'Allen Ginsberg's 'Howl': A Spenglerian Re-reading of the Poem'

Harma, Tanguy. 2013. ''Allen Ginsberg's 'Howl': A Spenglerian Re-reading of the Poem''. In: Third International BAKEA Symposium (Western Cultural and Literary Studies). University of Gaziantep, Turkey 9-11 October 2013. [Conference or Workshop Item]

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Abstract or Description

This paper will approach Ginsberg’s poem as symptomatic of the dialectic exposed by historian Oswald Spengler ( 1880-1936) in The Decline of the West (1918), which posits the decay of Western civilisation and the birth and rise of a new model of civilisation as a sequel.
After a brief re-contextualisation of ‘Howl’, I will focus on the first two parts of the poem. I will show how its contents and aesthetics exemplify Spengler’s notion of downfall of the West: as the protagonists engage with modernity in an intense yet tragic way, it is the inadequacy between men and the new socio-historical conditions of their environment that Ginsberg aims to highlight. This movement is epitomised by the figure of ‘Moloch’: Moloch stands for an extended metaphor of the rational and materialistic West, which stifles men’s relationship to outer and inner nature. The values of innocence and wisdom are replaced by a will to knowledge (myth of Faust), an insatiable desire to control, and an obsession with measuring quantitatively the human experience. This chasm will be analysed through its philosophical origins as well: the epistemological grounds of modern Western civilisation will be underlined, and opposed to the Dionysiac essence of the myth of the primitive and the intuitive modality championed by Spengler.
The second part of this presentation will focus on the last two parts of the poem, in which the malevolent influence of Western civilisation dissipates and a new tone sets in: it is the one of humanistic hope and cosmic transcendence. Destruction has infanted creation: echoing the Spenglerian dynamic of fall and rise of civilisations, ‘Howl’ heralds a poetics that reconnects men with a more humanistic position in social and spiritual terms, respectively in the third and fourth part of the poem. On the whole, ‘Howl’ will be regarded as a unified piece that plays out the rhetorical downfall and re-birth of civilisation that Spengler brought forth in his work.

Item Type:

Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)


Allen Ginsberg, Moloch, Oswald Spengler, Civilisation, Primitive, Modernity

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Departments, Centres and Research Units:

English and Comparative Literature


11 October 2013["eprint_fieldopt_dates_date_type_shown" not defined]

Event Location:

University of Gaziantep, Turkey

Date range:

9-11 October 2013

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

22 Apr 2016 09:25

Last Modified:

26 Jun 2017 09:10



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