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LiBRI: The Play on Incarnation as Artistic Creation in Allen Ginsberg’s ‘Howl’

In the latest volume of the LiBRI, Andreea Paris illustrates in the article “The Play on Incarnation as Artistic Creation in Allen Ginsberg’s ‘Howl’” different modalities used by Ginsberg in the poem “Howl” to express the concept of incarnation.

“Howl” written by Allen Ginsberg

In this essay, the author will approach the theological implication of incarnation illustrated in the poem “Howl”, in order to show Alan Ginsberg’s perspective upon the transcendence of spiritual elements into physical ones (the metaphysical act is conveyed into literary creation). Thus, the poet becomes a prophet who has to deliver a spiritual message. The musicality is also very important in this poem as it enhances the concept of incarnation. Bebop is here representative for the bridge who channels the spiritual and the physical world (as the player of the saxophone sacrifices his breath to create melodious sounds).

The bridge between divinity and humanity is represented, in Christianity, by Jesus Christ, as his purpose was to deliver a message sent by God.  In the New Testament a high importance is attributed to the word: “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). Hence, the word is the link between metaphysical and physical matter and can be considered a metaphor for Jesus. Moreover, another utterance about incarnation in the theological context is written by St. Augustine. He assumed that spoken language is merely created by thoughts to which are associated symbols, thus reaching “men’s senses, as the Word of God, was made flesh, by assuming that flesh in which itself also might be manifested to men’s senses” (Augustine, “On the Trinity”).

Another interesting aspect of this paper is the approach to the relation between incarnation and jazz. The repetitions and the rhythm of music are meant to illustrate the “rhythm of thought” (Ginsberg 1956: 20). The author of the poem has confessed the fact that the inspiration for the rhythm of his creation was his own breathing rhythm. A saxophone player deals with a major breathing difficulty when playing songs because he should rather start over with the ‘dadada’ riff rather than stopping. This phenomenon led to the shape of the poem, as the lyrics end at the last breath and start over using, for the most part, the same begging.

In conclusion, the incarnation of divinity can be felt through Adam Ginsberg’s use of poetic devices and language, taking in consideration the fact that the word is seen as a channel between God and humankind. This concept is not only approached on a linguistic level but also analysed regarding the music implication of the rhythm. Therefore, a link is created between language and artistic expression, this connection symbolises the incarnation of the inspiration.

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Andreea Toma