rebellion (re-bel’yen), n. 1. an act or state of armed open resistance to authority, government, etc. 2. a defiance of or opposition to any control. 3. a rebelling.

SYN.—revolt stresses a casting off of allegiance or refusal to submit to established authority (the revolt of the angels led by Lucifer)

rebel (reb’l); n., a person who openly resists authority or opposes any control.

(Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language, The World PublishingCompany, Cleveland and New York, 1959)


Family was a prison and now you think you’re free, away from home for the first time and living in a perilous decade of War, Solidarity and Love. You’re a different person from the one you were a few years before when teachers fed you “The Red Badge of Courage”, “The Great Gatsby” and Stephen Crane’s “The Open Boat” (American Classics), guiding you toward the great green light of literary symbolism. History is fermenting and the summer cities blaze up, Watts and Philly and east Oakland. Ivy League Elites are bombing North Vietnam back to the Stone Age while TV dotes on Body Counts and Pacification Projects. Millions of pounds of high explosives fall on the docks, canals and streets of Hanoi as American jets pour napalm and Agent Orange on peasant villages, lush green jungles, and rice paddies. Little Asian girls flee and shed burning skin. You draw 69 in the Draft Lottery. Many of your pals are luckier. Two hundred yards from your hovel in a basement near campus, the Student Union is on fire and people you know are harassing the police with fireworks and flashlight signals, setting small blazes here and there to keep them guessing. You help build barricades to bar the National Guard. There is occasional gunfire here and there, and you throw huge Curfew Parties, turn out the lights, drop Purple Haze and listen to Jimmy Hendrix, Iron Butterfly and The Beatles. Girls come and go. Two nurses live upstairs and they take turns coming down late at night. Two pals are in the business, running hash, opium and LSD coast to coast. Sometimes they crash at your pad, sleeping in the bathtub, wearing their paranoia like an orange prison jump suit. You fall in love a little with opium, you make love with your sweetheart’s best friend, and with her you drop Mescalin under a million or so flashing, interconnected stars. Friends rehearse their dramatic monologues for the Draft Board. You do crazy, dangerous and illegal things. Everybody wants to live outside the law, like Dylan. In August 1968, you head to Chicago for the Democratic National Convention, expecting a floorshow. Instead, hundreds of skinhead Chicago Police highjack Wednesday afternoon in Grant Park, descending from their buses on the viaduct to smash skulls and haul handcuffed, injured kids off to jail in dark fortified vans. Blood runs in the gutters. Outside the Hilton you see Peter, Paul and Mary. A Lincoln Towncar containing two Japanese journalists crashes into an iron El support. One journalist is thrown through the windshield at your feet. You wander away finally and wait for a bus in some neighborhood you don’t know. Ten Black guys approach just when the bus arrives and you scurry aboard as the bus driver guns it. The Blacks pepper the bus with rocks and bottles, breaking out the back window. The next night, Eugene McCarthy emerges from the Hilton alone, strolls across Michigan Avenue, and gives a short, brave speech to fifty or sixty bloodied kids. We raise our fists and shout, “Power to the people.” Back at college you drink a lot of wine and buy an Epiphone guitar and learn some songs. Your father is dying. Stray cats adopt you and you name one “Zarathustra”. You have many, many friends, and you think you’ll always have many, many friends. You believe that Human Life has turned the corner into a new age, an Age of Aquarius. You feel that love will come easily, that money will never be a problem, that your Generation will transcend consumerism. Love, love, love. Girls become young women. You grow your hair long and adopt a working-class hero pose in blue shirt and dark glasses, like John. Experience has taught you that life is meaningless and that you’ll live forever as an immortal.

Slowly books emerge from the background chaos of sex, nihilist rhetoric, and drugs. You read furiously and voraciously, like a demented person, like someone dying of thirst. You’re drawn to Hesse, like everybody else. You identify with Nick Adams. Late at night, high on pot, you read Hegel, Nietzsche, Camus, Sartre, Borges and Genet. Pretty soon your apartment is littered with books, records and musical instruments. You build the standard bookshelves of scavenged pine boards and bricks.   Summers you spend hitching around Europe or studying Plato in a hammock out back under the laden, swaying elms.

Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis” lands on your doorstep. You read it in its original German. Gregor Samsa awakes one day from fitful dreams to find himself transformed into a vermin. What? You read “The Trial” and “The Castle” and “The Judgment”. Nobody has a hold on you. You’re on your own, like a Rolling Stone. The War is over, they say. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. Nixon is at the end of the tunnel. Altamont is at the end of the tunnel.

You know how it begins:

Aujourd’hui mama nest morte…

            My mother died today.

            Today, maman died. 

New English translation (“The Stranger”, Modern Library version)


Maman died today. Or yesterday maybe, I don’t know. I got the telegram from the home: ‘Mother deceased. Funeral tomorrow. Faithfully yours.’ That doesn’t mean anything. Maybe it was yesterday.

Books arrive as needed. Perhaps unconsciously we seek them out. God puts them in our hands. They are part of the air we breathe. In this case, the book opens a Pandora’s box of ideas. A stench of mortality fills the room.

For the third time I’ve refused to see the chaplain. I don’t have anything to say to him; I don’t feel like talking, and I’ll be seeing him soon enough as it is. All I care about right now is escaping the machinery of justice, seeing if there’s any way out of the inevitable. They’ve put me in a different cell. From this one, when I’m stretched out on my bunk, I see the sky and that’s all I see. I spend my days watching how the dwindling of color turns day into night. Lying here, I put my hands behind my head and wait. I can’t count the times I’ve wondered if there have ever been any instances of condemned men escaping the relentless machinery, disappearing before the execution or breaking through the cordon of police.

The decade draws to its horrid close. The War drags on. Kafka and Camus go you one better. Life isn’t meaningless but worse, absurd. In the words of the great critic George Steiner: 

As the Chaplain pronounces, in the most desolate of mockeries (but is it that?): “The Court wants nothing from you. It receives you when you come and it dismisses you when you go.” The formula comes deliberately close to being a definition of human life, of the freedom to be culpable which is that of fallen man. Who but Kafka could have put it in so few words? Or known himself condemned by being inspired enough to do so?

(From: The Trial by Franz Kafka, Schocken Books, Introduction by George Steiner 1992)

You want to rebel? says the World. You want to resist Authority? You think Authenticity and Freedom are possible?

I’ll show you the Clock and the Court, says the World. Then you will be dismissed.