THE SIXTIES, WITHOUT APOLOGY by Sohnya & Others--Eds. Sayres


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The Sixties reviewed and revisited, from the unapologetic--and undespairing--left. (This is also the Spring-Summer issue of the radical-socialist quarterly, Social Text.) The first of the two major sections consists of analysis of Sixties' movements and phenomena, sometimes infused with personal experience--importantly so in the case of Stanley Aronowitz and Ellen Willis, whose contributions alone will make the collection worthwhile for some. Aronowitz, then a union organizer and community-activist (now a CUNY sociologist and an editor of Social Text), served as a mentor to Tom Hayden and other SDS founders. He precisely defines what the New Left was about--""The problem was how to utilize the subversive possibilities that already existed in popular culture""--and precisely describes its rise, divisions, and disintegration. Willis distinguishes between the women's liberation movement generally and radical feminism--now superseded, she argues, by cultural feminism: ""Cultural feminism is essentially a moral, counter-cultural movement aimed at redeeming its participants, while radical feminism began as a political movement to end male supremacy in all areas of social and economic life."" (""Female values,"" in this view, are ""none other than the traditional feminine virtues""; the anti-porn movement, like the right, pressures women to conform to ""conventionally feminine attitudes."") Other pieces in this section are variously illuminated or choked by social theory--along a spectrum from Colin Geer, on ethnicity, to Frederic Jameson, on ""Periodicizing the '60s."" (Peripheral but useful is Belden Fields on French Maoism.) The second section, ""Reading for What?"", comprises the responses of 40 ""writers"" (a very loose category) to the question of ""what issues in the '60s, what books, what people drove home their commitments""; and bears an inescapable resemblance to other favorite-books/greatest-influence potpourris. It does, however, yield some striking intellectual autobiography--from psychoanalyst Joel Kovel, who retraces his path ""From Reich to Marcuse""; Adolph Reed, born into ""a black leftist household,"" who recounts the tangled ambivalences of his search for a sustainable radical theory; Fred Pfeil, from a white working-class background, who searched through local sick-jokes and Western Civ at Amherst for ""a third set of texts. . . which neither blotted out the outside world in impacted rage nor appropriated highbrow culture as weapon in an undeclared and doomed guerrilla war."" There is also, among tributes (to Doris Leasing, Paul Goodman) whose Sixties' authenticity is their chief merit, Gene Brown's marvelous brief appreciation of Murray Kempton: ""the passion of Gene Debs in the style of Dr. Johnson and Edmund Burke"" (and only to be read slowly, because unforeseeable). And, finally, there are the scrappers, writing in their own rough voices--Sol Yurick, Flo Kennedy. To forage around in, it's the Sixties all over again: the hard-thinking, the searching, the awakening--and perhaps best suited to college students, who'll find abundant energy in evidence as well as lots of recommended readings.

Pub Date: Sept. 10th, 1984
Publisher: Univ. of Minnesota Press