Allen Ginsberg's Poetry and Psychiatry Essay

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Allen Ginsberg's Poetry and Psychiatry


From the 1930's to the 1960's, early attempts to combine the psychiatric goals of restoring mental health with new advances in medical science would produce tragic results for many of those who trusted modern psychiatry to provide comfort and healing. During this time, science, psychiatry, ambition, power, and politics came together to leave behind a controversial history of events that destroyed the trust and hope placed by many upon modern science and left behind a trail of scarred minds and ruined lives.

When Allen Ginsberg, the famous Beat poet, attacked the American mental health care system of the 1950's in his poem, "Howl", he knew the subject well. These experiences,
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He completed his postgraduate studies in Bordeaux and Paris, under some of the foremost neurologists of his time (Critchley). He was active in Portuguese politics, as a member of the Portuguese Parliament, as the Portuguese foreign minister to Spain in 1917 and as President of the Portuguese delegation to the 1918 Paris Peace conference (Nobel). With his professional reputation behind this new procedure, it would soon see widespread use. For his pioneering work in his field, Moniz was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 1949 (Jansson).

The results of the lobotomy seemed positive at first. An English study indicated that 9,284 of the patients surveyed showed that 41% had recovered or were greatly improved while 28% were minimally improved, 25% showed no change, 2% had become worse and 4% had died (Jansson). However, the stories about those who underwent the procedure began to draw the public's attention to the human cost.

As Allen Ginsberg grew up, he watched his mother fight a losing struggle with mental illness. Louis Ginsberg, Naomi's husband and Allen's father, was exhausted by a losing struggle with his wife's mental breakdown and divorced her. The years of gradually worsening psychotic episodes resulted in Naomi Ginsberg's permanent commitment to the Pilgrim State mental hospital in New York (Asher).

Ginsberg wrote of his mother's mental collapse and
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