Excerpts & Interviews

Scan 28The Sixties by Jenny Diski, published in 2009 in the BIG IDEAS/small books series by Picador, New York

In my research for this website, I keep referring to Jenny Diski’s book The Sixties. I find her writing honest, witty, and insightful.

Born in 1947, Diski lived a counter-culture life in Sixties London: taking drugs, living in communes, protesting, teaching at progressive schools, and spending time in mental hospitals.

As readers and subscribers of this website have seen, there was much about the early 60’s that carried over from the 50’s in the lives of English youth. Fashion and music may have changed for teenagers, but the “getting on with it” attitude was still the norm. Diski herself says that her drug-taking cohorts were not the majority. “Most people took the world as it was offered to them.” She didn’t.

“. . .most people aren’t actively engaged in what any given era is later characterized by. What may have been different by 1967 was how easy it was to opt out of the world of adults and yet find ready-made social networks to support our dissent. That the majority chose not to, made them, in our eyes, willfully blind. The world was in fact going on as it always had, but it seemed to me and the people I knew, that it had no idea what it was in for.”

What was the world in for?

twiggyyoungIn her more personal confessions, she writes of her worries about hair, weight, and fashion during this youth and self oriented decade. But even these self-centered absorptions seem to have served as rebel tactics by the young against the old. One of Diski’s insights that struck me is how the government and parental authorities perhaps unknowingly contributed to the “youth rebellion.”

“Unconsciously, as it might have been, the welfare system that the newly elected government brought in after the war in order to ensure a fair and just society was also the way in which the older generation were to indulge their post-war children.”

There were jobs or unemployment benefits that provided young people with spending money (especially if they were still living at home) and student grants that provided university students with money to live on. The young could finance a style or “look,” spend Saturday nights at clubs, buy the latest Beatles or Stones EP, or if more daring, the current International Times.

Diski reflects on how the “underground” culture of the latter part of the decade rose above ground. Drugs, communal living, anti-government and nuclear arms protests, demands for LBGT and women’s rights all contributed to changes in attitude. But did the Sixties have a profound impact on political and economic structures?

Diski’s The Sixties is a candid recollection of her life in the 60’s and an intelligent post-mortem of the decade.