A slender meditation on the 1960s—part of Picador’s Big Ideas/Small Books series.
British novelist/memoirist Diski remembers the ’60s very well. If her British experiences do not always line up with those of Americans, there are abundant parallels. “The Sixties,” she writes, “were an idea in the minds, perhaps even more powerful than the experience, of those who were actually living through them.” In her experience, that idea broke down into many compartments, including the intellectual and artistic. She recounts being turned on to the works of Ginsberg and Kerouac, of course, but also Hardy, Dostoyevsky, Neruda, Joyce, Brecht, Weill and Beethoven, as well as Buddy Holly and the Beatles (“though I was disdainful until Rubber Soul came along”). The idea was political as well, and here Diski is particularly sharp, noting the apparent ingratitude of a generation whose parents suffered depression and war only to raise children who would reject the world that had been made for them. But only for a while. Diski is also sharp—and sharp-edged—about the rise of an entirely different mode of being in the ’70s and ’80s, when ecstatic hippies became egomaniacal yuppies and the politics became truly ugly, as all the government-off-our-backs rhetoric of the antiwar movement converted into the self-serving Hobbesianism of the libertarian crowd. An overreliance on drugs didn’t help, but it didn’t hurt as much as the just-say-no types would have it, either. Writes the author, for the benefit of the uninitiated, “What happened when you smoked a joint and to a far greater extent when you dropped acid was that the world outside your head was utterly changed.”
Though Diski sounds melancholy notes (“young is a phase the old go through”) and closes on a note of resignation, her elegant book might inspire readers—and not just those who were there—to try to remake the era anew.