‘Back! Back! Back! Central Mind Machine Pentagon…’

Alex Houen

in Powers of Possibility

Published in print December 2011 | ISBN: 9780199609291
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191731723 | DOI:
‘Back! Back! Back! Central Mind Machine Pentagon…’

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  • Literary Studies (20th Century onwards)


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After considering Ginsberg's travels in south‐east Asia in the early 1960s, the chapter offers an extended reading of his anti‐Vietnam War ‘auto poem’ ‘Wichita Vortex Sutra’ (1966), showing how it combines the different senses of ‘potential’ considered in the Introduction. The potentialism Ginsberg builds with his ‘auto poems’ is intended to present lyrical possibilities to combat what he calls ‘non‐personal, coldwar subjectivity’. After relating that to New Left pronouncements and activism, the chapter proceeds to analyse how he develops his potentialism in a range of anti‐war poems from the late‐1960s to the mid‐1970s. Drawing on the Ginsberg Papers held at Stanford University, the chapter presents new scholarship on his extensive engagement with the Vietnam War's ‘electronic battlefield’. It also considers how Ginsberg's poems and other counter‐cultural activities played a part in events like the demonstrations at the 1968 Democrats’ Convention and the 1973 Republicans’ Convention.

Keywords: Vietnam War; counter‐culture; 1960s; New Left; potentiality; performativity; avant‐garde; affects; Cold War; democracy

Chapter.  16374 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (20th Century onwards)

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