ginsberg or Burroughs, I don’t get the impression of political/social activist writers, or of writers that write just for the sake of provocation. It’s deeper than that: soul-searching, fun, insane at times. But at the same time a sense of realness and honesty pervades it.
Ginsberg initially wrote Howl mostly for himself, and was only later prodded by his close friends to go out and read it in public. And, following its sucess, to publish it.
Howl was then put up on obscenity trial.
One definition of obscene being: offensive or disgusting by accepted standards of morality and decency.
But how obscene is Howl, and are the lines quoted above, really?
From the perspective of many of the world religions, Ginsberg’s lines can be thought of as a sort of meta-sacrilege (sacrilege as being a “…