Allen As Archivist

Allen as archivist,  Allen and his file-folders.  Bob Rosenthal alluded to this yesterday in his piece, “his enormous files on Political, Literary (and other) matters”

like his friend Ed Sanders

As Sanders notes:

“In 1940, for instance, he.. I found the first evidence of something I learned as a young man (I emulated him) and that is he was the first “Jack-the-clipper” I ever met, in that, when he was a teenager, he would amass big files of news clippings, on Hitler, Mussolini and the Spanish Civil War….so Allen was the first “Jack-the-clipper” I ever met, and I didn’t even know that he was a proto-Jack-the-clipper, when he was in his teens, but he…you know, those of us who knew him, he was always giving us files on CIA or James Angleton or on this cause or that cause, it was an early phenomenon that he got from, perhaps his mother and dad..”

From  David Margolick, writing, September 24, in the New York Times

“For much of his 68 years, Mr. Ginsberg has been a pack rat. He began keeping a journal when he was 12, and, as he came to believe his life embodied the struggle for sexual, social and political liberation in the 1950’s and 60’s, he was soon saving everything. The compulsive collecting took on new urgency in the Vietnam era as he saw counterrevolution and oppression approaching.”

Margolick was writing, in September of 1994, in the context of the sale, accomplished that year, of Allen’s voluminous (300,000 items) archive to Stanford University:

“Mr. Ginsberg’s personal archives – journals, tapes, letters, poems in progress, newspaper and beard clippings, even dried-up pieces of hallucinogenic vines and a pair of old tennis shoes – will land at a place the Beats bypassed, a place so exurban it is called “the farm” – balmy, palmy Stanford University.”

“Allen Ginsberg is one of the most important figures in postwar culture, literature and politics” (Margolick quotes Tony Angiletta, the then director of library collections for Stanford), “It was tough business, but we think we did quite well – Ginsberg agreed – “He would have been happier..had the papers ended up in New York, if not at Columbia, then in the Berg Collection of the New York Public Library, which also passed on the purchase. But his first priority..was to find a place that would take loving care of his collection. That it was Stanford, home of the conservative Hoover Institution, was actually a plus – “It’s fine by me, better maybe that they be in a bastion of conservatism,” he argued. “It will have a kind of osmotic influence. And people from the Hoover Institution can go through my files on the C.I.A.’s involvement with opium trafficking in Indochina.”

Margolick goes on:

“Mr. Ginsberg said he was not bothered by the unwillingness of Columbia – which already owns an original typescript of “Howl” and assorted other Ginsberg papers – to buy the rest. “It did about ten years ago when I offered it to them, but that lasted about two days.”

Stanford have proved a worthy custodian.  The digitalization of their “Howl” manuscript took place swiftly, as did the placement on-line of Allen’s entire audio archive. Progress is also being made with Allen’s photo collection. New  developments in digitalization mean that we are quite likely to have access to digitalized versions of all 88,000 images (images by and of Allen) by the end of the year.

Allen’s Papers at Stanford (a formidable 1,000 linear feet) can be researched and referenced here  (the additional 26 linear feet of the photo collection – here)

Elliot Wiliams writes about “Allen Ginsberg and the Power of Archives” here, noting the fact, too often overlooked, that “archival records are much more than just historical evidence (as important as that is)” and reminding the reader, in addition, of “the emotional power of archival records”.

We would be amiss if we didn’t mention in this context, two extraordinary continuing poetry-archival projects CUNY Grad Center’s Center For The Humanities Lost and Found (spearheaded by Ammiel Alcalay) and Steve Clay‘s remarkable Granary Books.

Keep records and then tidy up your rooms, poets!   Long live the archive (and the archivists)!

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