“Howl” and the trial

On the evening of October 13, 1955, a bar in San Francisco called “The Sixth Studio” was about to hold a recital. An attractive slogan was written on the sign outside the door: “All kinds of angels gather together. Wine, music, dancing girls, serious poetry, and enlightenment are free.”

At 9 o’clock in the evening, the bar was full of seats. The room was full of alcohol and smoke. A 30-year-old man walked onto the stage and stood behind the podium. He is handsome and well-proportioned. He is wearing a black suit, no tie, an open neckline, a pair of black-rimmed glasses, a thick speech in his hand, and his Adam’s apple moves up and down, looking cramped. disturbed. Most of the people sitting below were his classmates or friends, and they looked at him expectantly. The man looked around the room, finally plucked up his courage and opened his mouth: “Howl, to Carl Solomon. I saw the most outstanding mind of this generation ruined by madness, hungry and hysterical, naked and dragging himself. Walking through the streets of black people at dawn looking for a fatal dose, the angelic holy Sibst longed to communicate with the quaint and beautiful relationship with the star-flickering generator in the dark night machine. Their poor clothes and shabby eyes fell into a faint. In the darkness beyond nature, the Lengshui Apartment smoked a cigarette floating over the city, meditation, jazz music, and stayed up all night…”

His voice was monotonous and low, as if it came from a machine, but under this low, undisguised impulse and power surged. The poem describes the distortion of human nature in the traditional American society and the suffering of young people because of their uncontrollable desires. The works are full of content about sex, drugs, death, and curses, making the audience a little inexplicable at first, but gradually everyone present is infected by this wild and straightforward poem, sometimes in awe, sometimes big. Laugh, hide your face from time to time, sometimes cheer. At that time, the poem was not finished yet, but when the poet read a series of fifteen “sacred” at the end, the audience went into madness. The audience chanted and responded together. The recitation reached a climax.

This reciter who fascinated the audience was Alan Ginsberg, a famous American poet in the 1950s and a representative of the “Beat Generation”. He recites his masterpiece “Howl”. Lawrence Frigeti, owner of the City Lights bookstore, was also in the audience during the Ginsburg recitation, and he was deeply moved by the poem. After the recitation, he congratulated Ginsburg and asked eagerly: “When will I get the manuscript of this poem?”

However, it was this poem that caused problems for Frigeti and Ginsburg. In March 1957, the newly printed 520 copies of “Howl and Other Poems” had just been shipped to the San Francisco dock and were seized by customs. Federal Collection Officer Chester McPhee stated that the book contained obscene content: “Children should not see such content.” The incident immediately appeared in the local newspaper. Readers have mixed reactions. Some people think “Howl” is a pornographic book and should be banned. Other readers criticized McPhee for only seeing the dirty words in the work but failing to understand the complete content of the work. Others accused the San Francisco Customs of acting beyond its authority and banning a literary work only by using the criterion of being unsuitable for minors. Is inappropriate. They quoted what Justice Frank Ford once said: “Some works are not too crude for adults. If they are banned on the pretext of protecting minors, doing so is equivalent to burning a house to roast a pig. “Frigetti also agreed with this view. He wrote in the newspaper: “The large amount of obscene content in “Howl” is actually a sad obscenity produced by a mechanized world. The world has been lost in The atomic bomb, crazy nationalism, song charts and TV shows are on the list.”

Two days after this statement was issued, two plainclothes police officers came to the city light bookstore to buy a copy of “Howl”, and then arrested Frigeti and the clerk Murao. Frigeti was prepared for a long time, and sent a letter to the American Civil Liberties Union in advance to explain the situation, and the Union agreed to represent Frigeti in any legal disputes that might be encountered. The alliance provided bail for the two and made the matter public to the media. In fact, the public has long been fed up with the police using the power to censor literary works and even enter the bookstore to arrest people casually. They hope to bring the matter to court, thereby canceling this power of the police. What’s interesting is that the police actually want to take this matter to law, because they also hope that the court can have a more accurate view on whether a literary work is illegal, so that there are laws to follow. Under such a background, a court debate is inevitable.

In August 1957, a wonderful court confrontation kicked off. The prosecution is the California government, and the prosecutor is Ralph McIntosh. As the defendant, the American Civil Rights Union appointed senior criminal attorney J.W. Ehrich to defend. As soon as McIntosh came up, he emphasized to the presiding judge Clayton Horn that “Howl” is fully applicable to the current laws on obscene reading materials, and Horn can interpret it in accordance with the law. On the other hand, Ehrich is tit-for-tat, emphasizing that “Howl” has literary value, and that it contains obscene words and is not equivalent to obscenity. He pointed out that the purpose of “Howl” is not to spread vulgar thoughts, and readers will not buy this work because of such thoughts.

According to US court regulations, whether a literary work violates regulations needs to be determined by professionals. Therefore, both the prosecution and the defense invited literary experts as witnesses. The first witness of the prosecution was David Colby, an assistant professor of English at the University of San Francisco. He believes that “Howl” is an imitation of Walt Whitman’s masterpiece “Leaf of Grass” and has no literary value. The other witness was named Gale Porter, an English teacher at Dominican University. She thought “Howl” could not bear to read. Reading this work was like plunged into the gutter, although she was not in the gutter herself. Stayed too long. On the other hand, Ehrich invited Mark Schroll, the dean of the Graduate School of the University of California, to testify. In his opinion, Ginsburg tried to explain his own personal experience. Therefore, all the so-called “obscene” words are for Used to accurately describe modern culture. Mackintosh extracted some passages from the poem and asked Schroller to explain. Schroller refused to explain and replied: “Poetry cannot be translated into prose. This is where the value of poetry lies.” Another witness, a book editor, and The critic Luther Nichols pointed out: “If Ginsburg is sincere about his own purpose, then the vocabulary he uses is effective and necessary.” The famous book critic Kenneth Recross insisted, The poem “Howl” is probably the most important poem about young people since World War II. If the testimony of the prosecution and defense is compared, the testimony of the prosecution is undoubtedly too subjective and lacking in persuasiveness, while the testimony of the defense is well-founded and correctly reflects the essence of Ginsberg’s poetry.

Seeing that the wind had fallen, Mackintosh changed his tactics. He pointed out that since there is no agreement among literary experts, they cannot be accepted. He asked Judge Horn how he would feel if “Howl” was broadcast in other media, such as newspapers or on the radio. He pointed out that the work “Howl” is disrespectful to ordinary readers, who cannot have a deeper understanding of poetry like experts. Ehrich also refuted this statement. He pointed out that “Howl” does not create evil thoughts in readers’ hearts, and only those readers who deliberately look for obscene content in the work will find this poem dirty. He pointed out that although many literary classics have indisputable literary value, they will be rejected by readers who reject all works they do not understand. Although some works make some readers nauseous because of their sexual content, they do not detract from their literary significance. Ginsburg wrote this work not to poison readers, but to record his life, including the pain, reality and struggle he experienced. Ehrich ended his statement in poetic language: “I hope the world will be bright, and don’t blame those innocents, saying that they have destroyed morals, and I hope everyone understands each other sincerely. Ginsburg’s work is not moral depravity. The howl of the man, but the howl for the suffering of mankind, is the self-exposure in the face of the oppressive world.”

Before finally announcing the verdict, Judge Horn spent two weeks re-studying many famous cases before the case and the final verdict, including when James Joyce’s book Ulysses was published in the United States. The lawsuits aroused, and finally a judgment was made that “Howl” is not an obscene work. Horn wrote a lot of his thoughts on this case in detail. He emphasized the importance of freedom of speech and press to the American individual and the country, and at the same time analyzed the core issue of this case, that is, if a work has literary character, can it be judged as obscene based on some specific vocabulary. He insisted that the conclusion is negative. Certain groups of people think that certain words are unpleasant, which does not constitute an allegation of obscenity. Personal preference for certain words does not mean that these words cannot appear in other social groups, nor does it mean that these words belong to another culture. He also pointed out that certain words can indeed be replaced by other words, but the value and meaning of the work will also be harmed. He believes: “The author should be honest with his own work and express his thoughts and opinions in his own language.” In Horn’s view, a work can only make readers lust and depravity under the premise of no social significance. Ideas will become obscene works. “Howl” makes readers feel completely opposite. Finally, Horn pointed out that the public has the responsibility to supervise the government’s interpretation of the censorship law and to ensure the seriousness of the censorship standards. “If you do the opposite, it will destroy the freedom of speech and the press in the United States.”

Judge Horn’s ruling not only changed the fate of “Howl”, but also played a vital role in the development of American literature. First of all, “Howl” further clarifies the operation of the existing censorship law, ensuring that the emphasis is placed on the literary level rather than on the appropriateness of a word. Second, this ruling puts the author’s personal freedom of speech above the group influence of the work. At this level, the author’s assertion of the right of expression has been upheld. Finally, this ruling broke the taboo of American literature on the performance of sexual issues, and objectively made “Howl” become a benchmark for the description of American literary sex. After this ruling, the discussion of sexual issues in literature was regarded as a socially important behavior, and many breakthrough works in sexual literature appeared, which further opened the writer’s vision of literature and improved the society’s attitude towards sexuality. Tolerance of the subject. Compared with previous talks about sexual discoloration, since 1957, people have paid more attention to whether their literary rights are protected when writing and reading. Finally, this ruling also led to the publication of many controversial works in the same period. Long before the verdict was issued, the police officer who arrested Murao and Frigeti pointed out that if “Howl” is banned, it means that a large number of literary works will suffer the same fate. As “Howl” gained freedom, a large number of works on the banned book list were also released, including D.H. Lawrence’s “Madame Chatterley’s Lover” (banned in 1929), Henry Miller’s ” Tropic of Cancer (banned in 1934). As the critic Nichols said: “The fluke of “Howl” is still something worthy of being written into the history of literature. It has become a stepping stone, helping such works gain more readers and greater freedom. ”

In 2015, on the 60th anniversary of the first release of “Howl”, the famous American director David Lynch, in the name of the personal foundation, and the legendary music producer Hal Wilner, held a grand event in Los Angeles. In the celebration, famous actors including singer Amy Poller and actor Tim Robbins participated in this commemorative event, commemorating this literary event through singing, meditation and recitation. On March 20 of the following year, people gathered at the Berkeley City Hall Theater in California to reproduce the first full-text recitation of “Howl” in Ginsburg that year. People’s enthusiasm exceeded the organizers’ imagination, and the whole theater was packed. “Howl” is divided into 23 chapters, and the audience recites the relevant chapters separately through pre-claimed methods. When the poem reached its climax, the audience joined the recitalists, shouting “Holy” together, and the scenes came and went one after another. Some viewers are very young and don’t even know who Ginsburg is. They are also infected by this scene and join the cheering crowd. As a reporter said: “After 60 years, “Howl” has actually not aged much. The attitude that combines self-esteem and self-pity among young people still affects generation after generation and inspires more. People follow suit.” Looking back, this also confirms the judgment made by Judge Horne that “Howl” is proving its value to literature and society with its immense influence.

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