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Powers of PossibilityExperimental American Writing since the 1960s$
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Alex Houen

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780199609291

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199609291.001.0001

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

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

Allen Ginsberg and the Vietnam War

(p.22) 1 ‘Back! Back! Back! Central Mind Machine Pentagon…’
Powers of Possibility

Alex Houen

Oxford University Press

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

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