Paul Breslin: On "Wichita Vortex Sutra"

One can see the result of psycho-political confusion in a poem such as "Wichita Vortex Sutra," in which Ginsberg views his mother as only one among many casualties of a vast historical violence. Wichita, where Carry Nation started the temperance movement, "began a vortex of hatred that defoliated the Mekong Delta" and

 

                            murdered my mother

        who died of the communist anticommunist psychosis

                    in the madhouse one decade long ago

complaining about wires of masscommunication in her head

                    and phantom political voices in the air

                            besmirching her girlish character.

    Many another has suffered death and madness

                in the Vortex.

                                            (AG, 410)

 

Here we have an easy, scattershot indictment, in which the prohibition of liquor, McCarthyite anticommunism, the use of defoliants in Vietnam, and Naomi Ginsberg's "death and madness" are all the results of a national "hatred." In this passage, Ginsberg treats individual madness as the symptom of political madness, but again, he wants it both ways. By suggesting, even if only for purposes of metonymy, that Carry Nation began "the vortex," Ginsberg identifies a villain whose individual repressions initiate, through social contagion, the repressiveness of a whole country. (Carry Nation's name serves Ginsberg's turn all too conveniently.) In this sweeping equation of any social evil with any other, individuals can be treated either as willing agents or as passive victims, according to one's mood. Ginsberg extends no sympathy to Carry Nation, who presumably was also shaped by her social environment. Those one has singled out as villains are responsible for their actions, while those who have been cast as victims are not.

Ginsberg wrote a great deal of political poetry in the late 1960s and early 1970s, all of it sentimental in its insistence that the war in Vietnam resulted directly from bad consciousness, and that good consciousness drives out bad. Even in Wichita Vortex Sutra, the best of these political poems, Ginsberg portrays the war as the work of "inferior magicians with / the wrong alchemical formula for transforming earth into gold."

Details

Criticism Overview
Title Paul Breslin: On "Wichita Vortex Sutra" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Paul Breslin Criticism Target Allen Ginsberg
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 15 Jun 2020
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication The Psycho-Political Muse: American Poetry since the Fifties
Printer Friendly PDF Version
Contexts No Data Tags No Data

Rate this Content

Item Type Criticism
Average Rating 0/100
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
Total votes: 0
Use the above slider to rate this item. You can only submit one rating per item, and your rating will be factored in to the item's popularity on our listings.

Share via Social Media