A practical-minded student of Abraham Maslow and Herbert Marcuse (with whom he’d studied at Brandeis), not to mention Artaud, McLuhan, and other nobrow and hilobrow refuseniks of the Forties and Fifties, ABBIE HOFFMAN’s (1936-89) theatrical provocations — levitating the Pentagon, tossing money inside the New York Stock Exchange, the politicized-hippie Argonaut Folly known as Yippie!, nominating a pig for president at the ’68 Democratic National Convention — remain some of the few bright moments of the era that we know as the Sixties. The ex-pharmaceutical salesman’s essay collections Revolution For the Hell of It (1968) and Woodstock Nation (1969) are anti-anti-utopian manifestos. Today, one finds Hoffman’s Sixties so superior to the Disneyfied version we’re peddled that his books read like a hallucinatory Tales of Hoffman, a comical epic beginning and ending with sharp blows to its protagonist’s skull: one in 1964, when Hoffman and Stokely Carmichael were beaten up by policemen at the Newport Folk Festival (“That pig was telling me exactly what to do: he told me to get divorced, to drop more acid, to quit work and go to New York and organize 100 hours a day; that’s what he told me with the fucking club.”); and the other in 1969, when his political speech at Woodstock was interrupted by the business end of Pete Townshend’s guitar. We weren’t listening then, we aren’t listening still. Perhaps we never will. Despite its tone of bravado, Hoffman’s most famous work, Steal This Book (1971), is less a manifesto than a post-Woodstock survival guide for fellow refugees from the Creeping Meatball.
A couple of the ideas in this item were first aired in Hermenaut #5 (1992), and The Idler (April 2001).
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