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The quality of the material in this book is very uneven. It consists of journal entries of daily events and travels, accounts of dreams, a few scribbled drawings, and initial drafts of poems. I recognized a few of the poems. The drawings are crude to the point of being barely intelligible.I speak from personal experience when I say its next to impossible for a person to adequately convey the look, scope, breadth, depth, grandeur, oddness, and meaning of a dream to another person, so Im not surprised that Ginsberg falls somewhat short in making his dreams clear to his readers. The journal entries are a mixed lot. At his best, Ginsberg is a master of observation and description. At his worst, he can be a purveyor of gibberish and incomprehensible--albeit poetic-sounding--word salad.His activities fall into a few set patterns: He smokes, reads, writes, has sex with his partner Peter Orlovsky, sleeps a lot, nurses various illnesses and ailments, does some sight-seeing throughout India, explores the streets of his home bases (Calcutta and Benares), observes the people, and does lots and lots of drugs. But the main thing he does, with the predictability of a 9-to-5 clock-puncher, is go down to the cremation ghats, smoke ganja with the ash-covered sadhus, and watch the dead bodies as they burn. It feels like seventy-five percent of the book takes place at the ghats. The cremations are described in repulsive, stomach-churning detail, and I never really understood why Ginsberg spends so much time at the ghats. Is he a gore junkie, or is he trying to come to some great philosophical conclusions about the meaning of life and death by watching these horrific scenes, and if it is the latter, why does he spend over a year engaged in it?When Slumdog Millionaire was playing in the theatres some Indians criticized the film, describing it as poverty porn, and expressing their fears that it would inspire Westerners to come to India to seek out the scenes of poverty, suffering, filth, and disease, and cluck their tongues in impotent and pointless pity, then go home feeling self-righteous.Im not really sure why Ginsberg went to India. From all indications, he enjoyed living there. He seemed to enjoy the various religions and the history of Eastern wisdom. But his search for a guru sounded half-hearted at best. I think at the time he craved the exotic experiences he could have in India more than any shot at enlightenment.But he seemed to have a craving for debasement. He stayed in hotels so filthy that Indian friends would not call on him there. He wallowed in the dirt and disease and chaos of it all. As a germaphobe, I was horrified and disgusted by every other paragraph in the book. (There is a passage where Orlovsky pulls two live white worms out of Ginsbergs rectum.) Ginsberg made the whole country sound like an unending nightmare.While I do not doubt that Ginsberg was a big-hearted, sympathetic man of great charity and open spirit, the journals offer no chest-thumping outrage at what he sees. Did he entertain notions of being what is popularly called now a white saviour? Thats hard to say. The book is filled with photos of grotesquely contorted, crippled, suffering Indians who seem just another part of the exotic landscape, as much as the cows and templesOn the other hand, Ginsberg and Orlovsky tried to help a few dying beggars, only to find their efforts hopeless.Deborah Baker, author of A Blue Hand: The Beats in India, writes:...As the weeks wore on, however, Allen began to resent the thought that whether any of them lived or died depended on the pittance he provided. In letters, he treated the matter as a nuisance, trivialized it as a soap opera, and tarted up the gruesome details, as if to elude his own unease. He harassed officials at the Beggars Home to take in the worst cases, to relieve him of the responsibility....[B]enares seemed intent on showing him there was no heaven, no place at all beyond shit and desire....I dont know of any book Ive recently read that is so much in need of footnotes. Though Ginsberg wrote the journal for his own uses, he did agree to have it published in two different editions in his lifetime, so I think he shouldve made some effort to make the book intelligible to readers.There are many names of persons, places, Hindu gods, myths, and religious concepts that are left unexplained. Like many creative people, Ginsberg made up his own words or came up with new definitions to existing words, but he makes no attempt to explain any of this in the text.Now I thoroughly understand the Beat concept of first thought, best thought and spontaneous prose. I am a fan of the Beats. I realize they did experimental work and were concerned with freeing the language. When they wrote fiction or poetry thats hard to understand I chalk it down to experimental lyricism and surrender myself to the wave, as with jazz, enjoying it without having to try to understand it.But I have a problem when someone like Ginsberg is supposed to be writing straight reportage and cant be bothered to compose it in an intelligible manner. Most of the journal entries read like scribbled notes, rough drafts, the choppy pidgin of telegrams.It is amazing to me that Ginsberg was admitted to and graduated from Columbia University when he seemed to possess the spelling, punctuation, and grammar skills of a fourth-grader. (And educational standards were much higher in the 1940s than they are now.) I dont know whether these faults were due to ignorance or willful, childish affectation, but they get in the way of a smooth reading experience. There are at least two people mentioned in the text who, because of Ginsbergs inconsistent spelling, may be as many as three to five other people, but the reader will never know.Because of these frustrating compositional flaws, and the monotonous repetition of gruesome ghat scene after gruesome ghat scene, I became very bored with this book by about page 150. My recent readings of work by and about Ginsberg have convinced me that his partner Peter Orlovsky was an utterly useless moron and a waste of space. Ginsberg had ridiculously exalted ideas of who Orlovsky was, and he hung these ideas of the dream Orlovsky onto the real one, and the real one almost always failed to meet the mark. Any creative achievements that can be attributed to Orlovsky were, as far as I can see, the results of either Ginsberg pushing Orlovsky to do certain things (poetry, photography), or Orlovsky, like a trained monkey, doing things to try to please Ginsberg. Indeed, Orlovsky felt put upon by Ginsberg for most of their long relationship, starting at an early stage. Orlovsky saw himself as predominantly heterosexual, pushed into homosexuality by Ginsberg. And though Ginsberg publicly referred to Orlovsky as his dear wife, and frequently posed for iconic photos, nude and clothed, with Orlovsky, there was almost no time in their relationship when Orlovsky didnt maintain a girlfriend on the side, and he always insisted that he thought about women whenever he and Ginsberg had sex.Orlovsky and his entire family had severe mental problems, and he himself had substance abuse issues. He and his family were financially dependent on Ginsberg, and he was angry and depressed that he had no life or identity apart from the poet.At the time of the India trip, Ginsberg and Orlovsky had been together less than a decade, but had already had some serious quarrels and separations. Deborah Baker writes that Orlovsky was largely on his own wavelength and pursuing his own interests during the India trip. Even though Orlovsky sometimes figures in Ginsbergs journal entries, hes barely there even when hes physically present, rather like a very one-dimensional, near-catatonic, unresponsive pet. Despite all this, Ginsberg somehow manages to make his temporary separation from Orlovsky, when the former prepares to continue traveling and the latter moves to another apartment, a heart-breaking and poignant ending to the book.

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