Yesterday’s radicalism fades in unaccountable ways into today’s reaction, and what the revolutionaries intended to build may turn out the precise reverse. ( Hannah Arendt )
What was new with the 60′s counter-culture was the sheer mass character of the movement. What happened was that while coteries of alienated artists and intellectuals have been around almost forever, there was now a mass community of alienated non-artists and non-intellectuals. it is as if the true artists and intellectuals were the priesthood, the perfecti of the new dispensation, and the rest of the hip and alienated mass merely there to cultivate the mood, the phenomenon and the sensation without the commitment to create. There was a growing divide between consciousness and creation.
At the political level, an enormous apathy became the default setting. The hysterically believing and ardent communist and fascist masses seemed to have disappeared to be replaced by ideologies of attitude, which in its most basic expression was an ominous flight from mind, reason and responsibility. Among the practitioners of the new arts and mores, and their appreciative and non-practicing audiences as well, was an obvious impatience with rationality and a search for what psychologists termed “pure effect”"; sensation without much attention to the substance that lies beneath. In the arts the mood was that of rejection and hunger for feeling.
From the outset, the 60′s revolutionary scene gave off unpleasant whiffs of deja-vu; something seen before in which the final outcome was less than satisfactory. In Milan in 1910, the Futurists in the cafes were scrawling manifestos calling for contempt against all forms of imitaion, glorification of originality and rebellion against the tyranny of harmony and good taste. A clean sweep of civilzations accumulations; a Spring cleaning based on Bakunin’s phrase,”the desire to destroy is a desire to create”.
In Zurich in 1916 at the Cabaret Voltaire with its noise, music, verse and anti-art. Duchamp painted a mustache on the “Mona Lisa” and displays as a ready made art object a urinal turned topsy turvy. Picabia designs absurd machines without function to mock technology and Schwitters made collages of garbage picked up in the streets. The sixties artists could not do it as well with the proliferation of Brillo boxes exalted to the stature of solitary aesthetic objects and comic strip banalities enlarged beyond life in order to confront the reader with their state of emptiness.
The psychedelic art was not really new either, though the biochemical drug technology to make LSD was. Max Ernst and Picasso said most of it in the twenties with the hot colors juxtaposed with poison greens and the swirling, crypto-sexual imagery. Of central imporatnace however was the role of LSD which served as the binder, and catalyst in creating an army of passive receptors to a new-old recycled version of earlier dogma now raised through hallucinogenics:
“The LSD Connection begins with one William “Billy” Mellon Hitchcock. Hitchcock was a graduate of the University of Vienna and a scion of the millionaire Mellon banking family of Pittsburgh. In 1963, when Timothy Leary was thrown out of Harvard, Hitchcock rented a 55-room mansion in Millbrook, New York where the entire Leary Huxley circle of initiates was housed until its later move back to California. …Hitchcock was also a broker for the Lansky syndicate and for the Fiduciary Trust Co., Nassau, Grand Bahamas …In 1967, Dr. Richard Alpert put Hitchcock in contact with Augustus Owsley Stanley III. As Owsley’s agent, Hitchcock retained the law firm of Rabinowitz, Boudin and Standard to conduct a feasibility study of several Caribbean countries to determine the best location for the production and distribution of LSD and hashish….During this period, Hitchcock joined Leary and his circle in California. Leary had established an LSD cult called the Brother hood of Eternal Love and several front companies, including Mystics Art World, Inc. of Laguna Beach, California. These California-based entities ran lucrative trafficking in Mexican marijuana and LSD brought in from Switzerland and Britain. The British connection had been established directly by Hitchcock, who contracted the Charles Bruce chemical firm to import large quantities of the chemical components of LSD.” ( Extracts from Dope Inc. )