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The 1960s

My authors may have had awakenings in the 1960s, in highly politicized environments, but there were many attempts to re-orient attention space back then, only a few of which were successful. These writers actually resisted polarization, holding out for positions neither Establishment nor Radical- Left, a “world elsewhere” born out of a “double denial” of the type described by Bourdieu. They mastered the evolving prise de position, or unique artistic viewpoint, required to keep them prominent in the conversation of low numbers. Their personal artistic crises, born out of the age, forced them into negations of previous artistic positions. These were often informed by foreign cultural capital, which they used to take positions that were inimitable—by virtue of being personal and complexly synthetic. Their translators, agents, and publishers, moving on a parallel path in attention space, confirmed in their own experience that these writers offered something authentic. In the gatekeepers’ alertness to cultural discrepancy, they saw a need or a possible niche in the parallel receiving culture. The kinds of reward coming to the gatekeepers could be cultural, symbolic, financial, or a combination.

This study also suggests that the 1960s prompted more people to try their hands at gatekeeping. There were several factors involved. One was the increase in travel by young people, both domestically and internationally. For his high school graduation present, Paul Auster went to Paris by himself in June 1965. Raymond Mungo of Liberation News Service was twenty when he went to Prague in 1967: “Kids travelled a lot in those days—youth fare,” he explained.21 A twenty-year-old Carl Weissner left Germany for the United States in 1966 to meet Charles Bukowski and the Beat poets. In most western nations the tribes of the young were on the move.

Obviously the war in Vietnam was another factor that fueled this ferment. If the United States and its allies seemed to constitute a monolithic power in world politics, commonly thought of as the Right, there was also a worldwide anti-war Left, not nearly so uniform, despite efforts by radical groups like the SDS to discipline it. Though all of the writers in this study were at least nominally of the Left, this political dichotomy disturbed them, leading each to imagine a third way.

The counter-culture also created its own media, using unconventional sources (Granma from Cuba, Liberation News Service, etc.) and enthusiastically adopting new, cheaper technologies of production, of which the Gestetner mimeograph was emblematic. The poet Paul Blackburn dated mimeo poetry magazines to 1952 and noted that they were international in their contributors as well as in their places of publication.22 There were low-power underground radio stations on the FM band, street papers in all large cities, and young editors like John Bryan at LA’s Open City. By 1970 they were using the new photo-typesetters to produce camera ready pages that they printed at non-union printers. Even billboards, as Marjorie Perloff noted, could provide inspiration.23 They were political, but also artists and publishers, producing literary journals and books. Their methods bypassed the unions and the linotype. Douglas Messerli, founder of Sun & Moon Press, started out on a mimeo machine, graduated to the IBM photo-typesetter, and sent Paul Auster’s The Invention of Solitude to low-cost Bible printers in the upper Midwest.24 Such cost-cutting, which Thompson attributes to big publishers, may have started at small ones.

This generation then grew up in gatekeeping, working as translators, editors, anthologists, and cultural ambassadors, “afraid that things would be lost” in the 1960s tumult, as Messerli put it.25 They found their literary opportunities in these small presses, in modest prizes, in small insider connections, and in “bootstrapping” themselves upward. It was the age of the “little mag,” as Abel Debritto documents.26 The interaction rituals of this publishing world initially involved face-to-face encounters with other gatekeepers/writ- ers: Diane di Prima made production chores a de facto requirement for her friendship.27 But these rituals are also manifest in letters, which are archived, and more recently they have become digitized, a situation that perfectly fits Randall Collins’ diagnosis of the on-coming “stratification of the attention space,”28 a topic taken up in my conclusion.

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