Figurations of the Spiritual Squalid in Allen Ginsberg's Indian Journals: Transformation of India in Post-War Beat and American Imagination
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This article explores the impact that India had on Beat imagination with specific emphasis on Ginsberg's under-studied Indian Journals, written during his travels in India in 1962-63, and published in 1970. The earlier American literary view of India was dominated by the notion of the spiritual East, and was evoked in the high prose of Emerson and Whitman. In the new context and historical time of post-war counterculture, India came to constitute a different kind of repertoire: 1) the trope of physical travel (unlike the earlier literary forebears who had never actually visited India) and its sense of encounter with the un-transcendable physical 'dirt' of India; 2) India as a new realm of the sexual (in contrast with the more traditional dominant trend of India as 'ascetic spiritual') and the intertwining of the sexual and spiritual; and 3) Experimenting with drugs to explore the spaces between pilgrimage and tourism wherein India as a whole and in itself offers alternate states of bodily being. Moving away from conventional postcolonial notions of 'representation' in modes that might still be seen as quasi-Orientalist, I read the Ginsberg's text as creating a new kind of literary and aesthetic density, mixing genres of travelogue, diary, poetry, confession, doodle, photography. Further, in contrast to the entirely uni-directional notions of Orientalist representation, I argue that this encounter re-defined Beat notions of space, sexuality, and alternate consciousness.