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The Anti-Anti-Utopian Generation, 1934-43

Posted by Joshua Glenn  January 1, 2008 05:31 PM

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It is widely accepted, today, that a Silent Generation was born between the GI Generation (1901-24) and the Boomers (1943-60). But I don't buy it! In a recent series of Brainiac posts, I've argued that (a) the Boomers were born from 1944-53, and Generation X from 1954-63; and (b) between the Boomers and the Greatests came both the Postmodern Generation (1924-33) and the Anti-Anti-Utopian Generation (1934-43). On December 30, I made a case for the Postmoderns; today, I'll make one for the Anti-Anti-Utopians.

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BRAINIAC'S GUIDE TO AMERICA'S RECENT GENERATIONS

1884-93: Lost Generation The New Kids
1894-1903: Lost Generation Hardboiled Generation
1904-13: The Greatest Generation Partisans
1914-23: The Greatest Generation The New Gods
1924-33: The Silent Generation Postmodernist Generation
1934-43: The Silent Generation Anti-Anti-Utopian Generation
1944-53: Baby Boomers
1954-63: Baby Boomers OGX (Original Generation X)
1964-73: Generation X PC Generation
1974-83: Generations X/Y Net Generation
1984-93: Millennials
1994-2003: Millennials TBA

Please credit Brainiac/Joshua Glenn whenever you use this guide. Got a beef with my periodization, or different generational name suggestions? Leave a comment on this post or email me. Born between 1954 and 1993 and still unsure about whether you're a Boomer, Xer, Yer, or Millennial? Here's a handy guide.

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Why "Anti-Anti-Utopians"? Borrowing Sartre's slogan, coined after the Soviet invasion of Hungary, about being neither communist nor anticommunist but ''anti-anticommunist," the American literary theorist Fredric Jameson (one of the first-born Anti-Anti-Utopians) coined the phrase to describe the only form of utopianism available after the triumph of anti-utopianism during the early Cold War. For Postmoderns and Anti-Anti-Utopians, utopian projects seemed proto-totalitarian; but some of them (Jameson points to Philip K. Dick, Ursula K. LeGuin, and Samuel R. Delany, for example) refused to accept the postwar consensus that there was no longer any alternative to liberal capitalism. This double-negative worldview is difficult to articulate, nearly impossible to translate into action. No wonder the Anti-Anti-Utopians were -- like the Postmoderns -- dubbed "Silents."

Anti-Anti-Utopians are a betwixt-and-between generation; its members look upon the competing ideologies and discourses of older and younger generations with a certain amount of detachment -- sometimes cynical, sometimes anxious, sometimes humorous. This doesn't mean they're un-idealistic. Thomas Pynchon, Morris Dickstein, Woody Allen, for example: They critique the excesses of the Establishment and the counterculture alike, and in so doing articulate -- in a negative fashion -- an ideal. No wonder Anti-Anti-Utopians tend to admire Adorno so much.

Yet the ideas, actions, and cultural productions of the Anti-Anti-Utopians -- who were in their teens and 20s in the Fifties (1954-63, from the end of WWII to the end of Korea, and from Elvis to the Beatles; not to be confused with the '50s), and their 20s and 30s in the Sixties (1964-73, the Vietnam War era, one of disorienting change in all areas of public and private life; not to be confused with the '60s) -- would be enormously influential on the Boomers. When we think of the Sixties, we think of feminists (Gloria Steinem), Yippies (Abbie Hoffman), Black Panthers (Eldridge Cleaver), gentle bearded freaks (Jim Henson) and violent ones (Charles Manson, Theodore Kaczynski), antiwar activists (John Kerry), gonzo journalists and far-out novelists (Hunter S. Thompson, Harlan Ellison, Ken Kesey, Don DeLillo, Thomas Pynchon, Robert Stone, Thomas McGuane, Samuel R. Delany). We think of the films of Woody Allen; the comedy of George Carlin and Richard Pryor; and the songwriting of Gerry Goffin, Sonny Bono, and Carole King. All Anti-Antis.

hoffman.jpg
Abbie Hoffman

The Sixties also saw the comeback of Elvis (b. 1935); the success of soul and funk (Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, Tina Turner, George Clinton, Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, Curtis Mayfield, Isaac Hayes); and the apotheosis of folk and folk rock (Joan Baez; Bob Dylan; Joni Mitchell; Peter, Paul & Mary; also members of the Mamas and the Papas, Simon and Garfunkel, The Byrds, The Grateful Dead). All Anti-Antis. The world-historical triumph of rock, of course, was also a Sixties phenomenon: Besides the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, members of The Doors, The Velvet Underground, The Beach Boys, and Jefferson Airplane were born from 1934-43; so were Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Captain Beefheart, and Frank Zappa. 'Nuff said.

Members of the Anti-Anti-Utopian Generation include:

* Fredric Jameson, Ralph Nader, Gloria Steinem, R. Crumb, Bill Moyers, Wendell Berry, Carl Sagan, Charles Manson, Joan Didion, Jimmy Swaggart, Gloria Steinem, Richard Dawkins, Renata Adler, Eldridge Cleaver, John McCain, Abbie Hoffman, Jim Henson, Richard Posner, Colin Powell, Wolfman Jack, Michael Walzer, Morris Dickstein, Stanley Fish, Hunter S. Thompson, Robert D. Putnam, Phil Knight, Ted Turner, Lewis Lapham, Gary Gygax, Evel Knievel, Jared Diamond, Robert Christgau, Charles Murray, Robert Nozick, Lee Harvey Oswald, Daniel Dennett, Tom Brokaw, Ted Koppel, Bruce Lee, Spalding Gray, Jesse Jackson, Peter Coyote, Michael Eisner, Theodore Kaczynski, Hendrik Hertzberg, Howard Gardner, Garrison Keillor, Larry Flynt, Paul Wolfowitz, Nolan Bushnell, Newt Gingrich, John Kerry, Peter Guralnick, Joseph E. Stiglitz, George W.S. Trow. Václav Havel. Julia Kristeva. Tenzin Gyatso, 14th Dalai Lama.

* Harlan Ellison, E. Annie Proulx, Ken Kesey, Don DeLillo, Joseph Wambaugh, Thomas Pynchon, Robert Stone, Judy Blume, Thomas McGuane, James Lee Burke, Ivan Doig, Jim Harrison, Robert Pinsky, Russell Banks, Anne Rice, John Irving, Philip Caputo, John Edgar Wideman, Maxine Hong Kingston, Erica Jong, Michael Crichton, Louise Glüick, Samuel R. Delany, Larry McMurtry, Ishmael Reed, Sam Shepard, Cecil Brown, Margaret Atwood, David Denby.

* Elvis Presley, Gerry Goffin, Leonard Cohen, Sonny Bono, Herb Alpert, John Phillips, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, Bobby Darin, Buddy Holly, Philip Glass, Frankie Valli, Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings, Etta James, Kenny Rogers, Eddie Cochran. J.J. Cale, Roberta Flack, Ray Manzarek, Neil Sedaka, Marvin Gaye, Judy Collins, Frankie Avalon, Grace Slick, Tina Turner, Gene Pitney, Smokey Robinson, Herbie Hancock, George Clinton, Nancy Sinatra, Frank Zappa, Joan Baez, Captain Beefheart, Neil Diamond, Mike Love, Ritchie Valens, Bob Dylan, Otis Redding, Cass Elliott, Paul Simon, Art Garfunkel, Carole King, Lou Reed, Aretha Franklin, Barbra Streisand, Tammy Wynette, Paul Kantner, Curtis Mayfield, Brian Wilson, Roger McGuinn, Tom Rush, Jerry Garcia, Isaac Hayes, Sterling Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Jorma Kaukonen, Michael Nesmith, Peter Tork, Jim Croce, Janis Joplin, Maceo Parker, Barry Manilow, Marty Balin, Jim Morrison, John Denver, Michael Davis, Joni Mitchell, Randy Newman.

* Sydney Pollack, Woody Allen, Francis Ford Coppola, Ridley Scott, James L. Brooks, Nora Ephron, Martin Scorsese, Michael Mann, Terrence Malick. Also: Ralph Bakshi, Abbas Kiarostami, Hayao Miyazaki, David Cronenberg.

* George Carlin, Bill Cosby, Richard Pryor, Tony Hendra, Michael O'Donoghue, Chris Miller.

* George Segal, Alan Arkin, Shirley Jones, Shirley MacLaine, Charles Grodin, Peter Boyle, Lee Remick, Alan Alda, Burt Reynolds, Dennis Hopper, Robert Redford, Michael Landon, Mary Tyler Moore, Warren Beatty, Billy Dee Williams, Jack Nicholson, Morgan Freeman, Dustin Hoffman, Jane Fonda, Natalie Wood, Jean Seberg, John Voight, Sal Mineo, Lee Majors, Harvey Keitel, Michael J. Pollard, Peter Fonda, Chuck Norris, Al Pacino, Martin Sheen, Raquel Welch, Faye Dunaway, Nick Nolte, Sandra Dee, Harrison Ford, Madeline Kahn, Penny Marshall, Annette Funicello, Sharon Tate, Blythe Danner, Joe Pesci, Christopher Walken, Robert De Niro.

allen.jpg
A quintessential anti-anti-utopian
***

According to Foreign Policy and Britain's Prospect Magazine, the Top 10 public intellectuals in 2005 were: Noam Chomsky (1928), Umberto Eco (1932), Richard Dawkins (1941), Vaclav Havel (1936), Christopher Hitchens (1949), Paul Krugman (1953), Jurgen Habermas (1929), Amartya Sen (1933), Jared Diamond (1937), and Salman Rushdie (1947). Three Postmoderns, Four Anti-Antis, Three Boomers. Let's put this silly "Silent Generation" notion to rest.

UPDATE: Authors of books described by the New York Times Book Review in 2006 as "the single best work of American fiction published in the last 25 years": Don DeLillo (1936, for "Underworld," "White Noise," and "Libra"); John Kennedy Toole (1937, for "A Confederacy of Dunces"); Raymond Carver (1938, for "Where I'm Calling From"); and Marilynne Robinson (1943, for "Housekeeping"). Anti-Anti novelists like DeLillo, Kesey, Wambaugh, Pynchon, McGuane, Toole, and Hunter S. Thompson, to mention some of my favorites, are (a) funnier, in general, than Postmoderns; and (b) more hopeful about the possibility of a radically improved social order or American way of life emerging at some point, even if they're (understandably) unwilling to articulate what that order might look like, except in negative ways.

Like Woody Allen, R. Crumb, Renata Adler, Abbie Hoffman, George W.S. Trow, and Bob Dylan, these novelists are less tangled up in the liberal mindset than some of their immediate predecessors -- they're anarchistic, I guess is the best way to put it. They get a whole lot of illiberal enjoyment out of the tensions, uncertainties, and paradoxes of postwar American life; and the aesthetic experience of reading their fiction is somehow a foretaste of the unnamed, indescribable world they fervently believe is possible... despite the failure of every historical attempt to build a perfect society.

***

Anti-Anti-Utopians -- let me know what you think! Leave a comment on this post or email me.

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5 comments so far...
  1. I agree

    Posted by Dottie Barker January 3, 08 02:39 PM
  1. I think this is very interesting, but I am wondering if you could perhaps explicate the way you came to characterize this generation in this way based on the individuals you list. How does Barry Manilow embody the gestalt of the anti-anti-utopian generation? How is Barbara Streisand informed by the principles of this generation? You describe this generation and then list it's members, but I would be very interested in the bridge between the two, how you came to derive the general from the specific.

    Thanks for some very interesting and thoughtful work.

    Posted by Nathaniel Johnston January 5, 08 09:23 AM
  1. Thanks, Dottie and Nathaniel.

    Of course, it's much easier to describe the postmoderns and anti-anti-utopians in negative terms -- I don't mean pejoratively, I mean in terms of what they are *not*, or what they do/did not do, or are/were not willing to do, or couldn't /can't permit themselves to believe in.

    The Greatest Generation is/was about getting it done; the boomers are also activists (or maybe what Adorno called "actionists"). But the postmoderns and anti-antis are instead complex thinkers, keen students of the human condition in all its contradictoriness -- two generations of philosophers, comedians, psychiatrists, songwriters and artists whose social criticism is poetic or ironic or psychedelic or existentialist, not enraged or naively utopian or pragmatic. The postmoderns are obsessed with complexity, with un-simplifying and de-essentializing; the anti-antis are driven to express themselves in neither/nor terms -- think of how Woody Allen's 1960s-70s movies always reject/mock both the establishment and the counterculture; or how Gloria Steinem's "Ms." rejects "Mrs." and "Miss."

    Anti-antis questioned American exceptionalism, they wrote novels with self-doubting heroes and plotless plots, they started nonviolent social movements (which were often radicalized by the boomers). Anti-antis broke with prewar-style liberalism (a "fighting faith") and pioneered neoconservatism (for liberals who'd been mugged by reality, as the saying went) and also a more empathetic liberalism focused not on class but on race and gender, on kindness.

    Does every single person I listed fit neatly into this description somehow? Probably not! Howe & Strauss work hard, in their book "Generations," to make Elvis sound conflicted ("all shook up") and Streisand sound empathetic ("people who need people"), but it seems dishonest to shoehorn every single member of the generation into one's schematic. Besides, some of the singers I've included, like Manilow, aren't songwriters -- how are we supposed to make judgments about their worldview based on lyrics they didn't write?

    Sorry if this answer disappoints. Unlike Howe & Strauss, I'm not trying to sell a product, I'm just floating a theory to see if anyone finds it convincing. I'm semi-convinced, myself; what about you?

    But I didn't want to include only those names that did fit easily into this scheme.
    The folks I listed

    Posted by Josh Glenn January 5, 08 07:28 PM
  1. Love the images

    Posted by some@email.com April 15, 08 05:02 PM
  1. Nice work, Mr. Glenn. I don't know if I am (born in 1929) a postmodern or an ant-anti but it is nourishing to think of oneself as something other a then a member of the 'silent' generation. Thank you.

    Posted by Billy Baker May 1, 08 11:56 AM
 
About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
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Brainiac blogger Kevin Hartnett is a writer in Columbia, South Carolina. He can be reached here.

Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.

Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.

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Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.

Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."

Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.

Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.

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