Countering the Counterculture



Introduction:  Dissent and the American Culture of Mobility

“But just what do migrant writers have to say to the  Beats?”  It is a question that was put to me by an incredulous colleague when I first began formulating this project.  My answer begins with the ubiquitous American motif of “movement and mobility” that forms an important discursive site which I call “movement discourse.” Movement discourse articulates social strategies and endorses various democratic frameworks and understandings of “liberty.”  Under this rubric, I examine the literatures of dissent in postwar America and the conversation created on the nature of participation, access, citizenship, and a slew of issues and elements that have defined the democratic debate.  “Movement” as a subject and as a discourse has a number of permutations and connotations which, when juxtaposed, uncover important links between democratic, liberal, and leftist dissent in the postwar era.

In the texts I examine, “movement” takes on three main connotations that are underpinned by particular understandings of the ideal democratic form: movement as personal mobility, movement as neo-imperialism, and movement as communitarian politics.  This juxtaposition highlights the omnipresence of an American individualist atomism and isolation that cripples the democratic impulse and leads to political and theoretical dead-ends for those “countercultural” or dissenting movements that were influenced by the Beats.  The migrant worker text, which I argue is truly countercultural in that it does not give in to or endorse the individualist version of democracy, retains a materialist understanding of mobility, of its paradoxical nature, and thus is more capable of instituting a communitarian, participatory critique of individualism.  Ultimately, it signposts the way to what I call an Americano strategy that is different from the other forms of movement discourse-oriented dissent (the Beats, their fellow-travelers, and even the Chicano Movement) that have been so susceptible to isolationism and atomism in the postwar period.

The key to our understanding of the “American ideal” is the positioning of the self and the community in relation to the ability to move at will.  In our society, freedom and power are defined through “access.”  No group understands the concomitant paradoxes more profoundly than the twentieth century Mexican/Mexican American migrant.  No group of postwar writers explored the prerogatives of “mobility” more profoundly than the Beats.  Therein lies the heart of my study: we cannot understand the so-called American ideal, its paradoxes, the culture it has shaped, or the dissent provoked by that culture, without examining the experience, literary production, and history of the postwar Mexican American subject in conversation with the literary and ideological production of the most influential “dissenting” writers.  This study seeks to show that much can be learned from juxtaposing the work of the Beats and their fellow-travelers with the work of postwar Mexican Americans, not merely as opposing cultural productions, but as participating equally, fully, sometimes in complicity, at other times at odds, in the production of an “American” discourse.

We might in fact argue that postwar America can most effectively be understood through the dissent that periodically reached a critical mass.  In this sense, in order to define the culture, one might begin by comparing it to the “counterculture.”  But this supposes that we should read culture through a series of oppositional moments, as a sort of crude dialectical process through which we can read the dynamics of culture and history as a binary defined as action and reaction: conservative movement/liberal movement, state power/social movement, hegemony/counterhegemony, power/resistance.  As Michel Foucault, Louis Althusser, Antonio Gramsci, and Raymond Williams have demonstrated, this is a gross oversimplification.  However, this is the way in which postwar dissent in general, and the American counterculture in particular, have been read: the so-called “conformity” of the 1950s was countered by the Beats; the military-industrial complex was challenged by the New Left; American imperialism was challenged by radical separatist movements, etc.  This has produced, in most cases, not only inadequate readings of postwar protest and dissent, but an inadequate understanding of the democratic debate and civic discourse of the second half of the “American century.”

Thus, this book is an intervention in reading practices that have operated largely in isolation from each other and therefore have not yet provided a full, complex understanding of this important American narrative.  I’m speaking of an American studies project that continues to marginalize minority narratives, histories, literatures, and is especially ignorant of the Mexican American subject’s role in the making of national culture and politics.  By the same token, I wish to intervene in the trajectory of a Chicano studies that has allowed itself to be marginalized by working at so great a distance from “mainstream” history and literature, that it can perceive its own production only as “oppositional” or “resistant.”  This book is a call for both disciplines to broaden their perspectives and to understand the profound imbrication between the Chicano and the “American” narratives, making possible a more fruitful interrogation that we might call “Americano studies.” 

The quarter of a century following World War II presents a unique historical matrix that allows for a rich analysis of class, race, gender, and the cultural and political interstices through which they interact.  The participation of African Americans and Mexican Americans in the war effort created a significant segment of marginalized citizens who felt that they deserved to participate fully in the American polity and economy.  The large number of women who had entered the industrial force felt ambivalent about returning to the home, and were increasingly unwilling to accept the prewar conditions of the domestic sphere.  The upward mobility of America's workforce created the need for a cheap, mobile, temporary labor pool to satisfy the needs of the midwestern and Pacific agribusiness.  The Bracero Program was designed to fill that need as cheaply as possible.  The southwest became the destination of Mexican immigrants, giving the U.S. new millions of Mexican and Mexican-descended residents, many of them undocumented.  These men and women participating in the national economy, facing inequality in this and other spheres, aspired to participate as fully as their white, male counterparts in the economy and within their society.

The institutionalization of corporate America and the organization of suburbia gave rise to a variety of grievances and fears in the minds of its subjects.  This created a paradoxical desire to escape the constrictions of organization through a strategic appropriation of marginal positions and subjectivities, while at the same time erecting a defensive perimeter to hold off the growing demands of the previously marginalized.  The company man, himself now a vagabond at the mercy of corporate dictates, looked back nostalgically to the time when self-determination was possible, when moving meant moving West, towards the Frontier. William Whyte's interviews with corporate executives convey a new white migrancy:

"We never plan to transfer," says a company president, "and we never make a man move.  Of course, he kills  his career if he doesn't.  But we never make him do it."  The fact is well understood, it is with a smile that the recruit moves—and keeps on moving--year after year, until, perhaps, that distant day when he is summoned back to Rome. (Whyte 275)

Ironically, the organization man did not see his forced movement as remotely parallel to the forced movement of the migrant in the 1950s; labor did not see itself as a commodity valuable most for its fluidity, that is, its ability to move where it was most needed.  Such blindness testifies to the illusory ideals of movement and "individualism" to which white collar labor and the middleclass subscribed while in the service of a corporatism they did not fully comprehend.  The advantages that the middleclass laborer enjoyed provided him with an illusory differentiation from the immigrant, the migrant, the service laborer.  But their social and economic positions would come much closer as the era of affluence came to an end and globalization gathered momentum in the 1970s.  This could have been predicted reading Ernesto Galarza’s Merchants of Labor in conjunction with J. Kenneth Galbraith’s The Affluent Society.

The white male subject, confronted with a stultifying corporate structure, a carefully arranged suburban home, and challenges from minority workers and women, was compelled to protect his space of privilege (real or imagined).  More often than not he did so at the expense of positive liberty (socially-oriented), rather than negative liberty (individualist-oriented).  As Anthony H. Birch addresses this dichotomy:

On the one hand, liberty has been defined as freedom for the individual to do whatever he or she wants to do; in short, that liberty is the absence of restraint.  This is the negative concept of liberty.  On the other hand , liberty has been asserted to be freedom to do things that are worth doing, to engage in self-development, to have a share in the government of one's society.  In Isaiah Berlin's terminology, this is the positive concept of liberty. (Birch 96)

In summary, a simplistic view of 1950s and 1960s America posits a binary opposition between the establishment culture and a dissenting counterculture.  I suggest that this period saw the creation of a variety of social strategies, notably involving uses and appropriations of what I call the "migrant function" as a form of self-marginalization that have often been held up as a dissenting practice to a set of right wing reactionary strategies most frequently enumerated in studies of corporatism, consumer society, McCarthyism, conformism, and the military-industrial complex.  In my view, both varieties of social strategies—dissenting, self-marginalization and “reactionary” conformism/corporatism—were manifestations of a fear of the growing visibility and demands of women and minorities, and of the restrictions inherent in organized life.  Ultimately, both reactionary and radical strategies had in common the articulation of a neo-individualism, and the call for the creation of an individualist space protected from the demands of the "other."  All these tendencies produced a society-wide discourse on the nature of democracy in this new era.  The question of how to define citizenship, civil rights, community, individualism, liberty, social justice, racial equality, civic duty, “Americanism,” society, gender, class, self-reliance, choice, participation, and egalitarianism took on new, but contradictory and contested, meanings.

I focus my critique on the "counterculture,” defined broadly, not because it "failed" or was hypocritical, but because its effects have come under attack even though its strategies did not produce a long-lasting cohesive communitas or communal instinct.  A central reason for bringing the Chicano narrative and the American narrative together is to uncover the underlying ideologies which crippled the counterculture—in Sacvan Bercovitch's and Victor Turner's sense—creating not a radical communitas or radical collective alternatives, but instead a consensus model which ultimately seems to have been coopted by the capitalist hegemony established after World War II: in short, much of the counterculture’s activity was self-subverting subversion.  A close analysis of the slippages, and conflations and elisions, in the meanings of its rhetoric through an examination of the trope of “movement” bears this out.

I am largely concerned with the most fundamental of the social objectives of a particular Beat-influenced countercultural strain that ultimately disabled its own ability to effect a radical egalitarian alternative.   I argue, along with Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, that an egalitarian agenda was appropriated and rendered inoperative by a liberal-conservative agenda and a “democratic discourse” that replaced it with a weak decisionism based on consumer culture and product choice, and with the illusion that a strong, “inclusive” market economy will bring about equality:

We are thus witnessing the emergence of a new hegemonic project, that of liberal-conservative discourse which seeks to articulate the neo-liberal defense of the free-market economy with the profoundly anti-egalitarian cultural and social traditionalism of conservatism. (Laclau and Mouffe 58)

I argue that this liberal-conservative discourse emerged at the beginning of the postwar American period with the creation of an effete pluralism and the institution of a corporate culture, and also resided in the very language and discourse of the most “radical” and “progressive” dissent the postwar era had to offer.  Its fundamental ideology and strategy implied the reinstitution of an older American individualism, as revealed in the ways Americans talked and thought about movement and mobility.  This postwar hegemonic project remains effective because it profoundly concerned the ways in which Americans wanted (and want) to think about themselves (mobile and progressive), and the social system in which they wanted (and still want) to live (open, but not radically so). 

The defense of "individualism" which the Beats articulated in the 1950s became increasingly reactionary in the 1960s.  At the core of this reactionary fear was the threat of absorption by a radical democratic impulse personified by civil rights activists, a "threat" which the Beats did not take seriously in the early 1950s as they appropriated ethnic personas in their search to escape conformism.  Laclau and Mouffe define the threat from the New Right as follows:

A liberal-conservative bloc creates or has created an organic ideology which constructs a new hegemonic articulation through a system of equivalencies which would unify multiple subject positions around an individualist definition of rights and a negative conception of liberty. (Laclau and Mouffe 176)

My contention is that the emergence of this hegemonic articulation can be seen in the earliest work of William S. Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, and Ken Kesey, and to some extent, Allen Ginsberg, and I will argue that this ideology is inherent in the principles and agenda of much dissenting rhetoric in the 1960s.  Even the civil rights movement offshoots during that period would not be able to escape entirely the isolationist, atomistic logic at work in the rhetoric of American dissent. 

If an unbridled, decadent individualism shackled and short-circuited various manifestations of countercultural Anglo dissent, what hampered the Chicano Movement in its attempt to create a lasting, progressive, even radical, politics?  Ultimately, its cultural nationalism and separatist tendencies, its identity politics, and its exclusive communality led to an isolationism that looked very much like the isolation created by Beat individualists.  The Chicano Movement, through its nationalist wing, rejected the possibility of a “national culture.”  This rejection is most visible in the disavowal of the Mexican American generation’s faith in participatory politics as “assimilationist.”  The Movimiento literature I examine articulates a practice of movement discourse that refused to operate within the national public sphere and democratic debate for fear of being absorbed or assimilated into “America.”  The Movement created an enclosed cultural sphere that could not be penetrated by the non-Chicano Mexican American, and populated “Aztlan” with a fixed subject that was manifested through fixated forms: the pachuco, the pinto, and the indio.  Ultimately, the Movement, like its symbolic tri-faceted subject, did not do much to undo the exclusion and immobilization that Mexican Americans had suffered, but rather in isolating themselves wound up in an eerily similar position to the self-isolated, atomistic Beats.

Ultimately, Migrant literature, viewed through movement discourse, can be read as undoing the immobilization and exclusion by insisting on a material reading of the paradoxes of American democracy.  The Migrant narrative demonstrates the inadequacy of individualist-inflected dissent in countering a system built upon submissive individualism and consumerist-decisionist “democracy.”  Migrant movement discourse exposes the immobilizing nature of American mobility in the service of capital.  Juxtaposing it to Beat, countercultural, and Movimiento discourse puts into relief the limitations of the rhetoric of mobility and the underlying metaphysical faith in its inevitable progress.  This “Americano” critique speaks to the different manifestations of exclusionist and separatist isolationism produced by individualist-inflected dissenting ideology.  It points instead towards a participatory, egalitarian realpolitik that calls for a communitarian national culture.

Through the Migrant narrative, I argue that the only effective alternative to the neo-individualist logic is a renewed commitment to an egalitarian agenda, one that I will use to distinguish the “Americano” project (articulated by key Mexican American activists and migrant writers) from both the neo-individualist strain of the counterculture and the separatist version of El Movimiento.  I accept Laclau and Mouffe’s argument that: "The task of the Left isn't to renounce liberal-democratic ideology, but on the contrary to deepen and expand it in the direction of a radical and plural democracy" (Laclau and Mouffe 176) .  But we can only begin to deepen and expand liberal-democratic ideology if we recognize the inherent limitations of a liberal-progressive discourse fraught with the underpinnings of a neo-individualism which is difficult to reconcile with communality and positive liberty.


Movement in the American Imagination:

The paradox of Zeno's arrow describes the paradox of the American culture of mobility.  The flight of an arrow, said Zeno, is an apparent example of motion.  But at any given moment of its flight, the arrow is either where it is or where it is not.  If it moves where it is, it must be standing still, and if it moves where it is not, then it cannot be there; thus it cannot move.   Likewise movement in post-World War II American society has proven paradoxical: the subject moves constantly while existing in a state of immobility.  The irony of "progress" was itself a long-standing topic of the twentieth century.  The question of whether the subject can actually progress, and how one defines progress as opposed to how society-at-large defines it, has succeeded in formulating the problem as a question of personal mobility and the constraint of systemic forces or frameworks: the relation of the element to the system.  The twentieth-century American writer departed in Odyssean fashion to map the boundaries that limit his potential.  It is a question of probing the walls of the prison while using one's prerogative to move as an act of personal defiance to restraint. 

In the romantic tradition, such defiance creates a metaphysical moment of transcendence for the erstwhile immobilized subject.  It creates, albeit as a fiction, a way in which to live within the social system while defying its demands and laws.  This defiance creates illusory mobility; it is the narrative of the automobile commercial which promises freedom, a handsome driver taking in Big Sur's heart-stopping ocean views as he masterfully handles the road cutting through jagged cliffs, all the while ignoring the reality of the payment book.

More accurately, postwar movement can be described as expatiation.  The Latin for "expatiate" is exspatiatus, meaning to wander as well as to digress.  The analysis of movement discourse deeply engages both manifestations of expatiation.  Writers of the American experience have long conflated the two meanings, combining the experience of moving at will with the sense of being tangential or existing in a state of irrelevance.  Moving at will is achieved by becoming "irrelevant" in the sense of "marginal."  Personal liberty is to be found by experiencing the liminality of the "other."  Many of the writers this book considers move at will as an exercise of their liberty, and write their experience as an articulation of that liberty.  In plainer terms, they mythologize movement.  They digress as an escape from the imposition of structure, a digression into a liminality generally reserved for the marginalized subjects of American society.  But there is a crucial difference: unlike the marginalized figure, these writers are assured of their ability to return to relevance.  They are assured of access despite their dalliance in the margins where the truly marginal are kept at bay.

Even the OED definition of "movement" reveals a slippage that I suggest is critical in our analysis of the various movement discourses and the social models which they seek to effect.  Defining “movement” as "the action or process of moving; change of position; passage from place to place, or from one situation to another," the OED suggests an analogy between physical movement, spatial or personal, and the process of change itself.  It equates the existence of an "open" system with the mobility of the system's elements.  It is a slippage which links physical movement with social movement, personal movement with communal movement, digression with relevance, revolution (circular) with evolution (progressive).  That a system's elements move does not necessarily mean that the system is itself "open," or that the system is not dictating the nature of such movement.  What is the nature of mobility in a system that allows only a dictated, plotted-out movement?  It is the paradox to which Kerouac gives voice in his body of fiction.

I take seriously Theodor Adorno's description of the "prototypical bourgeois individual" as a modern-day Odysseus, "originating in the consistent self-affirmation with its ancient pattern in the protagonist compelled to wander" (Horkheimer and Adorno 43).  This evokes the American writer moving across a territorialized topos attempting to reinscribe the land so as to defend a type of personal agency which has been formulated around the figure of the self-subsisting individual.  The illusion of personal mobility becomes the illusion of an independence apart from systemic constraint, an independence which seeks to render the system powerless to constrain.

Like Adorno's modern Odysseus, the American writer mythologizes movement as a strategic form of self-preservation, at voyage's end sure to be rewarded by his return home to his fixed (e)state.  The voyage is undertaken through the land of the marginal, removed from the center and the gravitational pull it exerts through its hierarchical organization.  Once that marginality is appropriated, and a liminal state achieved, the voyager may return to his place within the system, newly assured that he is not at all constrained.  It is a most cynical use of "freeplay," a form of subversion that ultimately does not subvert.  His "estate" is fixed, within the protected space which "society" has created for him.  The "other" remains within his space, irrelevant, marginal, safely outside the gates, his access denied.  The modern Odysseus reaches selfhood by "being an entity only in the diversity of that which denies all unity" (Horkheimer and Adorno 48) . 

Self-subsistence within a mobile corporatist society cannot participate within community, for community requires roots.  The wandering American dissenting writer follows this pattern, expatiating, seeing himself as a modern Jeremiah, but a Jeremiah paradoxically concerned with defending his own individual space by writing it into existence.  This is particularly true in post-World War II America where all too often what is commonly thought of as the counterculture has come to signify simply a self-centered mobility which abhors communality as absorbing.

Historical currents and events present defining moments when cultural workers must provide cultural maps which reorient the writer and the reader living within the changing political/historical topos, to past orienting mythologies/narratives which have established and explained subject positions before.  This can be said to be the function of culture: it is an orienting force which positions the subject between ethos and worldview.  In an Althusserian sense, culture is ideology, and in Fredric Jameson's formulation, the writer provides a cognitive map.  Ultimately, the test of the countercultural must be the "map" which it constructs.  Does it reconcile the writer/reader to the conventional mythos/understanding of American society as "progressive" and ultimately "open," or does it challenge conventional narratives and mythologies?  This is one of the central questions that our analysis of movement discourse will seek to answer.

In the introduction to his 1996 study, The Death and Rebirth of American Radicalism, Stanley Aronowitz states that American radicalism “has never enjoyed anything like success” (vii).  His most trenchant observation is that such a failure is a result of a deep-rooted individualism that has acted against the impulse towards social justice:

In comparison to the idea of social responsibility through government intervention, the ideals of local control and individual initiative have as long and perhaps more powerful a history in American political culture and are shared widely, even among many who are otherwise socially liberal or radical. (16)

This work examines the rhetoric of this “local control and individual initiative” as it has limited social activism on the left and made its way into even the most “liberal,” “progressive” or “radical” social critiques.  I seek to explain this lack of “success” as well as to suggest an alternative that can be found in the work of two migrant writers.  The book is divided into two sections.

The first part, “The Roots of Postwar Dissent and the Counterculture,” examines the advent of conformist and corporatist culture in the United States in the 1950s.  I argue that this postwar American culture was driven by the fear of absorption that manifests itself in different ways: as a fear of “conformity” in the liberal imagination; as a fear of an encroaching red, black, and brown menace in the “conservative” imagination; and as a fear of a “castrating” femininity, figured as suburbia, in the masculinist imagination.  Those fears motivate both the conservative and liberal agendas to react in very similar ways—by championing a submissive and atomistic individualism that ultimately ends in an isolationist defensive position precluding the formation of any kind of meaningful or progressive communalism.

In the first chapter I look at the work of William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg, suggesting that their dissent seeks to create a “free” space by finding a new frontier, first in Mexico, then in South America, and later in Tangier.  These “fellaheen” lands provide the embattled white male with a space free of women and free of a state power that is figured as a “welfare state.”  Ultimately, the self-marginalization which the Beats utilize to great effect in order to remain outsiders, is jettisoned in the new frontier, where the postwar male desire for a power free of “interference” and civic commitment can be enacted through what Burroughs called the “new imperialism.”

In the second chapter, I take a close look at Jack Kerouac’s literary production and find that his work can also be read as neo-imperialistic: its individualist program is evident in that each of his novels can be read as a denial of a different form of communal participation.  His work is intensely hostile to anything resembling an egalitarian project.  I then argue that this new interpretation, however, does not change his influence on the burgeoning countercultural movements.  His neo-individualist narrative—imperialistic, misogynistic, and ultimately racist—deeply informs and shapes the nature of “mainstream” 1960s counterculture.  I trace the lineage of his agenda through the work of Ken Kesey and Hunter S. Thompson, who is the subject of the third chapter.

In Thompson’s narratives, we find both a deconstruction of the emptiness of the redemptive movement narrative in which the Beats were invested, as well as the “coup de grace” on the counterculture.  While I argue that Thompson’s insights into 1960s dissent are often accurate and trenchant, his ultimate position is to retreat into an isolationism reminiscent of the progressive and radical fronts he critiques.  He argues that he has continued the legacy of the Beats, and I argue that he has done so in ways that are regressive and cynical.  The legacy that these writers actually reproduce closely resembles nineteenth-century concepts about individualism, American exceptionalism, and Manifest Destiny.  This is readily discernible in the valorization of physical movement and in the fashioning of  a  cult of decadent individualism.  Nostalgia for the days of America as "nature's nation," in which one strikes west as an expression of progress, is thus manifested in Beat-inspired neo-romanticism which elides the history and practice of conquest and exploitation, and, I argue, directly influences the 1960s counterculture.  Thus these writers and activists popularized an entrenched commitment to an individualist ideology that was not at all “countercultural,” in the egalitarian sense, but rather was a rehashing of an American “rugged individualism” that was ultimately hostile to a Rousseavian commitment to civic participation and radical egalitarian democracy— civitas if you will.

In part two, “The Americano Narrative:  Postwar Mexican American Dissent and Community,”  I argue that Mexican Americans were participating in the remapping of American culture, and were forming answers to the questions facing all Americans in the thirty years following World War II: the relation of the individual to the community, the ability to participate in the shaping of a national culture, the viability of democratic participation, and other questions concerning the  nature of cultural and national citizenship.  In so doing, Mexican Americans were participating not only in the external or national political debate, but were fiercely engaged in an internal, intracultural democratic debate shaped largely by generational and civic orientations and aspirations.  Mexican American, Chicano, and “Americano”  views were articulated in response to each other and, taken together, form a microcosm of the larger sociopolitical debate.

In chapter four, I read Oscar Acosta’s narrative as a template for the growing tension between Mexican-American and Chicano identity, that also clearly engages with a Beat/mainstream countercultural ethos.  His work is thus a locus of the negotiation between Anglo, Mexican-American, and Chicano cultural and social politics.  Movement for Acosta becomes the axis of tension between a personal, individualistic mobility (movida), a pull towards a communally oriented “movement” (or movimiento) and the isolationist, separatist tendencies inherent in both cultural nationalism and Beat-like neo-individualism.   Written at the birth of Chicano identity, Acosta’s work articulates the tension between a Mexican-American generational aspiration to become “American” and the price of repressing “Mexican” identity.  However, Acosta finds that the Chicano identity he encounters in his movimiento activism is too narrowly constructed and requires him, in a complete reversal of the Mexican-American generation’s project, to suppress the “American” side of his identity.

Chapter five focuses exclusively on the Chicano Movement itself, in particularly at the height of its separatist and nationalist activity.  I investigate el movimiento as Chicano consciousness is radicalized and examine the after-effects of its realpolitik and ideology.  Whereas the Beats and Thompson reject communalism and endorse a negative liberty by embracing atomistic individualism, the Chicano separatist instinct ultimately endorsed isolation as well, not by embracing individualism, but by suggesting that a national, egalitarian culture was impossible.  I argue that like its counterparts in the larger counterculture, el movimiento failed to mobilize an agenda that might have affected a larger public sphere through an inclusive communality.  Although the Movement had a different agenda, the discourse it produced shows the same fear of “absorption” displayed in the work of the Beats, one that ultimately precludes wide-scale democratic participation.  To this end, I look at the work of three influential movimiento writers, Raul Salinas, Jose Montoya, and Luis Valdez, whose work bears the mark of intergenerational conflict and political ambivalence signaling an isolationism as paralyzing as neo-individualistic atomism. This suggests that el movimiento created a narrow, exlusionary identity politics that fragmented its fragile coalition along the national culture/local culture faultline.  The  most tragic effect of the break-up of the Chicano movement was the sense that the Mexican American subject had only two choices: assimilation or a separation that abdicated an “American” identity.  This, I argue, left a vacuum which a conservative, consumerist agenda filled over the next decade.

The final chapter suggests a new rubric not only for understanding a political alternative for the postwar Mexican American subject, but also for developing a template for a “counterculture” unified around a radical egalitarian agenda.  It calls for the creation of an Americano identity, a coalition of Mexican Americans committed to social justice and full participation in the American political, civic, and economic spheres that might also function as a model for an inclusive, participatarian national culture.  In so doing, I revisit the most progressive of countercultural instincts and objectives.  I examine the work of Ernesto Galarza and Tomas Rivera and claim that they should be understood as prototypical “Americanos.”  Their work suggests a new direction for social criticism and provides new possibilities for American studies, or Americano studies, as I would like to term it.  Rather than calling for Aztlan, these activists called for the creation of Ameríca, and advocated what I call “Americanismo” rather than “Chicanismo.”  Their work should also be recognized for its prescient description and critique of an emerging post-Fordist economy and the paradoxes of American individualism and its faith in a mobility that they show is illusory.  I argue that their social criticism and cultural production are truly countercultural, for they offer  examples of a postwar dissent which does not short-circuit itself.

Ultimately I wish to demonstrate that juxtaposing the dissent of Mexican American writers and Anglo writers is not merely an exercise in the analysis of opposition or even resistance, but that both groups participate equally and fully in the production of an American discourse on democracy, citizenship, and the shaping of a national culture.  Read together, both groups can be seen to have remapped postwar society through a conversation still in progress.  By examining these various works and groups through a common discourse, I hope to contribute to a more complex understanding of the American counterculture and its various conceptions of democracy, as well as to current work defining the Chicano narrative.  I also hope to further the efforts of scholars working towards expanding and bridging the work comprising what we now rather narrowly think of as two separate critical and historical inquiries: American studies and Chicano studies. 

This book, then, is in part an answer to Jose David Saldivar’s call for a new approach to comparative cultural studies.  In his book Border Matters: Remapping American Cultural Studies, he discusses the necessity of reading a transgeographical variety of literary works and social critiques under a common rubric:

Not enough has been done to bring these texts to bear on the same subject, and juxtapose social/political analysis in any direct way…In my view, the greatest shortcoming of the work being done on the American canon is not its lack of theoretical rigor, but its parochial vision.  Literary historians (even the newer ones) and critics working on the reconstruction of American literary history characteristically know little in depth about the history, symbologies, cultures, and discourses of the Americas.  One value of focusing on comparative cultural studies is that it permits us to escape from the provincial, limiting tacit assumptions that result from perpetual immersion in studying a single culture or literature. (5)

My study is thus dedicated to the continuing project of a truly inclusive Americano studies that lives up to the potential of cultural, social, and political dissent in the academy and, more importantly, in our society.