My research focuses on contemporary literature, especially American fiction and its relationship to the culture of dissent that developed during the Cold War, though I also research and write about transnational literature and migration. I am currently working on two academic papers. The first is a conference paper on Allen Ginsberg that I will present at the South Central Modern Language Association’s annual conference later this year. The other is a co-authored journal article (with James Lockhart) on John le Carré, which is forthcoming from the journal Intelligence and National Security. A detailed description of the conference paper is listed below.
In addition to these shorter works, I am working on a book manuscript titled Total Assault on the Culture! Militant Satire and the Rhetoric of Liberation. This manuscript argues for satire’s role in galvanizing the postwar American counterculture, particularly in its struggle to expand First Amendment speech rights. It shows how 20th century American satire both buttressed and emulated a range of insurgent cultural discourses to challenge a politico-legal order committed to containing disruptive speech. Drawing on the works of both literary and extra-literary satirists alike, this book argues that they entered into a confrontational relationship with this order by freely advancing an obscene, libelous, and seditious idiom. Satire thus marked a key means of advancing a mid-twentieth century literary/cultural project for overturning accepted, sometimes legislated sociopolitical norms and practices, a project that leaves a legacy of postmodern works now recognized as key texts in American literary history.
“I here declare the end of the War!”: Speech Act and Spectacle in Allen Ginsberg’s Anti-War Poetry and Activism
In his poem “Wichata Vortex Sutra,” Allen Ginsberg writes: “I lift my voice aloud / make Mantra of American language now / I here declare the end of the War!” This remarkable declaration was intended to counteract statements issued by the White House and State Department that carried with them the force of military violence in Vietnam. By undeclaring the war, Ginsberg uttered what is perhaps the most overt example of a speech act in any of his poetry. This paper draws on archival research to 1.) trace the origins of this speech act to Ginsberg’s involvement in the Vietnam Day Committee’s November 1965 anti-war march from Berkeley to downtown Oakland, and 2.) theorize Ginsberg’s embrace of spectacle and performativity as means of transforming people’s perspectives of the war and the movement against it. Ginsberg assumed a leadership role in the Vietnam Day protest after the Hell’s Angels threatened to attack protesters who crossed the Berkeley/Oakland line. He responded by taking to the front page of the Berkeley Barb, one of the period’s most widely circulated underground newspapers, where he published his poem “To the Angels,” a direct appeal for understanding between the Hell’s Angels and the anti-war protesters, alongside a 21-point program that urged protesters to treat the demonstration “as spectacle,” complete with flowers, music, and parade floats. These texts not only defused tensions with the Hell’s Angels and encouraged anti-war activists to embrace symbols of hope and life that proved of lasting value the counterculture, but their success also provided Ginsberg with a breakthrough in his understanding of poetry’s performative ability to do something in the world, potentially up to and including ending the war in Vietnam.