virtual community or butter? (bumbaugh) Sat 31 Mar 07 08:11
Welcome to the Inkwell, Scott McFarlane!
virtual community or butter? (bumbaugh) Sat 31 Mar 07 08:12
Our next guest, Scott MacFarlane, has lived most of his life in the Pacific Northwest. As a newspaper reporter, a VW bus vagabond, and, for the last ten years, a writer and Realtor, he's led quite a meandering career path. As an actor, his glimpse of fame was from a bit part in "An Officer and a Gentleman" where he served in Richard Gere's platoon. As an artist he did two stints as a face-painter at a Country/Western bar on New Orleans' Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras in the early '80s. In the early '90s he served as the first executive director of the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center, helping raise $21 million to build the official interpretive center of the C.G. National Scenic Area in The Dalles, Oregon. Today he lives in the Skagit Valley of Western Washington where, in addition to writing, he enjoys salt water kayak fishing. With "The Hippie Narrative," Scott turns his attention to authorship. As an outgrowth of his MFA in Creative Writing in 2005, he has written a scholarly analysis of the key works of literature from the 1960's and '70s counterculture, including "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest," "Trout Fishing in America," "Siddhartha," "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test," "Divine Right's Trip" and "Another Roadside Attraction." The book argues that the fifteen works examined in "The Hippie Narrative" should form the canon of countercultural literature. Leading the conversation with Scott is Cynthia Dyer-Bennet, who's done a fair bit of wandering through the fields of employment, too. She's been a airplane pump jockey on Maui and a fashion model in Australia, an education reporter in California, and, since fall 1998, an employee of The WELL. Great to have you here, Scott. What's up, Cynthia?
Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Mon 2 Apr 07 06:56
Thanks for the introduction, Bruce. And a big hello to Scott MacFarlane. Scott, can you tell us how you came to write this book about hippie literature in the '60s?
Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Mon 2 Apr 07 08:29
Thanks, Bruce and Cynthia. It's great to be here! Before I moved back to the Pacific Northwest in 2005, I was living in the Phoenix area. I was writing a novel and had decided I wanted to pursue an MFA in creative writing. I had been invited to take a graduate fiction writing workshop at Arizona State University from Ron Carlson, a great writing teacher and fine author. In addition to this workshop, I also signed up for an American Autobiography seminar taught by Kay Sands. In the class of twelve, we had eight Ph.D. candidates in English, and four creative writing grad students. Our grade in the class was dependent on an individual writing and research project, except that the creative writing students were allowed to use personal autobiography as the core of their project, as long as it was accompanied with a scholarly introduction to lead into our autobiography. For my project, I decided to revisit the full year I spent living and traveling in a VW Bus when I was in my mid-20s. My wife then was an excellent pen & ink illustrator. We had left Washington state directly following the "Officer and a Gentleman" experience and, starting in California, I would go around to people and businesses with these matted prints of her artwork. In Marin county, in 1981, we traded our perfectly fine Toyota Corona for a dented orange 1963 VW Bus that had a small kitchenette in it. Our son was three at the time and loved life on the road. We gradually worked our way east through Arizona, Texas, New Orleans, and Tennessee selling these prints to sustain us on the road. So, for this grad class in American Autobiography, I wrote a short memoir called, "The Trippy Art of Being or Not Being Hippie." The scholarly part of the project, the introduction to the memoir, was a very brief overview of the key autobiographies and biographies of the hippie era. This led me begin differentiating works such as Betty Freidan's "The Feminine Mystique," or Alex Haley's "The Autobiography of Malcolm X," from Tom Wolfe's "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test," and Norman Mailer's "The Armies of the Night." The fundamental differentiation between the feminist and black (or other ethnic) activists of the counterculture era and the hippies, had to do with voluntarism. One does not choose their gender or ethnicity, but one chooses to be hippie. Also, the liberationist movements of women or minorities were fundamentally based on the struggle to gain opportunities for enfranchisement in the mainstream, while the hippies were comprised mostly of disaffected children of the mainstream who were challenging many core precepts of being enfranchised. When Ron Carlson suggested that I consider attending the low residency MFA program in creative writing at Antioch University Los Angeles, I decided to enroll there. It proved to be a great fit, allowing me to work full time. Before I began at Antioch, I knew that for my required MFA critical paper, I was going to continue from where I left off and write a survey of hippie narratives, which I did, though my focus narrowed as I delved into the research. I submitted the paper to the Journal of Popular Culture and it was accepted for publication (but because of the book, it was later withdrawn by me). I was also invited by the JPC to present this paper on a panel at the National Convention of the Popular Culture Assoc. and American Culture Assoc. in San Diego in 2005. There, at an exhibitor's booth, I met my eventual publisher who encouraged me to send them a query. My primary creative writing mentor at Antioch, Steve Heller, who also directs the program, read my draft proposal to the publisher and made the suggestion that I structure the book by devoting one chapter to each work of literature that I examine. The "magic" of this suggestion was twofold. First, looking at these works separately and chronologically, I could focus my literary analysis into tracing stylistic and structural commonalities and divergences over time. Specifically, I looked to connect the dots (or find disconnects)between the late modernism of the '50s/early '60s and the postmodernist literature of the 1980s and beyond. In terms of literary history, these hippie narratives do fill in the gap, though it's a long, strange trip between "late" modernism and "post" modernism. Secondly, this approach to look at the hippie epoch through the eyes of its finest writings, which are quite diverse despite some commonalities of whimsy and the use of surrealism, allowed me to allow the authors, in effect, to tell the story of the hippie phenomenon through their literature. I had some very rich content to "mine" and was very please with the larger portrait--or gestalt--of the era that emerged.
Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Mon 2 Apr 07 14:50
Your 1981 cross-country VW bus trip sounds like quite an adventure, and I'd like to talk about that in more depth a bit later. But first I want to dig a bit deeper into your thought processes as you were preparing to write this book. Your choice of books to focus on is interesting. Some of them -- Cuckoo's Nest, Fear and Loathing, Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test -- are choices I totally concur with. These are books with themes and memes that resonated with the hippie ethos. But why did you choose "Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me" over "Catch 22" for example? And though I can see it's a tough choice, I think I might have gone with "Cat's Cradle" over "Slaughterhouse Five" when forced to decide which of these two works informed the counterculture of the Sixties more. How did you choose the books you wanted to highlight?
Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Mon 2 Apr 07 15:50
These are good questions, and there was certainly a healthy dose of subjectivity involved in my process. There has been so much literary criticism focused on The Beat literary movement, but, surprisingly, nothing comprehensive on the countercultural literature that followed. I hope that The Hippie Narrative will open a line of discussion on the counterculture and its most notable literature, especially since literature provides such a wonderful interiority and sense of nuance for any period. Figuring out which books to focus on in The Hippie Narrative was a simultaneous process of elimination and selection. There was an element of subjectivity involved, but considering that we are coming up to the 40th anniversary of The Summer of Love, history itself helped with the choosing and weeding out process. First, and most obvious, I selected works from the countercultural era that have withstood the test of time as literature and were heavily associated with the time. Trout Fishing in America, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and Another Roadside Attraction were the three most obvious titles that fit this criteria for me. As for elimination, when I started to research possible titles, there were a preponderance of traditionally rendered biographies, especially on the key musicians of the era, such as Dylan, The Beatles, Joan Baez, Jimi Hendrix, etc., etc. Stylistically, most of these are written as a chronology of the person's life (or lives). The approach for such biography is usually similar to traditional journalism with a who, what, when, where and why of key events. Though filled with interesting information about this colorful era, as literature, most are not exceptional. When I eliminated most biography/autobiography, for the most part I decided to focus on works I felt had literary merit. There were two exceptions to this. The emerging New Journalism of the time was form of biography/autobiography, but it also expanded our notions of what was and wasn't literature. Conversely, there were a couple books that I didn't find to be exceptional literature, but which were integral to the hippie experience. "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test," "The Armies of the Night," and "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" were all literary biography/authobiography, but were major examples of the emerging New Journalism. This form of creative non-fiction was exceptional in the way it blurred the distinction between the supposed "objectivity" of the old-guard journalism, and the "subjective" techniques of social realism found in most traditional novels. These three books dealt directly with different aspects of the counterculture in cutting edge ways that worked to bring the reader inside the minds of "real life" characters. Even though "Stranger in a Strange Land" won Science Fiction's Hugo Award in 1962, I found the narrative delivery to be plodding, even though, conceptually, the story was highly imaginative. Despite my take on it as literature, I included the book because of its profound impact on how the first hippies used it as a sort of handbook to change how they were viewing both religion and the dynamics of sexual relationships. Likewise, I found Richard Farina's Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me from 1966 to be frenetically overwrought, but it was consummately hip and an excellent portrayal of the college campus dynamic that would erupt a few years later. At first I wasn't sure how to handle Ken Kesey, the author, and Ken Kesey, the protagonist. He was a prominent proto-hippie who wrote two great novels. These works, however, were not directly about the hippies. However, when I began my close reading of both One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Sometimes a Great Notion, I realized how profoundly both works depicted the shifting dynamic in American culture in the early '60s. This cultural shift led to the flourishing of the counterculture. Of course, as the main character of Tom Wolfe's Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, I knew when I started my research that Kesey and the Merry Pranksters would be featured in The Hippie Narrative. When all was said and done, Kesey became the most prominent character in my study. I added Thomas Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49 late in the process, because like Farina's work, it paints a portrait of American society, in this case California, just before Psychedelia erupted. The authors were college friends from Cornell; both focused on a cabalistic paranoia that grew to be pandemic with the hippies, and they published these respective works in 1966. For these reasons, I examined their works in the same chapter. Originally, I planned to include a chapter on Catch-22 as well as Slaughterhouse Five. Vonnegut's book, however, was the more iconic of the two, a much more originally rendered work of literature, and being published in 1969 (as compared to 1961), it had a more profound impact on the counterculture and the anti-Vietnam war movement. When I read Catch-22, which was written by Heller in the mid-50s, I decided to discuss it in the chapter on Slaughterhouse-Five, rather than give it a full chapter. As for Cat's Cradle, it was Slaughterhouse Five that launched Vonnegut into wide-spread literary exposure. The manner in which Vonnegut handled his experience of war in S-5 was, in literary terms, groundbreaking. The book not only influenced those in the counterculture, but also a large number of people in the mainstream that were beginning to question the Vietnam War. Cat's Cradle, though written much earlier, actually garnered most of its attention in the wake of S-5. After conversations with my publisher, Robbie Franklin at McFarland & Co., who took a personal interest in this book, I also added The Fan Man, which I had only heard of in passing, and Divine Right's Trip, which until he mentioned it, I had assumed only existed along the margins of The Last Whole Earth Catalog in 1971. I located DRT in its book form and found it to be the quintessential hippie novel, an exceptionally well-rendered traditional narrative. My publisher also suggested Hermann Hesse's Siddhartha which had been problematic for me only because it was written in 1922. However, because Siddhartha and Stranger in a Strange Land were so profoundly influential to the hippies of the mid-to-late 1960s, I decided to include them out of the chronological order of when they were published. Also, there are many spiritual texts such as The Tibetan Book of the Dead, The I-Ching, or the Upanishads that greatly influenced the period, but I didn't include these because they were not narratives. When I came to my chapter on Tom Robbins' Another Roadside Attraction, I also decided to feature Even Cowgirls Get the Blues from 1976. This had to do with providing closure for the book. Read together, these two works provide an excellent sense of the shifting Zeistgeist of the time when the hippie epoch splintered and feminism and environmentalism were the two most significant successor movements. Robbins' first two novels depict this shift to great comic effect. So, again, there were three main criteria I used: 1) has the narrative withstood the test of time as literature? 2) was the text highly influential to the hippie experience? And/Or; 3) does the work depict some key aspect of the hippie counterculture and the hippie experience.
Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Tue 3 Apr 07 08:13
From my count you closely examine fifteen books and two or three essays in "The Hippie Narrative." After all the time and attention you spent looking at these works, which one is your personal favorite? Also, as a writer you're familiar with the concept of learning to let go of your "little darlings" -- the words, phrases and/or concepts that you've fallen in love with that, try as you might to force it, just don't fit into the piece you're creating. Are there any particular authors' works you were attached to that you had to omit?
Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Tue 3 Apr 07 09:18
As a reader, I found something jaw-dropping about each book I included in The Hippie Narrative. There is some amazing prose here. In my MFA program at Antioch, I had a mentor, Frank X. Gaspar, who made the distinction that sometimes we need to stop reading critically and remember to read "evangelically." In an evangelical/critical vein, three works from The Hippie Narrative resonate for me as superb literaure: Kesey's Sometimes A Great Notion, Norman's Divine Right's Trip, and Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five. Great Notion has this incredibly complex structure that, brilliantly, comes together at the end. I look at this as an amazingly immersive and grand work. Divine Right's Trip, in terms of how the author created a continuous fictional dream and executed this archetypal "St George and the Dragon" hero's quest, was a wonderful surprise for me when I wrote The Hippie Narrative. The book became pivotal to my core points connecting the literary history between Late Modernism and Postmodernism. Also, from a personal perspective, considering that I lived on the road for a year in an old bus, I could thoroughly relate to both Norman's depiction of hippie life on the road and the idealism propelling this fictional couple. One of my favorite books of all time has always been Slaughterhouse Five. After examining it critically for The Hippie Narrative, I left this writing project even more impressed with how accessibly brilliant it is as a work of art. The book is not only accessible, but so seminally postmodern. Vonnegut realized it would be the most important book of his life and it took him twenty-five years following WWII to finally write it. Thematically, the stakes were incredibly high. Without intrusive didactics, Vonnegut succeeded in pointing out that the way man chooses to treat his fellow man is ultimately the responsibility of man. So it goes.
Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Tue 3 Apr 07 10:11
As for killing off our little darlings, this applies more to one's own writing and the need for the editor inside of us to assert him or herself over the creative attachments we develop for our precious characters, scenes, phrases, etc. When you don the hat of literary critic, the editor becomes more detached from such emotional considerations. For example and as I mentioned, I had every intention of including Catch-22 as its own chapter. Yet, when I was halfway through my close read of Joseph Heller's book, I realized that, while the book was important to questioning war and authority, subjectively, I didn't feel this book taking place during WWII and written in the mid-50s warranted a separate chapter. Instead, I talk about its influence in the chapter on Slaughterhouse-Five. Slaughterhouse-Five also depicts WWII, but Vonnegut's use of a disaffected Optometrist in 1968, and the schizophrenic forays to the planet Trafalmadore applied, in my mind, more directly to the state of American society in 1969--the mainstream/countercultural, dove/hawk impasse--far more directly. Billy Pilgrim's schizophrenia echoed America's cultural schizophrenia of the time. Also, I had high expectations that Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me would be a stronger work of literature. I probably would have omitted it as a chapter had Pynchon's much stronger work, The Crying of Lot 49, not complemented Been Down So Long. Together, these works portray the build-up of tension, fed by a cabalistic paranoia, of a society and culture about to blow internally. In this way they fit in well to what I enjoyed labeling as Act I, Narrative Foreplay. Someone also suggested that I look at Donald Barthelme's Snow White from 1965. In a process similar to what I described for Catch 22, I elected to discuss this early postmodern work in conjunction with Trout Fishing in America. With the exception of Siddhartha and Stranger in a Strange Land which, as narratives, were hippie "bibles", I chose works that were contemporaneous to the rise, crest and ebb of the hippie epoch from 1962-1976. This played a key role in how I omitted many works.
Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Tue 3 Apr 07 14:45
Other than your discussion of Joan Didion's essay "Slouching Toward Bethlehem," I noticed that there aren't any female authors included in "The Hippie Narrative." Off the top of my head, I can't think of any female authors who were both influential to the counterculture of the Sixties and who were contemporaries of the time. However, certainly Anais Nin's work had a big influence on the women in my circle of hippie friends back then. Do you have any thoughts on this?
Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Tue 3 Apr 07 16:39
When I went researching literary narratives of the hippie period, I kept an eye out for women writers. However, based on the criteria I outlined earlier, I didn't find any recognizable publications (other than Didion's important essay). I really have no good explanation why no female hippies of the era were not published or their narratives widely received, but had Gertrude Stein been in her prime in 1967, she and Alice B. would have written one dynamite hippie autobiography!! (And, as you recognize, Anais Nin, though still influential with her sensual writings, was not writing contemporaneously with the counterculture of the late '60s). As for Didion, "Slouching Toward Bethlehem" from 1967 had its insightful passages, but was largely unsympathetic toward the hippie phenomenon. Even though there were no other women authors in The Hippie Narrative, I do feature a feminist trajectory from Cuckoo's Nest, Great Notion, and Divine Right's Trip through Another Roadside Attraction and Even Cowgirls Get the Blues. In the early '70s, Ken Kesey took heat for a sexist portrayal of Nurse Ratched in Cuckoo's Nest from 1962. I argue in The Hippie Narrative that this criticism was revisionist and not completely fair to Kesey. Ratched, after all, would have been an authoritarian monster even if her ward had been occupied by other women only. In a '70s interview, Kesey states that his portrayal of Vivian Stamper in Great Notion from 1964, though he didn't realize it at the time, was fundamentally a story of Women's Lib in the way Lee and Hank Stamper were battling over Viv's unconsulted hide. In Divine Right's Trip from 1971, D.R.'s description of his attraction for Estelle shows a marked shift in the male attitude toward women. Then, with Another Roadside Attraction from 1971, Tom Robbins' portrayal of the character Amanda is arguably one that describes literature's first fully liberated woman--socially, sexually and spiritually. Of course, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues from 1976 takes Robbins' portrayal of liberated women to a whole new dimension. As such, I believe it would be sexist not to include Tom Robbins as one of the great feminist authors.
Robyn Touchstone (r-touchstone) Tue 3 Apr 07 22:46
Hello, all; Robyn here. Scott, in reading your book one of the recurring dichotomies that I noticed between the texts analyzed was that of outsider/insider to the hippie movement. Whereas Kesey and Norman are "on the bus" as it were--literally AND metaphorically--the New Journalists like Wolfe and Mailer keep at bay as ambivalent observers. Similarly, Oedipa Maas in Pynchon's novel flirts with the company of hippie kids but never quite blends into the scene (unlike her drop-out acidhead husband). Didion in her essay exhibits a similar fascination while keeping distance and expressing some disapprobation. The character of Jubal in Stranger in a Strange Land, though avuncular toward his ward Michael Valentine Smith, maintains reserve with regard to the hippie-like cult that crystallizes around the young alien (just as Heinlein himself distanced himself from the real-life spin-offs based on the cult in the novel). Given this tension between & within the canon of texts, what significant aspects of the hippie movement were the outsiders able to perceive clearly that the insiders couldn't, at least at the time, and what aspects do you think that the outsiders just didn't get, if any?
Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Wed 4 Apr 07 09:06
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Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Wed 4 Apr 07 10:14
Hi, Robyn. Thanks for joining the conversation! This topic of the insider/outsider Point of View is, indeed, very central to my observations, and, I think, to the hippie experience. You cite several good examples. The two books directly related to the hippies, where the insider/outsider perspective can be best differentiated, are The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and Divine Right's Trip. Ironically, in Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Wolfe portrays Kesey coining the phrase "You're either on the bus, or off the bus." I say, "ironically," because, as hip as Tom Wolfe tried to seem and, since both books feature the now archetypal hippie bus trip, there were simply too many examples in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test where Wolfe demonstrated that he was "off the bus." The book, as I say in The Hippie Narrative, is well-written and a fine work of literary sociology for the years leading up to the explosion of Psychedelia, but in anthropological parlance, Wolfe is decidedly on the "observer" side of the "participant/observer" equation. Specifically, and I point out a few examples, Wolfe had some pet sociological theories (especially related to the makings of a new religion and the creation of group hierarchies of dominance) that he imposed on the Merry Pranksters. In an interview much later, Kesey placed Wolfe's elevation of him as an icon of the counterculture into a different perspective by pointing out how Wolfe's writing always had more to do about Wolfe than with who he was depicting. By comparison, Gurney Norman, who, with Kesey, attended the same grad writing program at Stanford in the late '50s, also watched the Merry Prankster scene unfold, and was an integral part of the Whole Earth Catalog. He was an insider to the burgeoning hippie phenomenon. Even though Divine Right's Trip was fiction and not New Journalism, there are many subtleties of relationship and attitude captured by Norman in D.R.'s cross-country bus trip that Wolfe, with the Pranksters, glosses over with slick phrasing, wild punctuation, or imposed analysis. Both excel at crafting a story, so this isn't it. The difference, I think, has to do with a shift in consciousness that Norman went through and Wolfe never did. Because of this, Norman depicts the interior motivations and struggles of D.R. as a hippie in Divine Right's Trip far more palpably than Wolfe is able to portray Ken Kesey as his proto-hippie protagonist in Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. Some of this is the difference between D.R. being a fictional construct and Kesey being a real life character, but as much as Wolfe purports to use the proven techniques of literary social realism to write his New Journalism, the reader never gets fully inside Kesey, the character, in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. I think we get a much better picture of Kesey, the human being, in his own novels. This sense of consciousness shift is wonderfully depicted in Tom Robbins' use of the character Amanda in Another Roadside Attraction. The way he uses her "enlightenment" to transform Marx Marvelous as the protagonist of this novel illuminates this insider/outsider sense of awareness as well as any work of literature from the era. In Another Roadside Attraction, Robbins effective use of the comic grotesque is a surface tool to delve into this profound spiritual shift of consciousness that exemplifies the counterculture. So to answer your question, I think the writers as outsiders were able to capture most of the surface elements of their stories, and often quite eloquently in the case of Wolfe and Didion, but there was something of the inner awareness that went lacking. The insiders to the hippie phenomenon, by comparison, were able to depict the subtleties of this spiritual awakening. Then, as soon as I write this, I think of Hunter S. Thompson in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. In the chapter of The Hippie Narrative where I discuss Thompson and this book I explore how this author, as a self-described drug dilettante, was definitely an insider to the counterculture, but not a spiritualist. For this reason, I also point out that he was never a hippie.
Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Wed 4 Apr 07 11:00
Kerouac's On the Road -- you knew it had to be brought up here, and soon! -- is as much a "hippie bible" as Siddartha, I think, arguably more so. True, it's usually categorized as the quintessential beat book, but I think it influenced the counterculture hugely. Where does it fit in your scheme? And what about poetry?
Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Wed 4 Apr 07 11:16
No Steal This Book?
Diane Shifrin (dshif) Wed 4 Apr 07 12:25
Hi Scott. Your book is very intriguing so far. Love the Apollonian/Dionysian dialectic. (This explains that dismissive Tom Lehrer song about folk music.) And as a personal note, Frank Gaspar was my teacher as well -- at Long Beach State (an inspirational master of the craft). As for the hippie era, I've got boxes of journals and notes and am still trying to finish my own novel about What the Hell Happened. I'll be interested to learn more about what the meta 'narrative' is as I read Further.
Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Wed 4 Apr 07 12:27
Hi Steve. The opening chapter of my book is called "Ginsberg, Kerouac and Burroughs: the Vectoring Legacy of the Beats." I fully concur that On the Road was a hippie bible, and arguably more so than Siddhartha. One of the things I point out in this chapter is how so much has been written about the Beat literary movement, yet virtually nothing comprehensive about the much large counterculture that followed. For this reason I honor the Beat literature as foundational, but choose to plow forward into fresh ground. As for poetry, that was a whole dimension, like the religious texts I mentioned, which I chose not to focus on. I would love to see someone write The Hippie Verses: A Poetic Perspective on the Counterculture.
Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Wed 4 Apr 07 12:39
Hello Sharon Lynne. Thanks for participating. I discuss Abbie Hoffman at length in this book, especially in the chapter on Norman Mailer's "The Armies of the Night." As I point out there, Hoffman and Jerry Rubin were master media attention grabbers. Steal This Book may have been one of the cleverest, and certainly longest remembered ploys ever devised by Hoffman. When I looked at the actual book, though, it is not narrative, but a handbook on how to be a hip anarchist just like Abbie. I couldn't take it seriously as literature or argue that it belongs in a canon of countercultural literature. It belongs in a book called The Great Hippie Shticks: An Iconoclastic Perspective on the Counterculture.
Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Wed 4 Apr 07 12:46
Ah, thanks, Scott. I've not yet read your book; am anxious to. There's so much overlap from the beat movement onto the counterculture, it's difficult to know where one ends and the next begins. It has always seemed to me that Jerry Gracia and Robert Hunter were fundamentally beats; they could also trace their inspirations into distant reaches of Old American Experience, into the Appalachians and Nantucket, into the Delta and the Great North Woods. Kesey and Brautigan seemed like new manifestations of Old West mythology -- yet seemed something newer, too. Perhaps Steve Silberman will come along here with much more information to add.
Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Wed 4 Apr 07 12:59
Hi Diane. Welcome! Frank Gaspar was my mentor for one semester-- the one when I wrote my full MFA critical paper called "Hippie Narrative: Through the Looking Glass Shattered." That paper morphed into this book. He had some great insights. One of Frank's excellent suggestions for writing a novel was to think of one's "through-line" or "through-story." This was also central to my examination of Sometimes a Great Notion where Kesey's through-line to "try to make Hank [Stamper] give up" is the secret to the labyrinthine structure of this amazing novel. As for the Apollonian/Dionysian concept, I believe it's the appropriate archetypal way to comprehend that wild time. It creates a different context for how to view the New Left, which I argue was not insignificant, but not the dominant cultural impetus of this time in America. As for Meta-narrative, it was interesting the way writers, especially Vonnegut and Robbins, used this self-referencing of their own prose as a literary device.
Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Wed 4 Apr 07 13:10
You describe the eclectic beauty of the Dead perfectly. I agree that the continuity from the Beat to the hippie era is not always easy to trace culturally, but in The Hippie Narrative, I try my best to make some key delineations. The response to the Vietnam War and the widespread use of LSD were two obvious societal shifts. The literature in the counterculture tends to become more whimsical, less self-serious and the prose is also decidedly less dythrambic, or frenetic in its pacing. The peace and love ethos of the late sixties was also more collectivist, with a we-can-change-the-world idealism that didn't exist with the Beats. I also hope Steve Silberman can join our discussion. He had intended to.
Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Wed 4 Apr 07 13:24
stevebj: "Kesey and Brautigan seemed like new manifestations of Old West mythology -- yet seemed something newer, too." Definitely. I talk about this in-depth in the chapters on Sometimes a Great Notion and Trout Fishing in America. I think this hits on why the West Coast was the heart of the countercultural explosion. Brautigan makes us look at the pastoral in a whole new way; Kesey's novels are about man confronting the wilderness of the soul. Having grown up in the Pacific Northwest with pioneering grandparents here, I relate in a visceral way to both Kesey's and Brautigan's works--though they are radically different from one another in their style and structure. Both create profound expressions of manifest destiny folding back onto itself. Here at the frontier edge of the continent with no land left to conquer, the next wilderness for modern man and woman was the one inside ourselves, especially the frontier of the mind.
Diane Shifrin (dshif) Wed 4 Apr 07 16:06
Nicely said. I finished the 'Cuckoo's Nest' chapter. Am I correct in saying that you see this novel as a transition between more traditional literary techniques and the countercultural ones to follow? I liked your observation about the racism/sexism in the nurse characters. Though it was in progress in 1970, the women's movement did not really hit its stride until 1973 or so. There was a gap between sexual liberation and the raising of most women's consciousness that had some painful consequences, at least for those of us coming of age in that sliver of time. A book that was quite revealing to me about 'Beat' women was Joyce Johnson's poignant 'Minor Characters'. I'm not sure that the women's perspective on the hippie era has yet been captured.
Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Wed 4 Apr 07 18:51
In Cuckoo's Nest, I see a traditional plot structure with a narrative voice that is rendered intermittantly through a surrealistic fog. This, I point out, was Kesey's innovation; the unusual point-of-view of Chief Broom, and this character's change, is what elevates this novel to its status as fine literature. As you move forward in The Hippie Narrative, you will see that compared to other works such as Trout Fishing in America, Cuckoo's Nest is, structurally, not highly experimental. In fact, along with Divine Right's Trip, which also employs surrealistic passages, Cuckoo's Nest is one of the most conventionally rendered novels of the lot. Also, as you will see, there is no simple transition from one style or structure to another, but a broadening of narrative approaches during the counterculture. I think it's cool to get your comments/questions as you work through each chapter. Many things I bring up do accrete as The Hippie Narrative progresses. As I said in an earlier post, there is a feminist trajectory that can be seen from these works written in the early '60s to those penned in the '70s. I agree with your assessment of when the women's movement hit its stride. As for the women's perspective on the hippie era not being captured, there were two women in Frank Gaspar's mentor group working on their Great American Hippie Novel when I was at Antioch. (I have my own manuscript crying for an agent, too). If you get yours out there, we all can join this new genre of hippie literature that started with Cuckoo's Nest and all that foggy surrealism.
Steve Silberman (digaman) Wed 4 Apr 07 19:13
Hey Scott -- I've really been enjoying your book. Thanks for writing it, and for your great contributions to this discussion. The whole Beat/hippie interface is rich and subtle ground. After having been burdened with the whole "King of the Beats" hype, Kerouac was even more put off by the hippies and self-proclaimed radical revolutionaries, whom he once accused of "inventing new reasons for spitefulness." Kerouac remained, in many ways, a blue-collar Catholic jock from a mill town in Massachusetts who thought it was important to honor your father and mother; a bunch of hairy Weathermen yelling "OFF THE PIGS!" were not going to charm him, and his own experiences with psychedelics were hellish. I agree with you that On the Road, as you write in your book, was the sort of quintessential Beat book. But I feel like Kerouac's main contribution to hippie consciousness was his next book, The Dharma Bums, in which he created the persona of this Zen-balanced peripatetic wilderness mystic Japhy Ryder (based of course on Gary Snyder), who was prototype of who many hippies wanted to be. In that book, Kerouac wrote the following, which I have talked about elsewhere as foreshadowing of hippie/Deadhead culture: "Ho! What we need is a floating zendo, where an old Bodhisattva can wander from place to place and always be sure to find a spot to sleep in among friends and cook up mush." Ginsberg, on the other hand, relished the role of being a kindly paterfamilias and de facto guru to the flower children -- he found the guys sexy, and in some ways, the hippie movement was a blossoming of some of the gnostic impulses of his own early work. ("Sunflower Sutra" reads like a hippie ur-text: "We're not our skin of grime...") Anyway, Scott, I'm really enjoying the book. I'm curious if you have a list in your mind of films that also contributed to the hippie narrative, almost in parallel to the books you write about.
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