How terribly strange to be seventy.
Rereading A Generation in Motion four decades after I wrote it—now older, losing my hair, well beyond the Beatles’ sixty-four—is a revelation. Did I really say those things? Did I really believe those things? Can I even remember having the energy and physical plant to do those things? Is my younger self, now a stranger from a strange land, speaking in this book to an older self hunkered down in his old farmhouse on a gravel road beside the Minnesota River?
Or maybe I have not changed all that much. Today as ever I find myself in constant battle against the Authorities, especially now that neo-Victorian codes of decorum have expanded from controlling drugs and sex to investigating “unprofessional behavior” and “offensive speech” (a cover article in the 2015 Atlantic monthly was headlined “Better Watch What You Say! How the New Political Correctness Is Ruining Education”). When hauled before the university tribunal, I remind the inquisitors that this is America, we have a constitution which specifically protects free speech, and if they don’t like America’s constitution they should either change it or find themselves another country (perhaps China). Then I contact my lawyer . . . and go on doing whatever it was that I was doing. A student tells me, “They’re afraid of you, Pichaske.” I answer, “They should be.”
Still, it’s a tough go. My office shelf is filled with books critiquing the new conservatism, some of them ten and twenty years old: Nat Hentoff’s Free Speech for Me But Not for Thee, Kors and Silvergate’s The Shadow University, Daphne Pate’s Heterphobia, Cristina Hoff Sommer’s Who Stole Feminism and The War Against Boys, Kate Roiphe’s The Morning After, Robert Hughs’ The Culture of Complaint, Howard Hughs’ Political Correctness, Martin Gross’s The Conspiracy of Ignorance, Diane Ravitch’s The Language Police, Donald Downs’ Restoring Free Speech and Liberty on Campus, Philip Thody’s Don’t Do It: A Dictionary of the Forbidden, and best of all, Camille Paglia’s Sex, Art and American Culture. My colleagues, however, have not read these books, nor would the messages contained therein penetrate their Politically Correct brains. Too many belong to the seventies generation, now 55 to 65, which came of age when Civil Rights marches and Vietnam War protests were long gone, when the economy flourished, when their main concern was having fun, being nice, and worming their way up the System’s ladder. When heterosexual Anglo-Saxon males were the only people in the country not victims (or related somehow to victims, off of whom they could draw currency), and therefore facing considerable discrimination. When America had become a corporatocracy as controlling, I learned after several years of teaching in the ruins of old communist countries, as the old Soviet system. All is now quiet on the Western front. The sixties were, above all else, a campaign against The System’s control over people’s lives. Left wing or right wing, it did not matter: no control, Big Brother!
Over the decades, I have seen bubbles, but they all disappeared quickly from public view: Gen-X, Occupy Wall Street, Black power (reduced to an energy drink when I was in Poland in 2014). Doors out were quickly slammed shut, sealed over, or redirected: back in Poland for a year of teaching in 2012, I passed almost every day a four-story high billboard promoting Black Power . . . now an energy drink! This is what it has all come to. In academia where I live, neo-Victorian Women’s Center teas and Gala Balls are okay, but no rocking the boat! Old sixties folks grumble in the hallways, seventies women dance around the halls like sixty-year-old teenagers, and the youngsters live locked on-line, socially and intellectually lost, nearly bumping into each other in the halls as they text on their phones. And this is just fine: give them all passing grades, keep them here, happy, quiet, and above all else, polite, kind and accepting . . . we have “zero tolerance” for non-tolerance.
The sixties were not very polite. I personally have zero tolerance for bullshit, and see mandated politeness as compulsory lying, since the world is full of assholes who need to be told they’re assholes. But hey, I am still here, teaching, writing articles, refereeing articles, conferencing. A Generation in Motion was translated recently into Greek, and less recently (I am told—I am sure it circulates only underground) into Chinese. Since A Generation in Motion I have published over twenty books, including several about my rural retreat in southwestern Minnesota and the writers associated with that place: Late Harvest, A Place Called Home, The Jubilee Diary, Southwest Minnesota: The Land and the People, and Rooted: Seven Midwest Writers of Place. I have published books about my adventures abroad: Poland in Transition, UB03 (Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, in the year 2003), The Pigeons of Buchenau, and Ghosts of Abandoned Capacity. I have published a book of serious Bob Dylan criticism: Song of the North Country. I have published a memoir with a title referencing Martin Luther (Here I Stand) and a collection of essays scholarly and personal with a title referencing the Gospel writers: Crying in the Wilderness. I continue to fight the good fight, find hope in at least some of my students, await the day when the seventies generation retires and the eighties crowd—not as rambunctious as us sixties people, but conscious, in my experience, of all that ails us—rises to its moment of ascendancy.
And now, thanks to Marek Jedliński, this book has climbed onto the internet, beside Poland in Transition—free to all (in the best sixties tradition) at the click of a computer key. Like so much of the sixties, it’s now there for the taking . . . if you know where to look. In preparing A Generation in Motion for on-line publication, I trimmed photographs not taken by me and reduced the song lyrics to the lines I consider essential. In the print A Generation in Motion they were not complete anyway, and you can find complete lyrics of Bob Dylan, Beatles, Paul Simon songs on any number of web sites. And you can hear the performed songs on-line and find whole files of sixties pictures. As I write this, Marek and I plan a web site to celebrate the sixties and this book, with connections to appropriate sites. For the moment, I suggest bobdylan.com, paulsimon.com, beatleslyrics.org. You know how to search the internet. Good luck. Keep the faith. Move Furthur.
—Granite Falls, Minnesota, December 2017