Death to Van Gogh’s Ear – 1

Allen Ginsberg, Naropa, 1979, continuing

AG: What I’m trying to say (is that this is) a modern application of similar exaggeration or hyperbole, as I found it. (It is in a) Paris text, (written in) 1958, (while) reading this particular (poem) (Blake’s “The French Revolution”) – reading from Blake – called “Death to Van Gogh’s Ear” a poem on politics, (beginning on) page 61 of Kaddish & Other Poems

“Poet is Priest/Money has reckoned the soul of America/Congress broken thru to the precipice of Eternity/ the President built a War machine which will vomit and rear up Russia out of/ Kansas/ The American Century betrayed by a mad Senate which no longer sleeps with its/ wife.” – (Of course the element here was actual Surrealism and Dadaism, added onto the Expressionistic hyperbole or epic simile of Blake.

“Franco has murdered Lorca fairy son of Whitman/just as Mayakovsky committed suicide to avoid Russia/ Hart Crane distinquished Platonist committed suicide to cave in the wrong/ America/ just as millions of tons of human wheat were burned in  secret caverns under the/ White House/while India starved and screamed and ate mad dogs full of  rain/ and mountains of eggs were reduced to white powder in the halls of Congress/ no godfearing man will walk there again because of the stink of the rotten eggs of/ America/ and the Indians of Chiapas continue to gnaw their vitaminless tortillas/ aborigines of Australia perhaps gibber in the eggless wilderness/ and I rarely have an egg for breakfast tho my work requires infinite eggs to come/ to birth in Eternity/ eggs should be eaten or given to their mothers/ and the grief of the countless chickens of America is  expressed in the screaming of her comedians over the radio/ Detroit has built a million automobiles of rubber trees and  phantoms/ but I walk, I walk, and the Orient walks with me, and all Africa walks/ and sooner or later North America will walk/ for as we have driven the Chinese Angel from our door he will drive us from the Golden Door of the future/ we have not cherished pity on Tanganyika/ Einstein alive was mocked for his heavenly politics/ Bertrand Russell driven from New York for getting laid/ immortal Chaplin driven from our shores with the rose in his teeth/ a secret conspiracy by Catholic Church in the lavatories of/ Congress has denied contraceptives to the unceasing masses of India./Nobody publishes a word that is not the cowardly robot ravings of a depraved/ mentality/ The day of the publication of the true literature of the American/ body will be day of Revolution/ the revolution of the sexy lamb/ the only bloodless revolution that gives away corn/ poor Genet will illuminate the harvesters of Ohio…” – ( That’s a reference to a line of Blake – “I was born free but on the banks of the Ohio I will be set free.”) –

Well, it goes on and on.  And I’ll finish it.  I’ll zap on to the end.  But you get the idea.

“Sing in a cage,” you remember, was to sing in the cage of Augustan couplets, (when we were talking about his (Blake’s)  early poems he was mocking the Augustan style of poetry and that was a rhymed couplet).

[Allen Ginsberg reading Death to Van Gogh’s Ear” in its entirety at Salem State College, Jack Kerouac Symposium, 1973, (“the first time I ever read that aloud”), included in the collection, Holy Soul, Jelly Roll – Poems and Songs 1949-1993 (1994)]

“…Whitman warned against this “Fabled Damned of nations”/ Where was Theodore Roosevelt when he sent out ultimatums from his castle in/ Camden/ Where was the House of Representatives when Crane read aloud  from his Prophetic Books/ What was Wall Street scheming when Lindsay announced the doom of money/ Were they listening to my ravings in the locker rooms of/ Bickfords Employment Offices?/ Did they bend their ears to the moans of my soul when I struggled/ with market research statistics in the Forum at Rome?/ No they were fighting in fiery offices, on carpets of/  heart failure, screaming and bargaining with Destiny/ fighting the Skeleton with sabers, muskets, buck-teeth,/ indigestion, bombs of larceny, whoredom, rockets, and  pederasty,/ back to the wall to build up their wives and apartments, lawns,/ suburbs,/ fairydoms,/ Puerto Ricans crowded for massacre on 114th St. for the sake of an/ imitation Chinese-Moderne refrigerator/ Elephants of mercy murdered for the sake of an Elizabethan birdcage/ millions of agitated fanatics in the bughouse for the sake of the screaming/ soprano of industry/ Money-chant of soapers – toothpaste apes in television sets – deodorizers on/ hypnotic chairs -/ petroleum mongers in Texas – jet plane streaks among the clouds – /sky writers liars in the face of Divinity-fanged butchers of hats and shoes/, all Owners! Owners!/ Owners! with obsession on property and vanishing Selfhood! / and their long editorials on the fence of the screaming negro attacked by/ ants crawled out of the front page!/ Machinery of a mass electrical dream! A war-creating Whore of Babylon/ bellowing over Capitols and Academies!/ Money! Money! Money! shrieking mad celestial money of illusion! Money made of nothing,/starvation, suicide! Money of failure! Money of death!?Money against Eternity! and eternity’s strong mills grind out vast paper/of illusion.”

So you get the idea of that same kind of (practice) –  just take the facts and exaggerate.  Like “mountains of eggs were reduced to white powder in the halls of Congress” – there was a time when there (were) mountains of powdered eggs in warehouses which interferred with the profits of fresh egg makers and they didn’t want to send them to India and so they were ordered to sit there until they rotted, and then were burned, actually.  There was an enormous (amount) – millions of tons of powdered eggs (in the ’50s, when this was (written)), as part of a government price support scheme.

Student: Like paying farmers not to grow.

AG: Yeah.  So, “millions of tons of human wheat were burned in secret caverns under the White House” – same thing –  There were tons of wheat “while India starved and screamed and ate mad dogs full of rain.”  Well, people were eating dogs in India and they were wet dogs in the rain, mad, crazy – Actually, quite literal – While they “starved and screamed and ate mad dogs full of rain.”  It’s literal but the way you write it makes it sound exaggerated, but it isn’t actually.  It’s just “mountains of eggs were reduced to white powder” – well, that’s true.  “(I)n the halls of Congress” – (well, (that’s) where the legislative decision was made.) –  “(N)o godfearing man will walk there again because of the stink of the rotten eggs of America.” –  (The mountains of egg powder began stinking and (it) actually got more and more difficult for an honest man to inhabit congress).

“(E)ggs should be eaten or given to their mothers.” – (That’s) obvious) – And “the grief of the countless chickens of America is expressed in the screaming of her comedians over the radio,” (which, though it’s a Surrealist line with a lot of leap in it, makes a tremendous amount of sense, because “the grief of the countless chickens of America” means all these narcotized, amphetamine speed-freak chickens sitting with weird chemicals in all-night bulb-lit hatcheries, millions at a time – actually their grief, that is to say, their pain and grief, that sort of force-feeding-in-Buchenwald conditions, is finally inherited by our bodies in the poisons and chemicals of the eggs, and so ultimately is “expressed in the screaming of her comedians over the radio” – the kind of hysterical radio and tv personae, all-American personae of humor (and) comedy that we get, which is actually hopped-up, hyper, sugar..

Student: Crazy is funny.

AG:  Yeah.  Crazy is funny; and the kind of crazy that you get from too much sugar, too much chemicals in your eggs, too much coffee, too many cigarettes, too much DDT damaging the brain. Actually too much amphetamine in the eggs, too many weird enzymes or whatever they use to hop up the chickens so that they’re layig day and night. They’re up all night, you realize, because the lights are on all the time so they can keep rolling these eggs out.

So this is hyperbole but at the same time, in an odd way, prophetically literal.  – “Detroit has built a million automobiles of rubber trees and phantoms/but I walk, I walk, and the Orient walks with me, and all Africa walks/and sooner or later North America will walk” – (Well, that even was obvious in 1958.  You don’t have to wait for the ’70s oil crisis to give you that).

“(W)e have driven the Chinese Angel from our door he will drive us fom the Golden Door of the future,” – (well, that’s a failed prophecy, fortunately.  We have made peace with the Chinese [1979] –  The “Chinese Angel from our door”, meaning we didn’t recognize Red China).

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