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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. Perhaps surprisingly, the moment that represents the high tide of the period from 1945–73, which Fredric Jameson, in Postmodernism (1991), has famously called the "forcing ground" of the new system (xx), has received relatively little attention in relation to an emergent postmodernism. While the earlier cinematic and literary culture of the Cold War has been authoritatively mapped, and the postmodern itself has been exhaustively (at least for the moment) thought and rethought, the culture of the sixties has most often figured secondarily or only allusively in accounts of contemporary cultural history, often as an anticipatory but somehow exceptional and historically closed moment of resistant efflorescence.
Marianne DeKoven's Utopian Limited focuses on the countercultural sixties as pivotal in the historical shift of cultural dominants from modern to postmodern, and her savvy, situated readings of sixties' texts do much to make plain the full complexity of this transition. The postmodern emerges, DeKoven argues, in what she terms "the long sixties, extending from the late fifties to the early seventies, from the heyday of the Beat movement and rise of popular youth culture to Watergate," but the postmodern in the sixties was very much an emergent culture (3). As DeKoven reminds us, "sixties political and cultural movements and their texts were in fact primarily, dominantly, in some ways quintessentially modern," and it was only through the unfolding and extension of these modernist [End Page 236] projects that sixties culture moved into or opened up the horizon of the postmodern (4). More specifically, DeKoven argues, the avant-garde and popular culture of the sixties "represented the final, full flowering of modernism/modernity, particularly of its utopian master narratives"; however, "[i]n the full realization and extension of the popular, egalitarian, subjectivist trajectories of the modern, but in rejection or curtailment of the totalizing, utopian master narratives associated with those trajectories in modernity, the sixties political and countercultural movements were transformed into something in continuity with, but radically different from, those modern master narratives; transformed into the 'utopia limited' of the postmodern" (8). Much of DeKoven's argument is premised upon this assertion and upon the claim, which she substantiates persuasively throughout, that the distinctly modernist utopian impulse of sixties culture persists albeit in constrained and fragmented forms in the oppositional strategies that we have come to recognize as the hallmarks of postmodern culture.
DeKoven's overall argument is also informed by a strong sense of what is no longer available to us from the sixties or what separates the current cultural dominant from what was, even in opposition, a predominantly white, masculinist culture. As DeKoven reminds us, however, we are also removed in the current climate from the best impulses of a sixties culture that could summon up genuine outrage at the very existence of poverty and affirm the possibility of transforming the social order of productivity, including the subjects that inhabited that order. That these responses or aspirations now seem naive to us is perhaps simply a sad measure of the degraded character of collective life under postmodernism and a sure indicator of the extent to which the iron grip of a "destructive global capitalist regime" has tightened in the intervening years. These last observations provide the context for DeKoven's emphasis throughout Utopia Limited on the persistence of a limited postmodern utopian project in response to and despite the "ominously growing power and terrifying agendas of a disastrous U.S. regime" in "the Bush II era" (xvi).
DeKoven's argument proceeds through a series of readings of texts from the long sixties that are representative of major movements in the United States. Much of part one of Utopia Limited is given over to a reading of Herbert Marcuse's One Dimensional Man, published in 1964, at once a welcome beginning to her book and a reminder of how often historical/theoretical discussions of...