Julie Stephens 1998: Anti-Disciplinary Protest: Sixties Radicalism and Postmodernism

By Diaz Sanchez, Maria Eugenia | Atlantis, revista de la Asociación Española de Estudios Anglo-Norteamericanos, June 2000 | Go to article overview

Julie Stephens 1998: Anti-Disciplinary Protest: Sixties Radicalism and Postmodernism


Diaz Sanchez, Maria Eugenia, Atlantis, revista de la Asociación Española de Estudios Anglo-Norteamericanos


Julie Stephens 1998: Anti-Disciplinary Protest: Sixties Radicalism and Postmodernism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 220 pp.

We live in an era driven by deep nostalgia for the radicalism of the Sixties. Our retroactive passion is demonstrated in exhibitions of thirty-year-old memorabilia, reprinting of literature from that decade, and the recycling of Sixties music. Even clothing styles look wistfully back to the Sixties. The author of Anti-Disciplinary Protest, a senior lecturer in the Department of Social and Cultural Studies at Victoria University, is concerned with intellectual history, in the tradition of such celebrated books as Ronald Berman's America in the Sixties; Morris Dickstein's Gates of Eden; and Daniel Bell's The End of Ideology. As a revision of these influential but dated works, which offer a fixed view of the Sixties, Stephen's book applies contemporary cultural perspectives to that era. She examines intellectual history in the radical decade, exploring the thread that links the current celebration of the Sixties to current cultural trends. She theorizes that the Sixties signalled a breakdown in the revolutionary model of political change and ended the possibility of grand social transformation (she sees this breakdown exemplified in the failure of artists, anarchists, and intellectuals to overthrow State power or bring about a revolutionary transformation of French society in 1968).

While Stephens clearly links Sixties radicalism to Postmodernism, her classification of Sixties thought in intellectual history is problematical, since we must choose whether to define Postmodernism in artistic or philosophical terms. Stephens relies on a mainly philosophical definition of the term. The kinship which she suggests exists between the Sixties and Postmodernism connects the New Left, the Civil Rights movement, the counterculture and the drug culture.

Stephen's book is predominantly concerned with the U.S. experience even though Sixties trends had international repercussions. (The general strike in France in May 1968 alone sparked demonstrations of solidarity in places as distant geographically as Mexico City, Berlin, Tokyo, Buenos Aires, Berkeley or Belgrade, and general strikes in Spain, Italy and Uruguay).

It is possible--and indeed Stephens considers it customary--to impute postmodernist impulses to Sixties radicalism. In many ways the counter-culture movement involved trends present in Postmodernism, particularly in its moments of confluence between the psychedelic and the political, the New Left and the Hippies. …

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