Utopia Limited

The Sixties and the Emergence of the Postmodern

Utopia Limited

Post-Contemporary Interventions

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Book Pages: 384 Illustrations: 1 figure Published: May 2004

American Studies, Cultural Studies, Politics > Political Theory

Utopia Limited is an original, engaging account of how postmodernism emerged from the political and cultural upheaval of the 1960s. Marianne DeKoven argues that aspects of sixties radical politics and culture simultaneously embodied the full, final flowering of the modern and the beginning of the postmodern. Analyzing classic sixties texts, DeKoven shows where the utopian master narratives underlying the radical and countercultural movements gave way to the “utopia limited” of the postmodern as a range of competing political values and desires came to the fore. She identifies the pivots where the modern was superseded by the nascent postmodern: where modern mass culture was replaced by postmodern popular culture, modern egalitarianism morphed into postmodern populism, and modern individualism fragmented into postmodern politics and cultures of subjectivity.

DeKoven rigorously analyzes a broad array of cultural and political texts important in the sixties—from popular favorites such as William S. Burroughs’s Naked Lunch to political manifestoes including The Port Huron Statement, the founding document of SDS (Students for a Democratic Society). She examines texts that overtly discuss the conflict in Vietnam, Black Power, and second-wave feminism—including Frances FitzGerald’s Fire in the Lake, James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, and Shulamith Firestone’s The Dialectic of Sex; experimental pieces such as The Living Theatre’s Paradise Now; influential philosophical works including Roland Barthes’s Mythologies and Herbert Marcuse’s One-Dimensional Man; and explorations of Las Vegas, the prime location of postmodernity. Providing extensive annotated bibliographies on both the sixties and postmodernism, Utopia Limited is an invaluable resource for understanding the impact of that tumultuous decade on the present.


“[W]e can thank [DeKoven] for bringing back into view some of the most trenchant cultural analyses of a fascinating liminal cultural moment.” — Robert H. Abzug , Journal of the American Studies Association of Texas

"DeKoven’s study . . . benefits a great deal from the author’s (subtly described) personal investment in it as someone deeply affected by the sixties and deeply interested in how that period continues affecting the world."
— Matthew Roberson , English Studies Forum

"DeKoven's careful readings of primary materials and her intervention in the existing historiography can greatly help scholars themselves pivot more deftly through the whirligig of the 1960s and its dizzying spin toward the postmodern." — Michael J. Kramer, H-1960s, H-Net Reviews

"This book provides a clear-sighted and valuable reading of the ways in which the culture of the sixties contributed to the emergence of postmodernism and continues to inform the present conjuncture. . . . Utopia Limited is a stimulating, scholarly, and richly informed reading of the place of sixties culture in the vast sea-change from modernity to postmodernity. For scholars of contemporary literature, American studies, popular culture, and cultural history, this is a necessary and rewarding work." — Thomas Carmichael , Modern Fiction Studies

"Well thought out and argued, this book is recommended for cultural studies collections." — , Library Journal

This book persuasively documents the emergence of postmodernism in literature, art, architecture, journalism, and politics, even as the Utopian strain within '60s modernism loses momentum." — Richard C. Collins , Virginia Quarterly Review

“In a series of wrenching, heretical re-readings of its classics, Marianne DeKoven rescues the decade of the sixties from a false familiarity and restores a sense of its adventurous if fragile alliance between literature and theory, modernist utopian critique and the messy creativity of the postmodern present. Instead of the usual nostalgia and polemic, Utopia Limited delivers intellectual precision and tough love. The story of the sixties has never been told with more rigor or more freshness.” — Bruce Robbins, author of Feeling Global: Internationalism in Distress

“Marianne DeKoven has written a blueprint for how to delve deep into the sixties without romantic or cynical nostalgia. She recaptures fully that cultural moment by showing how sixties writers kept sliding back and forth between totalizing dreams of utopia and more private and diverse expressions of their wishes and identities.” — Ann Snitow, coeditor of The Feminist Memoir Project: Voices from Women’s Liberation

“Utopia Limited will set in place a new way of understanding the interface between social, cultural, and political impulses in the sixties. Its aim—and its success—is not simply to mark out what we can now see as the emergent postmodern in texts as diverse as The Port Huron Statement and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, but to interpret, through attentive close readings, precisely how and where the modern and nascent postmodern are joined in such texts.” — Cora Kaplan, author of Sea Changes: Essays on Culture and Feminism


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Marianne DeKoven is Professor of English at Rutgers University. She is the author of Rich and Strange: Gender, History, Modernism and A Different Language: Gertrude Stein’s Experimental Writing and the editor of Feminist Locations: Global and Local, Theory and Practice.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Preface ix

Acknowledgments xvii

I. Modern to Postmodern

Introduction: Modern, Sixties, Postmodern 3

1. Modern to Postmodern in Herbert Marcuse 26

II. Culture Industry to Popular Culture

2. Culture Industry to Popular Culture in Mythologies 57

3. Las Vegas Signs Taken for Wonders 72

4. Loathing and Learning in Las Vegas 86

5. Endnotes I: Sixties, Avant-Garde, Popular Culture 114

III. Participatory Democracy to Postmodern Populism

6. Participatory Democracy in Port Huron 123

7. Paradise Then 143

8. William Burroughs: Any Number Can Play 161

9. Endnotes II: Sixties, Avant-Garde, Popular Culture 183

IV. Subject Politics

10. Politics of the Self 189

11. Laing’s Politics of the Self 200

12. Tell Me Lies about Vietnam 210

13. Fire Next Time or Rainbow Sign 228

14. Personal and Political 249

15. Utopia Limited 270

Conclusion: Post-Utopian Promise 288

Notes 291

Selected Annotated Bibliography

Part 1. The Postmodern 323

Part II. The Sixties 334

Index 345
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Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3269-5 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3280-0
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