The United States Supreme Court has said that obscenity is construed to mean: having a substantial tendency to corrupt or arousing lustful desires. Is...moreThe United States Supreme Court has said that obscenity is construed to mean: having a substantial tendency to corrupt or arousing lustful desires. Is the word relevant to what the author of Howl is trying to say? Or did he just use it to be dirty and filthy. He sees what he terms as
"an adonis of Denver. Joy to the memory of his innumerable conquests. Who went whoring through Colorado in myriad, stolen night cars. Neil Cassidy, secret hero of this poem, cocksman and adonis of Denver. Joy to the memory of his innumerable lays of girls. In empty lots, in diner backyards, movie houses, rickety rows, on mountain tops, in caves, or with gullet waitresses in familiar wayside, lonely petticoat upliftings. And especially secret gas station solipsisms of Jon's and hometown alleys too."
Now I suppose he could have said that the secret hero of this poem, this cocksman, this adonis of Denver, joy to the memory of his innumerable conquests was at the Waldorf Historia, or at the Diner at Chasa's, or after one or two drinks was going to bed at the Stork Club. I presume he could have said that. But that isn't the kind of person he is writing about. It is not for us to choose the words. Mr. Ginsberg, in telling his story, is telling the story as he sees it. He is using his words. There are books that have the power to change men's minds and call attention to situations that are visible but unseen. Whether Howl is or is not obscene is of little importance to our world, faced as it is with the threat of physical survival. But the problem with what is legally permissible in the description of sexual acts or feelings in arts and literature is of the greatest importance to a free society. What is prurient? To whom? The material so described is dangerous to some unspecified, susceptible reader. It is interesting that the person applying such standards of censorship rarely feels as if their own physical or moral health is in jeopardy. The desire to censor is not limited, however, to crackpots or bigots. There is in most of us a desire to make the world conform to our own beliefs. And it takes all of the force of our own reason as well as our legal institutions to defy so human an urge. The battle of censorship will not be finally settled by your honors decision; you will either add to liberal educated thinking or by your decision you will add fuel to the fire of ignorance. Let there be light. Let there be honesty. Let there be no running from nonexistent destroyers of morals. Let there be honesty. Understanding. (less)