A Summary of: Dagmar Van Engen’s “Howling Masculinity: Queer Social Change in Allen Ginsberg’s Poetry”
In “Howling Masculinity: Queer Social Change in Allen Ginsberg’s Poetry,” Dagmar Van Engen analyzes homosexual aspects of Ginsberg’s Poetry, primarily “Howl,” and how the poetry ties in with gender politics. It attempts to answer the questions of how Ginsberg's characters attain social change, how his poems relate to the idea of “repressed but previously existing subjects," and how the poems relate to contemporary thoughts of identity for heterosexual males, and claims that the acts of Ginsberg’s characters support Judith Butler’s performative theory of gender and sexuality.
Engen asserts that in the line, “who let themselves be fucked in the ass by saintly motorcyclists, and screamed with joy,” “Howl” initiates social change by repeating contemporary “gay masculinity.”
In “Howl,” Ginsberg depicts anal sex, which was, at that time, considered violent and painful, as enjoyable. If anal intercourse is desirable, then traditional gender roles don’t have to exist.
Many critics and supporters of gay rights believe that if homosexuality is fixed, then it is ok. This belief is ridiculous.
The characters of “Howl” publicly copulating makes the city more queer, and easier to live in. This openness is necessary because traditional sexual roles continue to exist by silencing queers.
Howl’s characters exemplify Butler’s performative theory. (The characters in Howl perform homosexual acts to spite society, and so they are being gay because of society).
Engen concludes by saying that the characters in Howl achieve social change by being publically sexual, and that Ginsberg’s poetry “avoid[s] the essentialist concept of repressed but previously existing subjects.”
Van Engen, Dagmar. "Howling Masculinity: Queer Social Change in Allen Ginsberg’s Poetry."
written by Rehan Quraishi