Space Race and the Counter Culture 1950s

Civil Defense

https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/howl-parts-i-ii?mbd=1

Atomic Testing and the Space Race

In the Marshall Islands, 1946-1958

On a Dummy Town in Nevada (1955)

Laika, the Space Dog, 1957

The counterculture and the 1950s

The counter culture is more commonly associated with the 1960s, but such movements don’t begin out of thin air. Here we look at three pieces of the counter culture that began in the 1950s.

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John Cage (1912-1992)

John Cage is one of the twentieth century’s most famous experimental musicians. About himself, John Cage said:

I am going toward violence rather than tenderness, hell rather than heaven, ugly rather than beautiful, impure rather than pure–because doing these things they become transformed, and we become transformed.(qtd in Ross 396).

His 4’33”, conceived of in the late 1940s, and first performed in 1952, is considered his most controversial composition.  It was composed for any instrument or combination of instruments. As always, please take notes on this music, connecting it to other pieces of music you may have heard, or more broadly, to other pieces of art we’ve discussed in this class.

It’s not exactly related, but this piece makes me think of Cicero: “Silence is one of the great arts of conversation.”

Howl, Parts I & II

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Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997)

Ginsberg was one of the best known of the beat generation (others include William S. Burroughs and Jack Kerouac) and captured many of the values associated with that generation of poets and the counter culture that would follow–anti-military, anti-establishment, pro-sexual liberation. Howl was fiercely anti-capitalistic and was, in 1957 it was the subject of an obscenity trial for its description of homosexual and heterosexual acts. (Sodomy was illegal throughout the US at that time). What lines do you think were most challenging for the conservative mainstream values of the time?

 

For Carl Solomon

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness,
     starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking 
     for an angry fix,
angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly
     connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night,
who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up smoking 
     in the supernatural darkness of cold-water flats floating 
     across the tops of cities contemplating jazz,
who bared their brains to Heaven under the El and saw
     Mohammedan angels staggering on tenement roofs 
     illuminated,
who passed through universities with radiant cool eyes
     hallucinating Arkansas and Blake-light tragedy among the 
     scholars of war,
who were expelled from the academies for crazy & publishing 
     obscene odes on the windows of the skull,
who cowered in unshaven rooms in underwear, burning their 
     money in wastebaskets and listening to the Terror through
     the wall,
who got busted in their pubic beards returning through Laredo 
     with a belt of marijuana for New York,
who ate fire in paint hotels or drank turpentine in Paradise 
     Alley, death, or purgatoried their torsos night after night
with dreams, with drugs, with waking nightmares, alcohol and
     cock and endless balls,
incomparable blind streets of shuddering cloud and lightning in 
     the mind leaping toward poles of Canada & Paterson, 
     illuminating all the motionless world of Time between,
Peyote solidities of halls, backyard green tree cemetery dawns,
     wine drunkenness over the rooftops, storefront boroughs of 
     teahead joyride neon blinking traffic light, sun and moon 
     and tree vibrations in the roaring winter dusks of Brooklyn, 
     ashcan rantings and kind king light of mind,
who chained themselves to subways for the endless ride from 
     Battery to holy Bronx on benzedrine until the noise of 
     wheels and children brought them down shuddering 
     mouth-wracked and battered bleak of brain all drained of 
     brilliance in the drear light of Zoo,
who sank all night in submarine light of Bickford’s floated out 
     and sat through the stale beer afternoon in desolate 
     Fugazzi’s, listening to the crack of doom on the hydrogen 
     jukebox, 
who talked continuously seventy hours from park to pad to bar to 
     Bellevue to museum to the Brooklyn Bridge,
a lost battalion of platonic conversationalists jumping down the 
     stoops off fire escapes off windowsills of Empire State out 
     of the moon,
yacketayakking screaming vomiting whispering facts and 
     memories and anecdotes and eyeball kicks and shocks of 
     hospitals and jails and wars,
whole intellects disgorged in total recall for seven days and 
     nights with brilliant eyes, meat for the Synagogue cast on 
     the pavement,
who vanished into nowhere Zen New Jersey leaving a trail of 
     ambiguous picture postcards of Atlantic City Hall,
suffering Eastern sweats and Tangerian bone-grindings and 
     migraines of China under junk-withdrawal in Newark’s bleak 
     furnished room,
who wandered around and around at midnight in the railroad
     yard wondering where to go, and went, leaving no broken
     hearts,
who lit cigarettes in boxcars boxcars boxcars racketing
     through snow toward lonesome farms in grandfather night,
who studied Plotinus Poe St. John of the Cross telepathy and 
     bop kabbalah because the cosmos instinctively vibrated at
     their feet in Kansas, who loned it through the streets of
     Idaho seeking visionary indian angels who were visionary
     indian angels,
who thought they were only mad when Baltimore gleamed in
     supernatural ecstasy,
who jumped in limousines with the Chinaman of Oklahoma on
     the impulse of winter midnight streetlight smalltown rain,
who lounged hungry and lonesome through Houston seeking jazz
     or sex or soup, and followed the brilliant Spaniard to
     converse about America and Eternity, a hopeless task, and
     so took ship to Africa,
who disappeared into the volcanoes of Mexico leaving behind
     nothing but the shadow of dungarees and the lava and ash of
     poetry scattered in fireplace Chicago,
who reappeared on the West Coast investigating the FBI in
     beards and shorts with big pacifist eyes sexy in their dark
     skin passing out incomprehensible leaflets,
who burned cigarette holes in their arms protesting the
     narcotic tobacco haze of Capitalism,
who distributed Supercommunist pamphlets in Union Square
     weeping and undressing while the sirens of Los Alamos
     wailed them down, and wailed down Wall, and the Staten
     Island ferry also wailed,
who broke down crying in white gymnasiums naked and
     trembling before the machinery of other skeletons,
who bit detectives in the neck and shrieked with delight in
     policecars for committing no crime but their own wild
     cooking pederasty and intoxication,
who howled on their knees in the subway and were dragged off
     the roof waving genitals and manuscripts,
who let themselves be fucked in the ass by saintly motorcyclists,
     and screamed with joy,
who blew and were blown by those human seraphim, the sailors,
     caresses of Atlantic and Caribbean love,
who balled in the morning in the evenings in rosegardens and
     the grass of public parks and cemeteries scattering their
     semen freely to whomever come who may,
who hiccuped endlessly trying to giggle but wound up with a sob
     behind a partition in a Turkish Bath when the blond & naked
     angel came to pierce them with a sword,

Francis Bacon

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