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Revisiting the Sixties: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on America's Longest Decade (Nordamerikastudien, Band 32) (Englisch) Taschenbuch – 7. November 2013

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Über den Autor und weitere Mitwirkende

Laura Bieger, Juniorprofessorin für nordamerikanische Kultur, und Christian Lammert, Professor für nordamerikanische Politik, sind am John-F.-Kennedy-Institut für Nordamerikastudien der FU Berlin tätig.

Leseprobe. Abdruck erfolgt mit freundlicher Genehmigung der Rechteinhaber. Alle Rechte vorbehalten.


Laura Bieger and Christian Lammert

It is hard to think of a decade in U.S. history that conjures up a more vivid iconography than the Sixites-decade of the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War, of charismatic leaders and their assassinations, of Woodstock and the Summer of Love. If the objective of this book is essentially historical it aims to bring out the mixed, ambivalent legacy of the Sixties. And yet there is an unease with the kind of periodizing that we perform by using a decade as our designation. Hayden White contemplates this problem in his contribution to this volume, suggesting that, despite all pitfalls of historiographic reasoning, the sheer number of youths and their condition of adolescence can be regarded as the substance of the Sixties from which we can begin to speculate about their meaning. Drawing from this substance, life in the U.S. became thoroughly politicized as unprecedented numbers of people involved themselves in debates over the meaning of 'America,' thus generating a spirit of possible change and laying the foundations of the liberal consensus against which a conservative revolution would cast itself with a vengeance in the decades to come-with the effect of dividing U.S. society in deep and troubling ways. Two essays of this volume, the ones by Andrew Gross and Casey Shoop, trace the rise of the New Right from within the Sixties' social texture, arguing that this often underrated correlation is among the most pertinent legacies of the period-one that asks us to rethink not only our understanding of Cold War conservatism but also of postmodernism's intricate relation to it.

If the notion of 'revisiting' implies a departure from the present, in our particular case this present is marked by the severe crisis into which U.S. society has fallen since the banking and the housing crisis of 2008/09 at the very latest. An earlier volume of this series, American Dream? Eine Weltmacht in der Krise (2011), was dedicated to exploring this contemporary crisis in its economic, political, social, and cultural ramifications. Two years later this troubled state prevails, suggesting that it may very well be, as the volume's editors Winfried Fluck and Andreas Etges suggested, a systemic crisis rather than one of those periodical phases of 'creative destruction' that modern societies, according to some of their theoreticians, regularly undergo. Assessing the Sixties against the backdrop of this crisis unmistakably informs the essays of this volume. A first wave of scholarship, emerging in the conservative climate of the Reagan presidency, thought of the Sixties as "a name given to a disruption of the late-capitalist ideological and political hegemony, to a disruption of the bourgeois dream of unproblematic production, of everyday life as the bureaucratic society of controlled consumption, of the end of history" (Sayers et al. 1984, 2). These early Sixties scholars embraced the implied promise of renewal "without apology" (this was the subtitle of the first major anthology The 60s, published by the editors of the leftist journal Social Text). Later accounts have significantly changed in outlook and in tone.

What the current crisis has added to this scholarly disenchantment is twofold. It has generated a widely shared sense of an imperative need for social activism to counter current problems that takes us back to earlier models-and thus to the Sixties' unapologetic spirit of rupture and renewal; and it has made scholars ever more cautious with regard to the ways in which these models are entangled-for example, with the rise of New Right conservatism and of neo-liberalism. In doing so, the current crisis has closed, at least in this volume, the 'generational gap' that Rick Perlstein has detected in Sixties scholarship: between the period's veterans and non-veterans in the sense that the former are inclined to mythologize and exceptionalize its meaning while the later contest and revise these tendencies (Perlstein 1996). In the spirit of tracing legacies that are quintessentially mixed and most often ambiguous, the essays of this volume revisit the Sixties both as a distinct historical 'situation' (Jameson's 1984, 178) and with an eye on what prepared the changes erupting at this time and their vast significance for the further course of the 'American experiment.' Outstanding as this period certainly was in terms of changing civic, social, cultural, political, intellectual, artistic, and economic life in the U.S. and beyond, one might as well wonder to what degree we are still living on the outskirts of what we have provocatively called the 'longest decade,' and whether the current crisis of the 'American way of life' and the political system sustaining it will finally bring the era to a close.

In the opening essay Hayden White elaborates how the wave of adolescents that for him constitutes the substance of the Sixties challenged the social imaginary in ways that "generated a spate of laws and legislation which effectively created a generational divide hitherto unheard in American history," arguing that this divide continues to structure our perception of the decade. The following two essays turn to the formation of the New Left and its contested legacy: Eli Zaretsky places it within the three intersecting trajectories of the Civil Rights, the Anti-War, and the Women's Liberation Movements to reassess the commonly assumed notion of its failure, while Blair Taylor traces the "long shadow" of the New Left from its traumatic beginnings in the Sixties up to Occupy Wall Street. Nancy Fraser distinguishes two legacies of feminism-an economically-minded struggle for redistribution and a culturally-minded struggle for recognition-to elaborate feminism's ambivalent relation to that "epochal shift in the character of capitalism" often referred to as neo-liberalism. Winfried Fluck's contribution turns to the German university system, arguing that while the student movement brought an end to the 'Mandarin system' of academic autocracy that still dominated German universities in the Sixties, its radicalization corroded entire structures of higher learning and was eventually stopped by an emergent professionalization that, although ambivalent in its overall effects, for Fluck provides the only alternative to the radicalized politics into which student activism had evolved by the end of the decade. The next two contributions take us back to the U.S. by focusing on the two presidents most closely associated with the Sixties: Andreas Etges elaborates how John F. Kennedy's irresistible appeal to Americans of the Sixties was the result of a carefully crafted image, and Lora Ann Viola discusses the infamous Gulf of Tonkin Resolution to demonstrate how Lyndon B. Johnson's foreign politics were undergirded by a deliberate and calculated use of deception.

The contributions of the second half of the book are more culturally invested: Andrew Gross explores Barry Goldwater's 'pastoral individualism' in tandem with Harlan Ellison's science fiction novella "A Boy and His Dog" to elucidate the formation of Cold War conservatism through what he calls the 'idyll of the apocalypse.' Casey Shoop reads Thomas Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49 as mourning a contemporary loss of the real that is crucial for both understanding the New Right's challenges to the logic of postmodernism and Pynchon's literary and political concerns, specifically with paranoia. Florian Sedlmeier positions Ralph Ellison's posthumously published and notoriously unfinished Three Days Before the Shooting… as a privileged text for exploring the emergence of African American literature. Simon Schleusener's essay engages with cinematic explorations of insanity, asking how and with what effect they participated in questioning traditional standards of normality. Sulgi Lie reads Antonioni's Zabriskie Point not...


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