Entrapments of Modernity

Entrapments of Modernity

Don’t Think, Smile:
Notes on a Decade of Denial
by Ellen Willis
Beacon Press 192 pp $24

For thirty years, in a wide arc from the Village Voice and Social Text to the New Yorker and Mirabella, Ellen Willis has been the sixties’ best exponent and a savvy interpreter of American politics and culture. Her output thus far is small—two sterling collections, Beginning to See the Light (1981) and No More Nice Girls (1992)—so one eagerly welcomes her new book (notwithstanding the false note struck by its title, which insinuates cluelessness on the other side —always a polemical dud move).

What do the sixties have to say to the nineties? In essays on crime, race, censorship, globalization, Bosnia, the Republican ascendancy, the culture of austerity, Zippergate, and right wing libertarianism, Willis advocates left wing libertarianism. The left should contend for the maximum of individual development and expression; and what it has to contend against are external constraints imposed by gross economic inequality and internal ones arising from the inculcation early in life of a rigid, self denying morality.