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1960's
November 28, 2007 12:13 AM   Subscribe

The Psychedelic 60's: Literary Tradition and Social Change
posted by mlis (26 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
The grand ol' hippie challenge: name one decent book that sprung out of the 60's movement.
posted by dydecker at 1:03 AM on November 28, 2007


Steal This Book? Movement, if not decade.
posted by Reggie Digest at 1:27 AM on November 28, 2007


Only the covers of those groovy drug pamphlets? Flesh this mutha out, cats, it ain't like copyright squares will be trippin' by the pad anytime soon.
posted by telstar at 2:27 AM on November 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


name one decent book that sprung out of the 60's movement Soul on Ice; One Flew over the Cukoo's Nest; Catch 22 to name but three. Try reading the post before drivelling.
posted by adamvasco at 2:37 AM on November 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


Well, I read & enjoyed Catch 22 and Cuckoo's Nest as a young teenager, an age which is kinda telling I think: fact remains that the literary output of the hippies is pretty weak tea, and the non-fiction is even worse: case in point discredited charlatans like Hoffman and Cleaver.

I did read the link, but the collection seems more an exercise in nostalgia and generational self puffery (not to mention bad design) than anything.
posted by dydecker at 2:59 AM on November 28, 2007


Been Down So Long, Looks Like Up to Me, fucker.
posted by telstar at 3:40 AM on November 28, 2007


Over Thxgiving weekend my gf and I raided her grandma's attic and came home with two suitcases full of books, most of them paperbacks from the '60s. We came away with a few of the classics already mentioned (Soul on Ice, Steal This Book) plus six Richard Brautigan books, Jerry Rubin's DO IT! Scenarios of the Revolution (which has to be the most representative relic from the era), some Lenny Bruce book that isn't How to Talk Dirty ..., not to mention the requisite beat and existentialist stuff, all of them with some pretty delicious (and SHOCKAH! not all that psychedelic) cover art.

There was TONS of great American fiction/non-fiction written during the '60s. Sure, almost all of it was outside of the San Fran culture, but you can see it reflected in many of the best books of the decade. Anyway, who has time to write a decent novel or investigative journalism if you're knee-deep in sex and good drugs?
posted by NolanRyanHatesMatches at 4:56 AM on November 28, 2007


Soul on Ice; One Flew over the Cukoo's Nest; Catch 22 to name but three.

Catch-22 comes out of the second world war. Check the publication date and consider how long it takes to write a book that long and that good.

Cuckoo's Nest -- I could give you that, but I really think it owes much, much more to the Beats than psychadaelia. Yes, I am generally aware of how much acid Ken Kesey dropped, and I'm sure that's why he was able to present Chief's altered world-view so convincingly.

Soul On Ice is an interesting choice. It's "of the movement" in the sense that he wouldn't have been in prison if he hadn't been involved in radicalism, but how does it relate to everything else? Open question, I think.

The larger question is this: What do we mean when we say things like "the 60s movement"? I'm reminded of a story that a housemate told me back in the 80s. She was a very attractive and very young-looking 37 year old working on an MA in Lit. She was taking a mixed upper-division/grad class, where no one had bothered to self-identify by status. After class one day, one of the undergrads was flirting with her, trying to impress her with his worldliness: "I'm writing my paper on all that stuff that went on in the 60s. You know, all those protests against the Vietnam War. It was a huge, deal, you know?"

She told me she couldn't hold it in anymore and just started laughing. When he asked why, she volunteered to be a primary souce. Told him she could tell him all about what it was like to be in those protests, since she'd been in a bunch of them.

Aside: I think she might have married him eventually.
posted by lodurr at 5:43 AM on November 28, 2007


Trout Fishing in America holds up very well.

"The sun was like a huge fifty-cent piece that someone had poured kerosene on and then had lit with a match and said, "Here, hold this while I go get a newspaper," and put the coin in my hand, but never came back."
posted by escabeche at 5:44 AM on November 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


On post-view: Lots of good literary examples. I didn't mean to support the idea that no great literature came out of the era, just to question the general category. Catch-22 is a great example, as is Cuckoo: The first doubtless owes a lot of its status to the social change of that time, but it's genesis is in the horror of war. Cuckoo probably couldn't have been written without Catch-22 coming first -- it's basically a sort of collision between Catch-22 and Cool Hand Luke.

So, yeah, this stuff happened back then. But where did it start? Where did it end? What is part of "it", and what's not? I'm not saying we shouldn't talk about "movements" or zeitgeist, just that it's perilous to attribute too much to some big vague monster like "TEH 60s".
posted by lodurr at 5:55 AM on November 28, 2007


... who has time to write a decent novel or investigative journalism if you're knee-deep in sex and good drugs?

Insert Obligatory Hunter Thompson reference.

But then, his best stuff seems to come from a virulent disappointment over what little difference those sex and drugs ended up making.
posted by lodurr at 5:57 AM on November 28, 2007


My own Steal This Book anecdote. (Self Link)
posted by Tube at 6:00 AM on November 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


Ok. I was just referencing 3 books in the FPP link. For a good insight at some of the quirks in American society at this time I think Electric-Kool-Aid-Acid-Test takes a lot of beating; and Dispatches for not reported Vietnam; though this was not published until 1977. Seize the time - Bobby Seale (1970) was a primary of the Black Panther Movement together with Angela Davis' anthology - If they Come in the Morning; both of which were a direct result of the previous decade.
posted by adamvasco at 6:38 AM on November 28, 2007


Your disclaimers go to my point, adamvasco -- why bother to qualify Dispatches because it comes later? It's genesis is what we should be looking at. So you could also include The Things They Carried, The Forever War, and any of a host of other books that came out of the experience of soldiers in Vietnam.

Ultimately I feel like we're stuck with being able to say "these things happened in this time", but I'm still unconvinced that there's anything other than people's retroactive narrative-creation that can define the era in a unified fashion.

Put another way: Eras -- literary, social, or otherwise -- can only be defined after they happen. It's almost an application of the uncertainty principle to history.
posted by lodurr at 6:48 AM on November 28, 2007


I'm a little puzzled by those who are saying that somehow this literature isn't worthy of consideration as literature. This link isn't asserting that these books are the greatest works of American literature - just that the literature of the 60s was distinct and influential, which it undeniably was. Also, this is not a survey of the state of all literature in the 60s - it's selected pieces from the library's collection. If the library doesn't have it, it's not on the list.
Some of the nonfiction is incredibly important: The Feminine Mystique, The Autobiography of Malcolm X. Tom Wolfe's writing changed journalism so profoundly that it is hardly impossible to imagine today's media world without considering his influence. Read the foreword - it asks many of the same questions people are asking here:
Were the sixties the best of times or the worst of times? Did America evolve as a nation and we as individuals? Are we better for the experience? We who were there have our own answers, but it is the historians who will write the collective answers for posterity. In any case, for better or worse, this dynamic, controversial, exciting time was our youth, our creation, and our legacy, and this exhibition is an attempt to revisit it, share it, and interpret it.
The U. of Va. has some of the greatest literature pages available on the web. And I enjoy this one for what it is, but aside from the fact that it's a narrow collection, I could fault this site for is its emphasis on the counterculture. This isn't just "literature of the sixties," it's a small subset of that literature.

If the goal is to discuss writers who were influential in the 60s, you'd have to go beyond hippies, yippies, black power, and beats. Where's Sylvia Plath? Where's Robert Frost? John Cheever? Vonnegut? Langston Hughes? Dr. Suess? Amiri Baraka? Truman Capote? Stanley Kunitz? Frank O'Hara? Maybe they just don't have anything by those writers, but I'm not sure.

The tone in the foreword does suggest the somewhat self-important boomer perspective, leading me to think that the parameters for choosing the works came down to the personal taste of a few people who have suddenly realized their lives are part of history. The exhibit collector confesses "we who came of age during the turbulent decade of the sixties are dismayed to realize that, to the young adults of today, those years are now ancient history." Well, of course; that was forty years ago. What were these very people saying in the sixties about the literature of their parents' generations? How would they have responded to a site curated by a contemporary of their parents, asserting that there is intrinsic value to their selections and that we should all pay attention?

Wheels within wheels.

And great post.
posted by Miko at 9:55 AM on November 28, 2007


(Duh, before someone else catches me on it, Amiri Baraka is there...as LeRoi Jones, of course.)
posted by Miko at 9:58 AM on November 28, 2007


While I am not sure this site has been posted to the front page, I do know it has been linked to in comments any number of times.
posted by y2karl at 11:59 AM on November 28, 2007


The grand ol' hippie challenge: name one decent book that sprung out of the 60's movement.

great books (not decent ones, ok?), don't spring out of movements, they CREATE them

in any case, the real art of the 60s was music, not literature - people were more likely to pick up guitars then typewriters, i guess
posted by pyramid termite at 5:59 PM on November 28, 2007


great books (not decent ones, ok?), don't spring out of movements, they CREATE them

That's a lot of pressure to put on a book, doncha think?

Anyway, I don't think it's even remotely true. Nor is it true of music, or of any art. At a basic level, I think it's just logically false. It will seem pedantic, but this is a quite resolvable chicken:egg variant: People create movements. "Art" in the absence of people (to create or interpret it) is meaningless; art does not act, people act. Art is merely one medium through which people communicate and in so doing, stimulate one another into actions.

But let's set aside the pedantry for a moment and test the thesis a different way: Give us some examples of great books that created movements.

I can think of books that created movements -- On the Road would be one example -- but none of them are "great" in any interesting sense. Timely, sure; affecting, sure; but "great"? What does that even mean? Was The Jungle a great book? How about Uncle Tom's Cabin?

OTOH, I can think of some genuinely great books (Catch-22 is the first that springs to mind, probably just because I've been thinking of it since yesterday) that don't have any even superficially causal relationships to "movements". (Did Slaughterhouse 5 create a movement? How about One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest or Huckleberry Finn?) Most, though, seem to me to have some powerful causal relationship to experience. So in my mind, it's much closer to the truth to say that they 'spring out of movements' than that they create them.

Though I still don't think that's accurate. Rather than great books 'springing out of' or 'creating movements', I think it's far, far more accurate -- and much less colorful -- that great books spring out of human experience.
posted by lodurr at 5:37 AM on November 29, 2007


Mein Kamf, Das Kapital, The Little Red Book (Mao), The Green Book (Gaddafi), The Koran, The Bible to name a few "good books" that changed History and spawned Movements.
posted by adamvasco at 6:11 AM on November 29, 2007


So again: What makes them "great" -- is it some inherent merit of the book, or the post-facto judgement of its place in history?

IOW, it's an easy tautology to say "great books cause movements" if one of your criteria for "greatness" is that it causes movements. [insert obligatory alimentary humor]
posted by lodurr at 7:22 AM on November 29, 2007


So again: What makes them "great" -- is it some inherent merit of the book, or the post-facto judgement of its place in history?

do you really deny that the bible is a great book or that it didn't cause a movement?

IOW, it's an easy tautology to say "great books cause movements" if one of your criteria for "greatness" is that it causes movements.

and your statement that great books come out of human experience isn't a tautology?
posted by pyramid termite at 1:03 PM on November 29, 2007


I could certainly make a case for the Bible being not a great book. But that's beside the point: All I have to demonstrate is that there are some shitty books that cause movements.

My statement that great books seem to come out of profound human experiences isn't a tautology because all I'm not establishing greatness as a criterion for greatness. In fact, I'm not establishing any criteria -- I'm simply observing a correlation.
posted by lodurr at 1:36 PM on November 29, 2007


Oh, well, actually, all I have to do is establish that some great books haven't caused movements. (My mistake.) Which I think is pretty obvious -- unless, as I said, you establish "causes movement" as a criterion for "greatness."

Because it's really easy to come up with examples of books that people think are "great books" that don't 'cause movements'. I named a few.

All I'm getting at is that the "great books cause movements, they don't arise from them" is really kind of a meaningless thing to say. Not useful. Not illustrative of any interesting truths. In a word, wrong.
posted by lodurr at 1:43 PM on November 29, 2007


All I have to demonstrate is that there are some shitty books that cause movements.

Oh, well, actually, all I have to do is establish that some great books haven't caused movements

actually, i have no idea what you're trying to do - because neither statement disproves that great books can cause movements

i did not say that great books cause ALL movements

i did not say that movements have to be caused by great books

and i did come up with a book that is generally considered great that is in fact responsible for a significant movement

All I'm getting at is that the "great books cause movements, they don't arise from them" is really kind of a meaningless thing to say.

then it's even more meaningless to argue about, isn't it? - at least, that's the impression i'm getting from what you've written against it so far

My statement that great books seem to come out of profound human experiences isn't a tautology because all I'm not establishing greatness as a criterion for greatness.

no, you're establishing that books written by humans contain human experiences

on the other hand, i never gave you my criteria for greatness, did i?

Not useful. Not illustrative of any interesting truths.

perhaps not for you or for many other people - so be it

In a word, wrong.

that's sloppy thinking - the opposite of useful is not wrong - and neither wrongness or usefulness convey the same qualities of something like pointlessness, for example

bye
posted by pyramid termite at 2:06 PM on November 29, 2007


pyramid termite: great books (not decent ones, ok?), don't spring out of movements, they CREATE them

Prima facie false. That's all I've got to say.
posted by lodurr at 2:08 PM on November 29, 2007


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