The Essential Ellen Willis (2014)

“… The Who is everything about the ’60s that we now like to repudiate as laughably naïve — everything about the ’60s that inspired [Ellen] Willis, a Bronx-born, Queens-raised Barnard grad, to leave her first marriage, become a writer and fight for a sexual revolution. The Who thrilled her because, as she wrote in 1969 (the same year she formed, with Shulamith Firestone, the radical feminist group Redstockings), ‘they are no longer kids, but they have not forgotten.’ The Essential Ellen Willis, which gathers 40 years of her work, carries the sound of a feminist who never forgot the ideals of the ’60s, and who never stopped arguing for what those years gave her and others. … The collection is edited by Willis’s daughter, Nona Willis Aronowitz, and divided by decade; it begins with a 1969 essay on Willis’s awakening to feminism and concludes with excerpts from an unfinished book exploring the ‘cultural unconscious in American politics.’ In between, there is relentlessly rigorous thinking on Janis Joplin, Bell Hooks, child care, Bill Clinton, ‘The Sopranos,’ and Sept. 11. To emphasize Willis’s continuing importance, her daughter, who was born in 1984, chose ‘Willis-like’ writers of her own generation — Ann Friedman, Irin Carmon, Spencer Ackerman, Cord Jefferson, and Sara Marcus — to contribute prefaces for each decade. … But their prefaces are nearly indistinguishable from one another in sentiment and tone, and there’s a striking difference between those pages and the penetrative depth of Willis’s thinking — the result of a painstakingly slow writing process and scrupulous self-questioning that gave her work moral and intellectual authority. That disparity may lead one to wonder if such thinking is even possible at a time when discourse is shaped by the Internet, which demands self-congratulatory clique-building and fresh outrage every hour on the hour. No one sounded like Willis then, and no one sounds like her now: wry, playful, humble, genuinely searching, intellectually formidable. Though Willis admitted she had an addiction to being right, that didn’t mean she had an addiction to being correct. She couldn’t quite get with the left’s reflexive anti-Americanism and its preoccupation with postmodern theories that emphasized difference, which kept the left unhelpfully divided against itself. Nor was she vehemently anticapitalist; consumerism provided a little power and pleasure in a culture that didn’t give anyone much of either. …”
NY Times: Radical Inquiry
The Essential Ellen Willis, Today: “Courage to face the awful truth”
Ellen Willis’s Reply

About 1960s: Days of Rage

Bill Davis - 1960s: Days of Rage
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