I write this column on the birthday(1) of America’s “dropout generation” activist,the poet Ginsberg, so first I’ll take the opportunity to discuss Ginsberg’s times。
In April 1968,after Martin Luther King was assassinated,city riots erupted all over America,Chicago was a “place on fire, a smouldering tinderbox”. The poet Ginsberg, acting as a special correspondent for a magazine, raced to Chicago to report the news, his clothes were worn, his shirt crumpled,he sported a big beard,when he tried to enter the circular theatre of the Democratic National Convention two security guards at the door had the following dialogue: one asked the other：“Does he have credentials？” the other replied: “he looks suspicious, he doesn’t even have shoes ”. Actually it was a bad decision for Ginsberg not to wear shoes – in the middle of a street disturbance a few days later, his feet were injured by the stones and smashed bottles in the street, and the inside of his throat was also burnt by tear-gas。
Also covering the news was another special correspondent, the author Norman Mailer, who wrote the following about the situation at that time: “There were two groups among the army of young people who assembled in Chicago; one could divide them conveniently as socialists and existentialists. By the summer of 1968，each group had so influenced the other, that their differences were no longer significant。The emphasis was on a politics of confrontation which searched to dramatise the revolution as theatre. (2) ”
The poet Ginsberg, who was there on the streets in 1968，had already described the scene as “theatrical”，and he himself also added to the drama of the street movement。So it was a revolt, a revolution with a strong hippie flavour: even though all those on the streets were children of the middle class，yet they were in exact opposition to their own fathers – the middle classes held to the principles of rationality,industriousness and profitability, but of course from another point of view these principles could also be described as hardheartedness,greed,and indifference.
There isn’t really any record about whether or not the author Salinger was also there at the time on the streets, supporting the young people, but even if he wasn’t there, he probably was there in spirit. His work “The Catcher in the Rye” however, enabled his absence to be presence，because Holden “For the first time brought the previously well hidden generation gap out into the open, causing consternation in the previous generation when seeing the moral state of affairs in the next generation (3)”. Holden’s “goddamn”, the rage common to his angry generation, his ‘couldn’t care less’ attitude, both made him a fascinating figure，and also quickly gained the respect of the young people within the street movement – “ You ought to go to a boy’s school some times. Try it sometime. It’s full of phonies, and all you do is study so you can learn enough to be smart enough to be able to buy a goddamn Cadillac some day … “(4) how good is his condemnation, that’s exactly what their protest was about.
If you want to look for other poets similar to the emerging street poets of 1968, you can refer back to Baudelaire in 1848. He wrote from the battle of the street barricades in the February 1848 Paris revolution ：“I am not the only one willing to be a martyr,and I don’t care if I’m hanged – I want to experience the revolution from both sides！We all have the republican spirit in our blood, just as we are all men of character we all have the pox inside us, we are all infected by both democracy and syphilis.(5)” Of course, later generations will assess this to be irrelevant,a phrase that no matter how meaningless, is at the same time inadvertently a great slogan for the revolution itself。
If we switch focus to the future, looking beyond 1968, there are also street poets, but these are probably not the first group you would think of：the rappers! Talib Kweli, Kanye West, Russell Simmons, American rap singers come in batches in front of the crowds gathered in the parks, to support “Occupy Wall Street”, they haven’t yet written a song about it, but they have already expressed their solidarity on twitter: “There’s no other place in New York to be, people are taking their destiny in their own hands。This is one of the most American, if not the most American, things that I have seen。When I see things like Occupy Wall Street，I just try to align myself with things that make sense，shame on me if I know something and don’t spread it …(6)”（ Talib Kweli）
This year, a great many young people have been gathering on the streets: some to be with others and build social networks, some to protest increased tuition fees, and a few others say they don’t know why they are there, perhaps it’s simply just a “consumerist revolution”，something to do with their desires，”Occupy Wall Street” notably has a classic spirit. It has much in common with the 1968 gatherings in Chicago or Paris: the protest is all against a greedy, rigid and indifferent middle class, and the demonstrations are characterized by rich hippie colours and theatricality. The revolution plans may by serious, but you can’t always predict to what extent the form taken by a revolution will be imbued with theatricality, first music,then sex and marijuana, and now we’re just waiting for the poets of this “era without poets” – the rappers – to create something. For sure, no one from the older generation, no matter what faction they represent, would have thought that this could happen, because the less serious the form of a protest, the less those who rely on the force of serious authority can do anything about it.
(1) Not sure if this means birthday. Ginsberg born June 3, 1926 died April 5, 1997. Don’t know what date article published.
(2) This is the actual quote.
(3) Can’t find actual quote – so my translation of the Chinese.
(4) Actual quote from “The Catcher in the Rye”.
(5) Can’t find this quote from Baudelaire, would have been in French originally so may be distorted by double translation.
(6) Actual quote from Taleb Kweli as reported in http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1672173/talib-kweli-occupy-wall-street.jhtml
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