The Foetid Halls Ginsberg Essay Research Paper

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The Foetid Halls: Ginsberg Essay, Research Paper The Foetid Halls ” wards of the madtowns of the East, Pilgrim State’s, Rockland’s and Greystones foetid halls” -Allen Ginsberg, “Howl” 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, which he described as “memories and anecdotes and eyeballs kicks and shock of hospitals”, were vivid, yet accurate descriptions of psychiatric practices of the time (Ginsberg 50). Both Ginsberg and his mother, Naomi Ginsberg, had been committed to mental hospitals. Tragically, his mother would spend her most of her final years as a resident of New Jersey’s Greystone and New York’s Pilgrim State mental hospitals, often heavily sedated with medication, then finally lobotomized (Asher). Lobotomies In 1936, Egas Moniz, a Portuguese neurologist, introduced the world to a radical new procedure to treat the mental illness of schizophrenia. This procedure was a surgical

operation performed on the brain, called a prefrontal leucotomy and would become more commonly known as the lobotomy. The operation consisted of the insertion of a needle to perform incisions that destroyed connections between the prefrontal region and other parts of the brain. This helped to reduce incidents of the negative behavior, but often left the patient with little or no emotional responses (Jansson). Moniz was a well-respected leader in the field of neurology, having held the academic chair of neurology at the University of Lisbon. 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 commitment in his famous poem, “Howl”: “With Mother finally f*****, and the last fantastic book flung out of the tenement window and the last telephone slammed at the wall in reply and the last furnished room emptied down to the last piece of mental furniture.” (Ginsberg 53) Desperate to get his mother’s violent behavior under control, Allen Ginsberg, along with his brother, Eugene, consented to allow a lobotomy to be