Spontaneity, Immediacy, and Existence

“Hippies, Communitas, and the Powers of the Weak”

In modern Western society, the values of communitas are strikingly present in the literature and behavior of what came to be known as the ‘beat generation,’ who were succeeded by the ‘hippies,’ who, in turn, have a junior division known as the ‘teeny-boppers.’ These are the ‘cool’ members of the adolescent and young-adult categories — which do not have the advantages of national rites of passage — who ‘opt out’ of the status-bound social order and acquire the stigmata of the lowly, dressing like ‘bums,’ itinerant in their habits, ‘folk’ in their musical tastes, and menial in the casual employment they undertake. They stress personal relationships rather than social obligations, and regard sexuality as a polymorphic instrument of immediate communitas rather than as a basis for an enduring structured social tie. The poet Allen Ginsberg is particularly eloquent about the function of sexual freedom. The ‘sacred’ properties often assigned to communitas are not lacking here, either: this can be seen in their frequent use of religious terms, such as ‘saint’ and ‘angel,’ to describe their congeners and in their interest in Zen Buddhism. The Zen formulation ‘all is one, one is none, none is all’ well expresses the global, unstructured character earlier applied to communitas. The hippie emphasis on spontaneity, immediacy, and ‘existence’ throws into relief one of the senses in which communitas contrasts with structure. Communitas is of the now; structure is rooted in the past and extends into the future through language, law, and custom.

from The Ritual Process (1969) by Victor Turner


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