Going underground should not mean dropping heroically out of sight. There will be few places to hide in the electronic environment of the future.–Anti-Mass: Methods of Organization for Collectives
This is the electronic environment of the future.
Who would have guessed that Anti-Mass would be right?
I was not particularly radical in the 1970s, but I read the underground newspapers. One summer an anonymous essay, Anti-Mass: Methods of Organization for Collectives, was reprinted in several papers. I read it with interest, probably at the Mill, where I went for spumoni ice cream almost every night.
But the tone was officious.
The mass is an aggregate of couples who are separate, detached and anonymous. They live in cities physically close yet socially apart. Their lives are privatized and depraved. Coca-cola and loneliness.”
I wanted to be a part of the aggregate of couples, Coca-cola and loneliness or not. I was a romantic. I wanted the opposite of Anti-Mass. My favorite book was Wuthering Heights, weird and powerful, the story of the quasi-feral passion of Catherine and Heathcliff. I date my detachment from my radical older friends from the summer I read Anti-Mass.
A few months later I enrolled at the university and was so busy studying classics that I had no time for politics.
I had been an accidental radical. I came of age among Democrats, hippies, feminists, and liberals. My best friend’s mother was a feminist; I became a feminist. We read D. H. Lawrence, Doris Lessing, Anais Nin, Sylvia Plath, Betty Friedan, and The Environmental Handbook. We went to Robin Morgan’s poetry reading at the Women’s Center, but it was so crowded we didn’t stay to get an autograph. After a strip of fly paper fell in my beautiful long hair and I had to cut it off, lesbian feminists started hitting on me and told me I had “confused sexuality” (meaning heterosexuality) because I didn’t sleep with them.
Those were strange times.
The language of the 1970s put me off politics as much as anything else. Elitism, struggle, imperialist, co-option, anti-work attitude: so much to be careful about. The slang also was markedly of the times and I must admit I never used it: “into,” “far out,” “right on,” “bummer,” “rip off.” Lisa Alther’s Kinflicks, though the language seems a bit dated, is a hilarious novel about the ’60s and ’70s, making use of the lingo. Sheila Ballantyne’s Norma Jean, the Termite Queen is the best mad housewife book of the ’70s .And one reason I’ve enjoyed Erica Jong’s novel, How to Save Your Own Life, is that she humorously captures the unique introspection and sexuality of the ’70s Her heroine, Isadora Wing, writes honestly about her ambivalence not only towards sex with her boyfriends and husband, but “the gay-chic phase of the Women’s Movement.”
It was stylish to have sex with a woman, and Isadora thinks she might want to write about it, but then she finds she loathes cunnilingus.
Art and politics, politics and art. Strange bedfellows. Stranger still than Rosanna Howard and me. Can any feminist dare tell the truth about c***-eating in this day and age?..
I began to understand what it meant to be a man, fumbling around—is this the right place or is that?—getting no guidance from one’s subject (who is too polite and ladylike to tell) and wondering, wondering if she is going to come now, or now, or now —or has she already, or will she next summer, or what?
No, I don’t think anyone would write about this today, Erica!
And, by the way, I am pro-gay rights and gay marriage, but that doesn’t mean “the gay chic phase” of the ’70s was wonderful or perfect.
There was a lot of general kindness in the ’70s. There were many very kind, brilliant, magnanimous people who would feed you, let you stay the night, and help you with any problems. There was much less fear. Few people locked doors. A friend and I in graduate school kept our back door open, and imagine how surprised we were one morning to find a possum in the kitchen eating the cats’ food.
My friend’s parents lived in a tiny collective, and, having reread Anti-Mass, I know why it was small: “The collective should not be larger than a band–no orchestras or chamber music please.”
I’m not keen on the pro-ads, anti-books philosophy of Anti-Mass. “Don’t read any more books–at least not straight through. As G. B. Kay from Blackpool once said (quoting somebody else), “Reading rots the mind.” Pamphlets are so much more fun. Read randomly, write on the margins and go back to comics.”
Collectives were hard on people. How many divorces because a man or woman started having affairs with a woman or man in the collective? My friend’s parents got divorced; she was depressed. The divorce could have happended any time, you may say. But it is somehow more traumatic if you’re all living together, and one half of a married couple starts having sex with a single woman.
Amazing time, amazing books and documents. I’d love to interview everybody and write a book about it. These times are forgotten.