Tripping on the Threshold of the Doors: The Difficult Negotiation of the Visionary in Ginsberg’s Drug Poems

Harma, Tanguy. 2019. 'Tripping on the Threshold of the Doors: The Difficult Negotiation of the Visionary in Ginsberg’s Drug Poems'. In: 8th Annual Conference of the European Beat Studies Network (EBSN). Nicosia, Cyprus 9-12 October 2019. [Conference or Workshop Item]

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Abstract or Description

Motivated by the search for a cosmic consciousness, Ginsberg wrote a series of poems under the influence of a variety of psychoactive substances, such as ‘Laughing Gas’, ‘Mescaline’ and 'Lysergic Acid’ (1959). Through these poems, Ginsberg seeks to record the minute details of his altered condition by attempting to disrupt an ordinary form of consciousness – or, in the words of Blake, by ‘cleansing the doors of perception’; a strategy that allows the poet, under the influence of different drugs, to capture potential visions of a spiritual nature and to communicate them to the audience/reader.

Thus, Ginsberg’s ‘drug poems’ may be apprehended through the lens of the Prophetic; a tradition relayed by poets working in a Romantic trend that Ginsberg actualised in the midst of the 20th-century in America by aiming not only to reach and embody the mystical experience, but also to pass it on to the reader by means of a visionary poetics (Portugés), a poetics largely implemented in ‘Howl’ for instance. In the ‘drug poems’ however, Ginsberg remains mostly unsuccessful in achieving transcendental breakthroughs not only for himself as a speaker, but also for us as readers, and I will shed light on several factors that may account for this failure.

I will underline the crucial role played by reflexivity in these poems, as Ginsberg attempts to self-consciously register his own altered states of consciousness. The constant monitoring of the self, coupled with its immediate transcription in writing form, generates a double-consciousness that interferes with the spontaneous flow of experience and tends to disrupt the poet’s intuitive expression. This reflexivity is a factor of self-alienation: it initiates an anguish that takes over the speaker and ruins his chances at encountering, and channelling, the transcendent.

In equal measure, I will also show that the failure to convey what is left of the visionary in these poems stems from their inoperative poetics, whose primary purpose is to mimic the experience rather than perform it; a poetics which cannot truly embody the vision it describes, and which therefore loses the ability to alter the reader’s own consciousness.

Item Type:

Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)


Beat; Allen Ginsberg; hallucinogens; entheogen; visionary poetics; the prophetic; Blake; American romanticism; intuition; Emerson;

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Departments, Centres and Research Units:

English and Comparative Literature


11 October 2019Completed
26 March 2019Accepted

Event Location:

Nicosia, Cyprus

Date range:

9-12 October 2019

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

24 Oct 2019 08:21

Last Modified:

10 Jun 2021 08:59


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