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The Sixties: Big Ideas, Small Books by Jenny…

The Sixties: Big Ideas, Small Books (2009)

by Jenny Diski

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Diski's wry, pointed and honest look at the decade in which she and I and others became adults offers ample insight and memories joyful and sad for those of us who lived through the Sixties. Not quite five stars for this American because she seems to retain a surprising reverence for some aspects of the Sixties in the U.S. Or maybe I am just blind to her irony? ( )
  nmele | Aug 4, 2016 |
Not bad, somewhat interesting memoir of a teen of the 60s. Interesting insights, but overall just a little too precious for my tastes... ( )
  ScoutJ | Mar 31, 2013 |
As a teen of the 1970s, I lie forever in the shadow of the sixties generation, the baby boomers who are now in their 60s. Did I really want to review that lauded decade – the one that made the seventies seem like a second run through the ‘sex, drugs and rock and roll’ caper, but with a kind of jaded tired and frankly much uglier persona/edge to it? Well, I am glad to have read this book, and it really does reinforce the fact the being young is a helluva lot more fun than being middle aged. (Truthfully, I feel I bypassed the 1970s in New Zealand – I don’t think I ever encountered a drug at a party in my teens.)

This is not an exhaustive account of the sixties, but rather a long essay incorporating personal memoir about the author’s experiences, cultural ideas, as well as a retrospective reevaluation. She is funny, ascerbic, insightful, witty and darned clever. Diski doesn’t hold back on her opinions, and can be quite self-deprecatory about her younger self. She touches on the topics of free love, drug use, teen rebellion, mental illness and the protest movement. She does manage to capture the mood of the era wonderfully well. There is less on politics, and nothing on such things as environmentalism.

Her main idea is that there is a fundamental difference between liberation and libertarianism. She wonders if “perhaps our own careless thinking” gave a “rhetorical foothold” to the “new world of rabid individualism and the sanctity of profit” of the 1980s. Where did all the hippies go – well they became yuppies and consumers and joined in “unfettered capitalism’ in the eras that followed. Indeed, Diski transmits a sense of deep disappointment at the outcome of the 1960s, and despite avowing no political allegiance, decries the following trend of radial right wing economics and politics that followed.

Her recollections of youth rebellion are spot on. She deftly describes the clash between the security conscious, conservative post-war generation and her younger generation, who seek excitement and new experiences. Her descriptions of willful rebellion and anti-establishment posturing is wonderfully conjured up – and quickly dismissed as reactionary rather than revolutionary. With the great benefit of hindsight she sees it for what it was – a youthful obstinacy that believed their own distorted perceptions of the counter-culture viewpoint as being more valid than the ‘straight’ world. Indeed, in retrospect, that dismissal of the older generation simply resulted in an equally or more restrictive set of rules for the young generation. The length of your skirt, for example. An inch too long or short and it was definitely not de rigueur. I remember how I agnonized about skirt length – and what confusion when there was a sudden shift to the Maxi length.

Diski repeats often that “the music, however, was undeniably as great as we thought it was”. Yet there is little else she can congratulate the decade for achieving – except perhaps gay rights. She concludes that, “wherever you look, over the past 40 years, nationalism and capitalism have triumphed,” and that “most of us who had the good fortune to be part of the ’60s are plain discouraged.”

An engaging, entertaining and very insightful read, I would recommend this to all. If you were a child of the 60s, it will take you on a ride back in time, and maybe give you a fresh take on your experiences.

Highly recommended. ( )
1 vote kiwidoc | Sep 22, 2009 |
Showing 4 of 4
Very little of what she says is new, but she says it with intelligence, wit, an eye for detail and an extraordinary ability to laugh at her young self while respecting that self’s hopes and efforts. She is completely unsentimental; no stardust for her. She allows herself only the briefest paean to a perfect dress from Biba in Kensington Church Street and “a silver and black striped, Regency-cut trouser suit for £7.”
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The Sixties looks at the radical beliefs to which the author's generation subscribed, little realising they were often old ideas dressed up in new forms, sometimes patterned by BIBA. This book considers whether she and her peers were as serious as they thought about changing the world, if the radical sixties were funded by the baby-boomers' parents, and if the big idea shaping the Sixties was that it really felt as if it meant something to be young.… (more)

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