by Allen Ginsberg
Howl Madness Quotes
How we cite our quotes: (line)
who demanded sanity trials accusing the radio of hypnotism & were left with their insanity & their hands & a hung jury,
who threw potato salad at CCNY lecturers on Dadaism and subsequently presented themselves on the granite steps of the madhouse with shaven heads and harlequin speech of suicide, demanding instantaneous lobotomy,
and who were given instead the concrete void of insulin Metrazol electricity hydrotherapy psychotherapy occupational therapy pingpong & amnesia,
who in humorless protest overturned only one symbolic pingpong table, resting briefly in catatonia,
returning years later truly bald except for a wig of blood, and tears and fingers, to the visible madman doom of the wards of the madtowns of the East,
Pilgrim State's Rockland's and Greystone's foetid halls, bickering with the echoes of the soul, rocking and rolling in the midnight solitude-bench dolmen-realms of love, dream of life a nightmare, bodies turned to stone as heavy as the moon,
with mother finally ******, and the last fantastic book flung out of the tenement window, and the last door closed at 4. A.M. and the last telephone slammed at the wall in reply and the last furnished room emptied down to the last piece of mental furniture, a yellow paper rose twisted on a wire hanger in the closet, and even that imaginary, nothing but a hopeful little bit of hallucination (lines 65-71)
These lines are the most detailed discussion of mental illness in the first section. They tell a story of people are declared insane, who demand an operation called a "lobotomy" in which a part of the brain is removed, and who instead get sent to a mental hospital where they receive a variety of other treatments, from the very tame (pingpong) to the very serious (electricity). The passage culminates in a cryptic reference to Ginsberg's mother, who suffered from mental illness.
ah, Carl, while you are not safe I am not safe, and now you're really in the total animal soup of time (line 72)
This expression of comradeship with Carl Solomon marks a turning point in the first section and looks forward to the third section, which is addressed directly to Solomon. They have lost their connection to normal time, which now seems like an "animal soup," which sounds a lot like "primordial soup," a term used to describe the origins of life on earth. Also, Howl itself sounds like a "soup" of contrasting images.
What sphinx of cement and aluminum bashed open their skulls and ate up their brains and imagination? (line 79)
The speaker believes that someone or something else must be responsible such a dramatic collapse of the sanity of his friends. He blames a machine-like creature made from "cement and aluminum," which violently invades their minds.