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Diary in the Desert: Accounts of Life in a Commune


Both during and after the height of the counterculture in the 1960s and 1970s, books, poetry and articles detailing theories, motivations and behaviors of the movement were prominent. These accounts -- first hand and from third parties -- paint pictures of the culture being built. These accounts were perhaps even more important than generic descriptions of life on a commune. Although inherently biased towards the writer's sentiments and values, these diaries of the desert offer a more personal glimpse into how communards were constructing their society and how the outside world viewed them. Regardless of bias, these are essential tools for viewing intentional communities of the counterculture. In fact, it is sometimes that very bias that provides us with the best and most comprehensive study of how people view themselves and how they formulate their memories, opinions and actions. 

During the 1960s and 1970s many firsthand accounts of life began to come out of the counterculture. Some of these notable works included Be Here Now, Hippie, The Psychadelic Experience, The Hog Farm Family and Friends, Scrapbook of Taos Hippie (seen above left) and We are the People Our Parents Warned Us About. These non-fiction works were more numerous and, in many ways, much more informative than other styles. However, novels and poetry were also very popular and offer more unique insights into life on a commune. These more fluid works both came out of the counterculture and inspired other aspects of it. These included the poems of Allen Ginsburg, for example, and novels such as The Drifters, Memoirs of a Beatnik, and On the Road. Such first hand accounts did exist, of course, next to the accounts of the outsider. Reporters and followers of the movement published articles and reports consistently throughout the era, offering another perspective on the unique lifestyles of the communards in America. These works, regardless of the medium, offer people a way to contextualize and quantify the culture of the commune as discussed previously in the exhibit. The vast array of literature that came out of this intentional living is indeed representative of the hippie appreciation for art and a life revolved around beauty and self-knowledge rather than mass production and consumerism. 

Even after the passion and popularity of the movement subsided, these journals and memoirs continued to be published. The high point for the commune is over; the societies the hippies built and the material culture left behind cannot be changed. However, accounts of what once was may continue to be created and shared as long as people are around to pass them on. This explains the popularity of the 2004 publication New Buffalo: Journals from a Taos Commune. Arthur Kopecky's book shares with readers first hand accounts of daily life in the commune (as recorded at the time) with the added social perspective of being published 30 years later. This account exists in a large population of other recent works including more novels, works of nonfiction and even documentaries. 

Diary in the Desert: Accounts of Life in a Commune