James F. Mersmann: On "Wichita Vortex Sutra"

[The last twenty lines are] a microcosmic expression of Ginsberg's philosophy.  That it was the grape, the sacred fruit of Dionysus and ecstasy, that [temperance crusader] Carry [Nation] warred against links her war with Vietnam in Ginsberg's propensity for counterposing the ecstatic and erotic against the Apollonian order of war.  Her hatred, as Ginsberg sees it, was hatred of anything that would lift man out of that order, free him from the dead conformity and propriety of "righteous" living. . . .  For Ginsberg, Carry's ax struck not at rum but at celebration, spontaneity, freedom of desire; for him, her hatred brought the burden of guilt upon everything that does not prostitute itself to the letter of an imposed and rigid law. . . .  Once a vortex of insensitivity and "judgment" is set in motion, it feeds upon and justifies itself; it creates the Absolute Reality in which only its own actions are rational and possible.

. . . Language that has been made to serve the judgmental rational faculty rather than the imagination and the deeper self will necessarily become as superficial and dangerous as the master it serves.  The proliferation and prostitution of language through the mass media has transmogrified the natural magic power of language, words to express the ineffable and the transcendent, into evil black-magic language that denies the ineffable and transcendent and elevates the spiritless untruths of modern politics and culture.

A chief virtue of "Wichita Vortex Sutra" is that it makes the reader experience the proliferation and abuse of language.  Its technique is to notice and reproduce the language that inundates the senses everyday, and in doing so it makes one painfully aware that in every case language is used not to communicate truth but to manipulate the hearer.  Language bludgeons the reader from every direction, on the sides of boxcars, from church lawns, neon advertisements, newspapers, television, radio, grain elevators, the sides of barns. . . .

"The war is language" because language is no longer poetic or close to its source in experience or particularity, but has become a language of mental constructs and abstractions. . . .  Always the language goes on, removed and abstract while--"Flesh soft as a Kansas girl's / ripped open by metal explosion.". . .

In the dynamics of the poem, language takes its place alongside the repressive and judgmental consciousness, and replaces the erotic ecstasies the war mentality denies.  That denial and that repression of ecstasy remain for Ginsberg the greatest sin.


Title James F. Mersmann: On "Wichita Vortex Sutra" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author James F. Mersmann Criticism Target Allen Ginsberg
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 15 Jun 2020
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication Out of the Vietnam Vortex: A Study of Poets and Poetry Against the War
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