LOFTON: But I am interested in this question of your possible madness. It’s not a gratuitous question. There is a history of madness in your family.
GINSBERG: Very much so.
LOFTON: Your mom died in 1956 in a mental institution. Before that. in 1949, when you were twenty-three. you spent eight months in the Columbia Psychiatric Institute. What was this psychiatric disability and why did you spend just eight months in this institute?
GINSBERG: Well, I had a sort of visionary experience in which I heard William Blake’s voice. It was probably an auditory hallucination, but it was a very rich experience.
LOFTON: This happened while you were masturbating, right?
GINSBERG: Yes, but after.
LOFTON: I want to ask you about this psychiatric disability.
GINSBERG: No, no, no. no, no, no, no, no. Sir, first of all your tone is too aggressive. You have to soften your tone, because there’s an element of aggression here. There’s an element almost like a police interrogation here.
LOFTON: But that’s not all bad. The police, in some instances, do a good job, particularly in dealing with criminals.LOFTON: That’s interesting, because I’m not asking you to respond in any particular way. Why are you telling me how to ask questions? So, can we return to my question? What was this psychiatric disability that put you in an institute for eight months?
GINSBERG: Well, I’m not sure it really was a disability to begin with. So I can’t answer the question the way you pose it.
LOFTON: But I’m asking you if it’s true, that you had this disability?
GINSBERG: It’s neither true nor not true.
LOFTON: But it is true that you were in an institute?
GINSBERG: Yes, I was. I had a kind of visionary experience relating to a text by William Blake, “The Sick Rose.” It went: “O rose, thou art sick! / The invisible worm / That flies in the night / In the howling storm, / Has found out thy bed / Of crimson joy, / And his dark secret love / Does thy life destroy.” So, it’s a very mysterious, interesting poem that keyed off a kind of religious experience, a visionary experience, a hallucinatory experience—whichever way you want to interpret it. All three descriptions are applicable and possible. Reality has many aspects.
LOFTON: Were you using drugs while you masturbated and had this experience?
GINSBERG: Not at all. I had been living very quietly, eating vegetarian diets, seeing very few people, and reading a great many religious texts: St. John of the Cross, the Bible, Plato’s Phaedrus , St. Teresa of Avila, and Blake, So I was In a kind of solitary, contemplative mood.
LOFTON: Did you put yourself into this institute?
GINSBERG: More or less. Because I questioned my own sense of reality and I couldn’t figure out the significance of the illuminative experience, whether it was a kind of traditional religious experience, where there is a sudden sense of vastness and ancientness and respect and devotional awareness or sacredness to the whole universe. Or whether this was a byproduct of some lack-love longing and projection of my own feelings, or some nutty breakthrough.
LOFTON: Do you think you were better when you got out of there?
GINSBERG: I think they said I wasn’t ever really psychotic or crazy, just an average neurotic.
LOFTON: Did you go to anywhere else besides this institute?
GINSBERG: Oh, later—I’m going to a psychiatrist now.