The Public Interest

Bohemian rhapsody

Lauren Weiner

Spring 1996

THE aim of Utopia and Dissent: Art, Poetry, and Politics in California† is to demonstrate “how and why the concerns of the arts communities came to enter into the general culture.” Richard Cándida Smith, assistant professor of history at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, provides miniature critical biographies of beat poets, postsurrealist painters, and a host of other West Coast founders of the counterculture who were supposedly an “important source for socially oppositional ideas.” I say supposedly only because it is often asserted in the book that the avant-garde in California had a powerful effect upon everyman, but we scarcely get any examples of this emulation let alone an explanation of its cause.

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