Best Minds: How Allen Ginsberg Made Revolutionary Poetry from Madness


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$34.95  $32.50
Fordham University Press
Publish Date
6.2 X 9.1 X 1.1 inches | 1.25 pounds

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About the Author

Dr. Stevan M. Weine is Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine, where he is also Director of Global Medicine and Director of the Center for Global Health. He is the author of two books: When History Is a Nightmare: Lives and Memories of Ethnic Cleansing in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Testimony and Catastrophe: Narrating the Traumas of Political Violence.


The author brings nuance to Allen's views on mental illness, arguing that Allen had more ambivalent feelings about the anti-psychiatry movement than one might expect, and the author's privileged access to material on the poet's and Naomi's institutionalizations make this a valuable resource for future biographers. Fans of the Beat Generation will be enlightened.-- "Publishers Weekly"
Breaks open long held secrets...Will spark many new conversations.---Bob Rosenthal, poet, author of Straight Around Allen
Stevan Weine's biography of Allen Ginsberg is a major breakthrough in our understanding of this major American poet. With complete access to Ginsberg's medical records, alongside interviews and other documents, Weine is able to construct the most complex account we have of Ginsberg's struggle with madness, both his own and his mother's, and to frame it within the history of American psychiatry and the pursuit of visionary poetry and experiences throughout Ginsberg's career. Essential reading for anyone interested in the long history of madness in individuals, families, and cultures.---W. J. T. Mitchell, Gaylord Donnelley Distinguished Service Professor, English and Art History, University of Chicago, author of Mental Traveler: A Father, a Son, and a Journey through Schizophrenia
Allen Ginsberg's decision to allow doctors to lobotomize his mother was a devastating one that he spent a lifetime trying to understand. Stevan Weine's unprecedented access to Allen and Naomi's psychiatric hospital records has provided a fresh understanding of the origins of "Howl" and "Kaddish" and illuminates the great distance that Allen traveled from his uncertain, troubled youth to the acclaimed poet the world came to know. Best Minds is a crucial advancement in Ginsberg and Beat studies.---Michael Schumacher, author of Dharma Lion
Best Minds is an immensely enjoyable and meticulous work of criticism: an investigation by a psychiatrist into a poet's mental illness and his work, informed by access granted by the poet to the records of his 8-month psychiatric hospitalization and those of his mentally ill mother. Best Minds contains startling discoveries and groundbreaking analyses of journals, correspondence, poems, and psychotherapy progress notes. Weine documents Ginsberg's poetic, psychiatric and cultural experiences so thoroughly the reader can participate in evaluating them. As a result, the challenges of mental illness and the poignancy of Ginsberg's works come through like never before.---David V. Forrest, M.D., Clinical Professor of Psychiatry; Faculty, Psychoanalytic Institute; Consultant to Neurology, Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians & Surgeons; Founding Editor, SPRING: The Journal of the E. E. Cummings Society
Dr. Weine takes a serious, detailed look at how Allen Ginsberg's personal encounters with mental illness became integral to his poetry. Best Minds is a unique contribution to the critical and biographical work on this troubled and brilliant Beat Generation poet. The book presents a brisk challenge to 'official' notions of mental illness by way of poetry and anti-psychiatry. Its broad reach is also an enhancement to the growing field of literature and medicine.---Hassan Melehy, author of Kerouac: Language, Poetics, and Territory
Stevan Weine met Allen Ginsberg when Weine was in medical school. His relationship with Ginsberg and his comprehensive research into Ginsberg's poetry, experiences with mental illness, and his mother's psychiatric treatment culminate in Best Minds: How Allen Ginsberg Made Revolutionary Poetry from Madness. Weine, now a professor of psychiatry, received unprecedented access to Ginsberg's personal archives as well as his and his mother's psychiatric records. He utilized these remarkable sources to reveal new dimensions of Ginsberg's story. Weine's keen analysis of Ginsberg's journey makes Best Minds an essential book for any student of poetry, human sexuality, and the American counterculture.---Jack Drescher, MD, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Columbia University, Adjunct Professor, New York University, Training & Supervising Analyst, W.A. White Institute
This sympathetic and insightful account of Allen Ginsberg's relationship to madness, psychiatrically determined mental illness, and creativity is buttressed by the author's exclusive access to Ginsberg's psychiatric records, and those of his mother, Naomi Ginsberg-records that even Ginsberg himself never saw. A psychiatrist specializing in trauma who has also long nourished a personal interest in poetry, Stevan Weine makes a profound contribution to the emerging field of 'mad studies' by demonstrating how a young poet with a dire prognosis from the psychiatric establishment and a fragile sense of self emerged as a mid-twentieth century cultural icon by turning the raw and genuinely anguishing materials of his 'madness' into new directions in poetry, social relations, and values.---Maria Damon, University of Minnesota, author of The Dark End of the Street: Margins in American Vanguard Poetry
Best Minds will stand as a landmark study of creativity that can occur when an artist titrates a descent into madness while staying aware that this descent is also a strategy. Stevan Weine shows Ginsberg's writing to be more than a road trip narrative of sex, drugs, and lawlessness. Rather, he chronicles Ginsberg's life as a spiritual journey, from seeking revelation through visions and hallucinations, to redeeming lost lives by bearing witness to suffering, to restoring personhood for those whose lives had been erased by trauma, social exclusion, or mental illness, starting with his mother and her lobotomy. Through his poetry Ginsberg still can touch each of us.---James Griffith, Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, George Washington University, author of Religion that Heals, Religion that Harms
In Stevan Weine's illuminating study, madness is no mere metaphor. Using Allen Ginsberg's medical records and those of his mother, Naomi Ginsberg, Best Minds explores the secrets of Ginsberg's experiences with madness, providing a refreshing new look at his most famous poem "Howl" and expanding what we know of the poet's life. Ginsberg, who consented for Naomi's lobotomy, would speak of the lack of tenderness in the mindset of mid-century America, and then write about new hopes and liberations. Best Minds offers an in-depth look at a bygone era of radical medical solutions to human problems, and one gifted individual's suffering, guilt, survival, poetry, and optimism.---Regina Weinreich, Department of Humanities & Sciences, The School of Visual Arts, author of The Spontaneous Poetics of Jack Kerouac: A Study of the Fiction
As psychiatrists have been attempting to understand the relationship between psychiatric illnesses and creativity, it is wonderful to see this volume. In this superb book, Steven Weine takes on the challenge of understanding Ginsberg, his background, his mother's illness, and his poetry. Clinical psychiatry cannot occur in a vacuum. Understanding the patient's experiences in the context of their development, family, and social circumstances is key. Combining information from multiple sources, Weine offers as complete a picture as possible of the pain of someone who was the foremost poet of the Beat Generation. We are grateful to Weine for producing a stunning history of Ginsberg and helping us understand his creative genius.---Dinesh Bhugra, Emeritus Professor of Mental Health and Cultural Diversity at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at King's College London, author Textbook of Cultural Psychiatry