- Purchase/rental options available:
This essay discusses Allen Ginsberg’s “Poem in the Form of a Snake That Bites Its Tail” (1990) with regard to its combined imagination of biodiversity and human migration, arguing that it sets up a dubious dichotomy between the indigenous and the exotic as it condemns the destructive effects of Western civilization on the global environment. In its explicitly ethical and future-oriented agenda, the poem applies notions of autochthony and intrusion to the habitats of plants, animals, and humans alike, positing an authentic ‘nature’ against corrupting ‘cultural’ forces. It both romanticizes indigenous peoples and at the same time implies that there is such a thing as an autochthonous connection between human identity and their habitat, and its critique of ecological destruction draws on the notion of biological and geographical essentialism that also fuels right-wing politics on migration and multiculturalism, and which considers the exotic simply and exclusively as a threat. At the same time, the poem also transcends its own implied essentialism in redefining the exotic not in terms of territory but of action, and it moves beyond a focus on the local to the global to ponder what it means to be exotic in the irreducible condition of planetary immanence.