keynote @ revisiting the summer of love, rethinking the counterculture, northwestern university | san francisco, 27 July 2017, 6 pm.
I will be speaking at the “Revisiting the Summer of Love, Rethinking the Counterculture” conference at Northwestern University’s new San Francisco space on 27 July 2017, 6 pm. It looks to be a great gathering, if not up to the level of the Human Be-In/Gathering of the Tribes, then at least lots of good scholarship and conversation! Here is a preview of what I will be exploring. If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to register.
Hot Fun in the Summertime: Microcosmic & Macrocosmic Views on the Summer of Love
Moving beyond clichés about the 1960s counterculture means both zooming in on the particular social interactions that created events such as the Summer of Love in 1967 and, simultaneously, zooming out to place the Summer of Love in a longer span of time, often now referred to as the “long Sixties.” A close-up view reveals something surprising: not the naiveté and innocence of easy-going, free-frolicking hedonists on easy street (or Haight Street in this case) as endlessly portrayed in mass-media anniversary celebrations, nor a completely dark, cynical scene of scams, hustles, nasty drugs, and creepy, exploitative relationships, but rather a set of active scene-makers. These participants—leaders we might even call them—mingled commercial and political engagements in uneasy alliances that added up to an effort to reimagine how pleasure might reshape power in a society of domestic abundance, ongoing struggles to achieve justice, equality, and inclusion, and a deeply destructive war overseas in Vietnam. They tried to do something paradoxical that goes to the heart of the 60s countercultural project: build sustainable institutions to support ecstatic festivity. They wanted to develop a lasting social structure for living in the Now.
The tensions found in this quest—between, on the one hand, realizing immediate liberation and, on the other, constructing functioning institutions and long-term mutual obligations—were dilemmas in the communitarian anarchist sensibility undergirding the 1967 Summer of Love. They remain relevant to how we understand not only that event, but also the “long Sixties” as it stretches both into the past and right up to the present. From a greater historical distance, we begin to glimpse how the Summer of Love was less one, unique moment in historical time then a kind of recurring season within modern culture. An ethos typically marked by efforts to wield hot fun (to borrow a term from Bay Area genius Sly Stone) for social transformation, the recurring Summer of Love has often stirred up society’s civic atmosphere in unpredictable ways by fostering new spaces for public intimacy in place of the atomizing and alienating forces of industrial capitalism. It repeatedly hints that personal experience can be radically different if institutions radically change to better support human needs. Unruly festivity, rooted in religious origins but given a secular cast, is the Summer of Love’s main mode of complicating the boundaries between the private and the public, the bedroom and the ballroom, commerce and community, labor and leisure, the improvisatory and the customary, the carnal and the spiritual, individual bodies and the social body as a whole.
From Romanticism to contemporary technofuturism, the Revolutions of 1848 to Occupy Wall Street, the Acid Test parties that inspired the 1967 Summer of Love to the aborted Wild West Festival that followed in its wake, from the punk rock summer of 1977 to the so-called second Summer of Love during the height of the UK rave scene circa 1989, from the original Diggers in England to the San Francisco reincarnation centuries later, the Summer of Love returns to suggest the enormous work necessary for generating hot fun, and how hot fun itself regenerates the dream of creating a society that truly works.