A Time For Kicks, A Time For Inspiration

American Beat Generation Being A Writer Big Thinking Ecology Litkicks Love Modernism Poetry Politics

We always knew our country could fall victim to a right-wing coup. It's happening right now, in the form of a stolen election by the repulsive Donald Trump, and everything we cherish is at stake: our freedom, our democracy, our basic human decency, our lives and the lives of those we love.

Well, who ever said freedom came cheap? Many people I know are shocked into silent despair and fear by the specter of a racist sexual predator con-man dictator throwing our Constitution in the garbage with a phony call to "Make America Great Again". I'm refusing to be silent or afraid, and am fortifying myself with an immortal source of strength: the literature of struggle.

Some Americans in both blue and red states may have grown morally soft through pampered living. We're finding out just how soft many Americans are as we observe the reactions to Trump's fascist coup. But literature offers us guideposts for the fight against totalitarianism and brutal power politics. Many of our greatest writers were intimately familiar with the horrors of dystopian violence and oppression.

Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs and the other Beat Generation writers who long ago inspired me to launch a website called Literary Kicks grew up as pampered American children of a different era ... but they came into adulthood in the shadow of Mussolini, Stalin and Hitler, and their classic novels and poems cannot be understood today without the horrifying context of Auschwitz and Hiroshima. Virginia Woolf is sometimes mistaken for a "delicate" writer (hah), but her best novel Mrs. Dalloway tells the story of a shattered soldier back home from the surreal battlefields of the first World War. Fyodor Dostoevsky risked his life to fight against tyranny in Russia, and once endured the psychological terror of being led to the place of his execution before being released to write again. Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau and Walt Whitman wrote for their lives as their beloved country split in two over the question of slavery — a condition that seems familiar today as America ponders whether we have any unity left in our country at all.

I wasn't thinking much about these dark currents 22 and a half years ago when I created Literary Kicks. I was in a buoyant mood back in the summer of 1994, and so perhaps was the world: the Soviet Union had fallen, the Clinton administration was making peaceful overtures in the Middle East, the brand new Internet craze was promising a new era of connectivity all over the world. It was in this buoyant mood that I decided to use the pen name Levi Asher, and it was only a year ago that I announced I wanted to stop using this name, because I had become a more serious person, and wanted to be a simpler and more truthful writer.

There is a time for kicks, and there is a time for inspiration. Literature is good for both, and this calls to mind for me what I was busy doing in the weeks before the cataclysmic election day last month, November 8 2016, which will go down in infamy as the day an aspiring dictator attempted to steal our country (whether we will take our country back from Trump and his band of criminals remains to be seen, but I pray that we will). I had been working in my capacity as a professional web developer and designer with the wonderful folks who oversee Allen Ginsberg's estate to launch a new version of AllenGinsberg.org, a beautiful, thoughtful and content-rich website also known as the Allen Ginsberg Project.

If election day had gone differently, we would have announced the new version of this website immediately afterwards with much happy fanfare. The opportunity for this celebration was stolen from us. But we did put up Allen Ginsberg's great angry poem America to express how many of us felt on this horrifying day. The first line of this poem expresses how many Americans — especially women, Muslims, Hispanics, African-Americans, Jews, hardworking immigrants and others who are directly targeted by the hatred Trump sold to a gullible minority of voters — must feel as the country we love so much and have devoted our lives to supporting slips suddenly into hellish kleptocracy and ethnic hatred.

America, I've given you all and now I'm nothing

I pledge today to keep writing blog posts here on Literary Kicks, and to also keep finding ways to breathe life into my labyrinthine new project Pacifism21, and to try to do everything else I can with the small platform I've built online to help my country and my world during this treacherous age. Literature can save our souls when the going gets tough.

I built a website called Literary Kicks a long time ago, when the world seemed a happier place. Well, there is a time for kicks, and there is a time for inspiration. America, I've given you all and now I'm nothing. We are not nothing, but some of us may feel so depressed or frightened or beaten-down that we may occasionally need to be reminded that we are not.

That's what Litkicks and Pacifism21 are here to help us with from now on, and that's what I'm dedicating my Twitter account to as well. We're in for a long fight, and we will all need to be fearless and focused in the difficult months ahead.

16 Responses to "A Time For Kicks, A Time For Inspiration"

by Kari Kaboom on

Amazing Ginsberg project!! I have a few of his words tattooed on my back. Just wanted to share that love with you, Levi/Marc

by Marc Eliot Stein on

Thank you Kari! Sounds like a good tattoo.

by Mari k on

Do you remember the Ginsberg poem 'Is About' that was in a 1996 New Yorker? It got my attention then because it starts with a dramatic line about Bob Dylan:

Dylan is about the individual against the whole creation

I've been thinking about it recently because he writes a series of "is about" descriptions including for America and Russia.

"America is about being a big Country full of Cowboys Indians Jews Negroes & Americans
Orientals Chicanos Factories skyscrapers Niagara Falls Steel Mills radios homeless Conservatives, don't forget"

He concludes with the question or maybe accusation that has always stuck with me:

Do you care? What are you about
or are you a human being with 10 fingers and two eyes?

He also talks about looking to the musicians and writers like Dylan, Poe, Beethoven who have tried to teach us what it "is about".

Although the poem sounds wild and almost delusional at times, the question "What are you about? " is what we all need to be asking ourselves. As well as considering his implication that you cannot be "about" anything unless you are creating something (art, music, writing, activism?) to communicate your beliefs.

It turns out this is really difficult to do. Why are we so afraid of being made to feel ridiculous? (I was just reading about panopticon theory - maybe that's a question we democrats need to answer. The Trump supporters don't seem at all afraid to look ridiculous or to be seen as behaving inappropriately online or in person.)

Anyway mostly confusion and no answers here.

http://www.writing.upenn.edu/~afilreis/88/ginsberg-is-about.html

by TKG on

Hi Marc,

I came across this new site, a type of upgrade to the current Ginsberg blog, and didn't know you were doing it.

Thanks.

Looks awesome.

Back in the summer I thought of the below when I saw video of Trump supporters shoving a young woman around at one of the Trump rallies in Kentucky.

And later when I saw the anti-Trump people beating and bloodying Trump supporters in San Jose it just reinforced it all.

___

What sphinx of cement and aluminum bashed open their skulls and ate up their brains and imagination?

Moloch! Solitude! Filth! Ugliness! Ashcans and unobtainable dollars! Children screaming under the stairways! Boys sobbing in armies! Old men weeping in the parks!

Moloch! Moloch! Nightmare of Moloch! Moloch the loveless! Mental Moloch! Moloch the heavy judger of men!

Ezekiel 23:37
That they have committed adultery, and blood is in their hands, and with their idols have they committed adultery, and have also caused their sons, whom they bare unto me, to pass for them through the fire, to devour them.

Jeremiah 32:35
And they built the high places of Baal, which are in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to cause their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire unto Molech; which I commanded them not, neither came it into my mind, that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin.

by Marc Eliot Stein on

Hey TKG - well, speaking of violence, I hope nobody believes the hype that the important anti-Trump protests that are going on right now involve violence as a tactic. I have been to many anti-Trump protests in New York City and I promise you we are doing it right: total adherence to standard nonviolent practices, just like we learned it from the great nonviolent protesters: Emmeline Pankhurst, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King. The violence that you saw a video of in San Jose was NOT a video of a protest against Trump. Protesters against Trump are determined as hell and focused as hell to defeat him, and we are not going to defeat him if we use violence. Just wanted to make that clear.

As for all that biblical stuff ... yeah, well, we're hoping to avoid the apocalypse. Let's see if we can manage to pull this one out without destroying the entire goddam planet, because this shit ain't funny right now.

by michael.norris on

Great art overcomes great hatred. In despair over the bombing of the twin towers on 9/11, I turned to to reading Marcel Proust, that and visiting Venice healed me. The study of art, poetry, music and literature is all we have to counter the ugliness of our age. This heals us spiritually. Fighting the good fight against the forces of ignorance and intolerance that have reared up heals us emotionally and psychologically.

by mnaz on

From TKG's comments, I can't tell if he's with this protest or against (mocking?) it. None of the above maybe? The Bible verses quoted-- kind of the whole point, isn't it? Right from the start of postwar mass-consumerism-- what Ginsberg, Snyder and others (even Dwight!) spoke out/warned against. Turning to material idols, the full-scale, full-on sellout, final phase...

by Jim on

"Fascist Coup"

Wow.

I guess this is a No Conservatives Allowed club. Nice of you tell us who we are and what we believe before lit kicking us to the curb.

Also, a lot of us read the Beats but we've obviously derived different conclusions. Perhaps you need to reread Bill and Jack, especially their letters. It couldn't hurt to visit President Trump's website as well to see what his policies are (as opposed to fear mongering cherry picked out of context remarks)

Anyway, good luck with the revolution, Comrade.

by Marc Eliot Stein on

Yes, Jim, a fascist coup. Sorry, but I'm going to call it like I see it. This was a stolen election, a crude grab for power, and the American people are not going to accept it.

Whether you are conservative or not, you are welcome here. I understand that there are many different opinions and I try to get along with people I disagree with. It's true that Kerouac had conservative opinions in the 1960s but I think he would have despised Donald Trump, because Kerouac believed in kindness and dignity, and Trump has neither of these.

But, please do feel welcome here despite whatever your political beliefs are.

by Steve Plonk on

Marc, I get it. We've been "trumped" by a modern Mussolini type character. I woke up the day after the election in "Bizarro World". Everything is upside down & even "sidereal reality". I have a wait and see attitude, but my hackles are raised & my cage has been rattled. I read a magazine article in "Mother Jones" which said we need to have "all hands on deck" to keep what remains.

I'm hoping, that in 2018, the Democrats will win three more seats in the Senate and gain control. (We won two seats this season...) I will do all I can to make that happen and for the Democrats to keep the seats they already have.

by Marc Eliot Stein on

Thanks, Steve Plonk - but FWIW I really don't think we can wait until 2018. No way. Our focus must be to block and resist now.

by Steve Plonk on

Exactly... that's what I meant by "all hands on deck". The ship of state is going awry. Certainly, we can't wait. We need to block as many cabinet & court appointments as we can. We, meaning the opposition.

That's why I still continue with my Column in Studio Eight called: Life in the Horse Lane. "We're Still Here", as Bill Maher's hats say.

How nice it is to come back and see what's happening here. I've been in such a rage about the awful election that I realized I had to look back at things I may have ignored for too long. I wondered about where the stuff is on the web that makes a connection and feeds a person. So I came here.

Best to you.

by Jim on

coups d'état: a sudden and decisive action in politics, especially one resulting in a change of government illegally or by force. Like it or not Trump winning (and I didn't) was neither illegally or by force. It was done by the vote, same was all who held the office that Trump now does, has been done for quite a long time. What Trump's win exposes to the surface, is a streak of fascism that underlies the American psyche which pops out every so often. Its nothing new and needs things to happen to come to the top. Especially when a portion of Americans, not experiencing the best of times such as wages being stagnant with upper mobility non existent for the most part and the existence of an easily identifiable group to place the blame on such as Hispanics and Muslims. Not much different than when the South so easily kept blacks in their place through Jim Crow because of the lack of economic success before the mid 60s or the Germans saw the Jews under Hitler.

Jim, I will agree with you that "coup" is not a perfect word to describe the Trump crisis because "coup d'etat" does usually indicate a sudden takeover, whereas the Trump/Comey/Russiagate machinations happened slowly over several months. However, I don't think it's too far off to call this a coup in terms of the drastic and serious nature of the changes the Trump regime are trying to put over on the American people. I do believe the future of our democracy and our freedom is at stake, and I think the word "coup" correctly denotes this situation. I think your other points about the American psyche are well chosen and well said. And we really do NOT want to return to the types of human disasters that Jim Crow segregation and German anti-semitism led to.

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