Vital Signs

The Puritan and the Profligate

John Lofton Interviews Allen Ginsberg

Lofton: In the first section of your poem "Howl" you wrote: "I saw the best young minds of my generation destroyed by madness." Did this also apply to you?

Ginsberg: That's not an accurate quotation. I said the "best minds," not "the best young minds." This is what is called hyperbole, an exaggerated statement, sort of a romantic statement. And I suppose it could apply to me, too, or anybody. It cuts both ways. People who survived and became prosperous in a basically aggressive, warlike society are in, a sense, destroyed by madness. Those who freaked out and couldn't make it, or were traumatized, or artists who starved, or what not, they couldn't make it, either. It kinda cuts both ways. There's an element of humor there.

Lofton: When you say you suppose this could have applied to you, does this mean you don't know if you are mad?

Ginsberg: Well, who does? I mean everybody is a little mad.

Lofton: But I'm asking you.

Ginsberg: Everybody is a little bit mad. You are perhaps taking this a little too literally. There are several kinds of madness; divine madness. And in the Western tradition there is what Plato called—

Lofton: But I'm talking about this in the sense you...

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