I don’t try to make a firm definition of “counterculture.” The term is too often used as a marketing device. I’m more interested in the actual sociology of it and its political implications. — Gary Snyder
Snyder said the Southwest was particularly attractive to those exploring lifestyles counter to the social norms because of its history of spirituality and living with the land rather than exploiting it. “There is a long and ancient strain of alternative thinking in the Southwest that reaches to deep parts of Native America. And the landscape. Georgia O’Keeffe was deeply touched by it. And it’s not just the landscape, but the abuse of it.” He doesn’t limit the idea of counterculture to a particular period in the 1960s and ’70s, but includes its precursors, citing author Jaime de Angulo and arts patron Mabel Dodge Luhan, who brought D. H. Lawrence to New Mexico, among others. “I think it could be traced all the way back to Cabeza de Vaca when he came walking in from Texas back in the 1500s.” The political counterculture of the ’60s, he said, “starts with the left wing in America in the 1930s and then takes off in a wide range of divergences and aesthetics in lifestyle and political and spiritual differences.” He sees differences in the counterculture movements on the West Coast and in the Southwest. “People on the coast smoked marijuana before they had peyote. In the Southwest, they had peyote long before they had marijuana. Also wealth. There was money on the Coast. New Mexico was one of the poorest states.”
The counterculture in New Mexico is largely remembered for its communes such as the New Buffalo community near Taos. Snyder, who has lived off the grid for decades along the Yuba River in California, spent time living communally when in Japan, but he is still best known as an individualist rather than the commune type. “Being in counterculture territory allows for individual expression of our lives. I never put a lot of hope in these things, having seen too much of the shortfalls of people in American culture.” Is it time for the counterculture to rise again? “It’s becoming more obvious that monopoly capitalism is a drag on the environment. And we now have a political class that runs more like a dictatorship. We have to deal with that. But I don’t know what direction it will take."
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