Every so often there comes a book that shakes open the seemingly self-contained world of Beat Studies. From the vantage-point of now well-over a half a century, it seems there’s really not so much left to add in the nature of revelation. The myths have certainly hardened (those legendary Beats!) but the deconstruction of those myths and the historicization has also continued and continues apace.
And with time, the information we now possess is pretty much all-inclusive, even overwhelming (which makes the publication of Stevan M Weine’s forthcoming book all the more remarkable). In this new book, on Allen and his “madness”, he draws on his own unique groundbreaking research and on a wide-ranging empathy and curiosity.
“Stevan Weine’s biography of Allen Ginsberg is a major breakthrough in our understanding of this major American poet. With complete access to Ginsberg’s medical records, alongside interviews and other documents, Weine is able to construct the most complex account we have of Ginsberg’s struggle with madness, both his own and his mother’s, and to frame it within the history of American psychiatry and the pursuit of visionary poetry and experiences throughout Ginsberg’s career. Essential reading for anyone interested in the long history of madness in individuals, families, and cultures.”
Bob Rosenthal, no stranger to Ginsberg revelations, succinctly remarks:
“(It) breaks open long held secrets.”'(It) will spark many new conversations”
and Michael Schumacher, Allen’s biographer:
“Allen Ginsberg’s decision to allow doctors to lobotomize his mother was a devastating one that he spent a lifetime trying to understand. Stevan Weine’s unprecedented access to Allen and Naomi’s psychiatric hospital records has provided a fresh understanding of the origins of “Howl” and “Kaddish” and illuminates the great distance that Allen traveled from his uncertain, troubled youth to the acclaimed poet the world came to know. Best Minds is a crucial advancement in Ginsberg and Beat studies.”
Yes, it is that “unprecedented access” (combined with a deep (and experienced – “lived”) understanding that provides the key here. Weine met Allen early on, when he was still in medical school. His relationship with him was, right from the start, a profound one (and a mutually respectful one). The two hit it off immediately. Allen recognized Weine’s commitment to his vocation and his genuinely “poetic” soul (seemingly even before Weine himself did!) His bestowal of access to his medical records was not some reckless misplaced gesture of ingratiation but rather a sincere recognition of Weine’s capacity. He could, and did, guard and shepherd Allen’s case, whilst, at the same time, becoming, among other things, a respected professor and a specialist in the field of trauma studies- He currently holds the position of Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine, also Director of Global Medicine and Director of the Center for Global Health.
David V Forrest – fellow psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, enthuses:
“Best Minds is an immensely enjoyable and meticulous work of criticism… (It) contains startling discoveries and groundbreaking analyses of journals, correspondence, poems, and psychotherapy progress notes. Weine documents Ginsberg’s poetic, psychiatric and cultural experiences so thoroughly (that) the reader can participate in evaluating them. As a result, the challenges of mental illness and the poignancy of Ginsberg’s works come through like never before.”
From an earlier interesting take (a taste of some of Weine’s ideas) see, from 2013, his essay (note) , “Allen Ginsberg’s Kind of Psychiatrist”, published in The American Journal of Psychiatry
and from the following year, “Allen Ginsberg’s Magical Evolving Visions” in Critical Inquiry
Official pub date is March 28 (though pre-publication copies may be available sooner)
and (for those of you who happen to be in New York) Stevan M Weine will be discussing the book (in conversation with Kerouac biographer, Holly George-Warren at 180 Orchard Street (P&T Knitwear), New York City, a couple of days later – 7pm Eastern Standard Time. For those of you wishing to attend, click – here