As its title implies, this book reflects in varying ways the experiences and attitudes of one who came of age in the first half of that now mythical decade, the 1960s. In an unusual combination of history, criticism, and autobiography, one of our best literary and cultural critics explores life and death in the late twentieth century and some of the older worlds that made American culture what it is today.
Sixties survivors, as Christopher Clausen points out, do not necessarily hold more beliefs or tastes in common than any other group. Nevertheless they may be more likely than most people born earlier or later to consider the relations between public and private life—the political and the personal—a problem, sometimes even an unresolvable problem. While this is not primarily a book about the 1960s, most of it occupies the noisy crossroads where public worlds intersect the private, mysterious lives of individuals and families, where ordinary people pursue their own destinies and desires while submitting consciously or unconsciously to the pressures of the public sphere—a set of demands or aspirations common to people in a particular time and place.
In modern America, where most of these essays are set, any individual is likely to live in several worlds at any given moment, as well as to pass through several more over a lifetime. Because of rapid transitions in public life and culture while they were still at an impressionable age, members of the “Kennedy generation” became almost morbidly conscious of the persistence of the past in the present. The often unpredictable effect on individual lives of historical forces is the main subject of Clausen's fascinating account.