THE COMMUNAL EXPERIENCE: Anarchist and Mystical Counter-Cultures in Twentieth-Century America by Laurence Veysey

THE COMMUNAL EXPERIENCE: Anarchist and Mystical Counter-Cultures in Twentieth-Century America

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Is the radical counterculture as American as apple pie? In a way, but perhaps not quite. From the time of the Transcendentalists onward ""cultural radicals"" -- people rejecting ""the accepted wisdom of the established order,"" reacting against the turmoil of the towns -- have voted with their bodies and gone out to build a new, free, simple, self-sufficient, loving and more natural Jerusalem in the wilderness. ""Secular anarchist"" communities -- the now defunct Shelton Colony and Modern School and a New Mexico commune are the examples given -- have stressed doing one's own thing ""in a mood of shared self-acceptance""; religious groups -- the genteel Vendantist La Crescenta colony and the ""New Age Commune,"" a neo-Gurdjieffian assemblace of ""Do It Yourself Stakhanovites"" frighteningly dominated by a pseudo-technocratic fuhrer -- exude a monastic atmosphere in which each person can wrestle with his personal demons. Willpower, hard work, cleanliness, the pioneering spirit and a vision of a new frontier are still the cardinal virtues; the spiritual retreat turns into a holding operation against the lure of mainstream values and technology; members often either succumb to debilitating lethargy or mindless adoration of the local guru. More fearful of charisma than Melville (Communes in the Counter-Culture), more skeptical of Consciousness III than Roszak (The Making of a Counter-Culture), Veysey sees material austerity as the counterculture's greatest contribution. He's grateful for the magic moments he experienced while carrying out his research but he asks -- can expanded consciousness ""be more than a frail reed in the age of the nation state?"" Perhaps, but isn't any flowering, however brief, still a sign that something grows?

Pub Date: Nov. 14th, 1973
Publisher: Harper & Row