‘The Making of a Counter Culture’ by Theodore Roszak

Did I enjoy it? Yes. Mostly. Was it what I expected? No. (the question of why I read for the first time in 2007 a book originally published in 1969 will go unanswered other than to say it’s normal for me)

Not so much specifically about the ’60s counter-culture movement in the country as I thought it would be, Roszak at times drilled deep (for me) into the overall artistic, chemical, political, philosophical, religious, sexual and social forces (among others) at play and how understanding all the pieces could help explain what was happening (or possible). I will admit to being thoroughly lost in the chapter Roszak devotes to Herbert Marcuse’s and Norman Brown’s ideas on Marx and Freud.

Roszak frequently criticizes ’60s youth as shallow poseurs or wannabes who lack any real understanding of what they are (or were) truly capable of. Yet, he always expresses optimism about their ability to wake up, take charge and bring about much needed change. To me the book seems dated because of frequent references to the arms race and the threat of nuclear destruction plus Vietnam.

One statement by Roszak- “The gadget-happy American has always been a figure of fun because of his facile assumption that there exists a technological solution to every human problem.” brought to mind something I read in ‘Naked Lunch’ by William S. Burroughs- “Western man is externalizing himself in the form of gadgets.”

‘The Making of a Counter Culture’ is one of those books that doesn’t do well when studied thru a rear-view mirror or in a vacuum. It cries out to be studied after finding others who have read it so that ideas can be compared and analogies to what we see in the (current) real world can be made. And there in lies the challenge – where do we find the members of todya’s “counter culture”? Are they out there? Maybe, most likely playing with their “gadgets”.

P.S. I understand there is a 21st century edition of Roszak’s book with an undated preface.

P.P.S. At one point Roszak mentions “Reason” (maybe it was the “Age of Reason”) and my mind went off on a tangent thinking everything he had said up to that point I’d heard before. Then it hit me. I have just one edition of the quarterly American Heritage sister art and culture publication ‘Horizon’. Mine is from 1970 and that issue is pretty much focused on the same themes Roszak writes about. In fact, among the many interesting articles, including a condensation of Alvin Toffler’s ‘Future Shock’ are two pages of excerpts from Roszak’s book. And I have (or had) a problem with this. I would describe ‘Horizon’ as “Reader’s Digest for the Well Educated”. Many years ago as a teen I devoured Toffler’s ‘Future Shock’ thinking it was great. Decades passed until I came across the copy of Horizon. After reading the condensed ‘Future Shock’ (eight pages) I thought I really needed to dig out my original copy and read it again. Which I did or tried to do. Seems that I couldn’t finish the first chapter finding it dull and boring. Did Horizon ruin it for me the same way MAD Magazine’s (an influential publication on ’60 counter culture according to Roszak) parody of ‘Catch-22’ ruined my enjoyment of Joseph Heller’s novel when I finally got around to reading it 30-40 years after memorizing the MAD version?

Up Next: A Daniel Ellsberg book – ‘Papers on the War’ (arrggh! will I ever learn?!)

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About Marcus

Who me? Introverted, neurotic, self-absorbed, increasingly cynical observer of human nature and part time social critic in hiding. Most of my life spent avoiding growing up. The naive idealistic passions of youth have evolved into the eclectic eccentricities of adulthood. Northeast Florida small-town native, related to people I can't relate to. Simultaneously my own best friend and worst enemy. Politically and spiritually unaffiliated, my personal ideologies put me all over the map or off it completely.
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