Whole Earth Generation
Malcolm Harris, in his review of John Markoff Whole Earth: The Many Lives of Stewart Brandoverlooks the vital cultural influence of Whole Earth Catalog during the last decades of the 20th century [“The Zen Playboy,” June 27/July 4]. Inspired by the most iconic photograph in history – Apollo 8 astronaut William Anders’ shot of Earth from space – Brand envisioned a publication in 1968 that would celebrate this stunning new holistic perspective of our planet and contain information, resources and tools that encourage and empower people to take charge of their own lives.
In what reads like a sordid gossip column, Harris’s review dismisses the Whole Earth Catalog as a unique indulgence sparked by Brand’s love of shopping, while ignoring the profound impact it had on a generation of young people (myself included). There was no Internet in the 1960s, and the Catalog has responded to a growing thirst for information, giving us access to both macro and micro perspectives. Steve Jobs called it the prototype paperback for Google.
the original Catalog would spawn a sequence of 33 editions over the next 30 years, as well as over 40 issues of its sister journal, The quarterly CoEvolution. The monumental contribution of this extraordinary body of work, all catalyzed by Brand, goes well beyond Harris’ hodgepodge of mean judgments.
The writer is a musician and bandleader and composer who pioneered the genre known as Earth music.
As someone who just finished reading John Markoff’s biography of Stewart Brand, Malcolm Harris’ review struck me as particularly uncharitable toward its subject matter. Brand is one of the few people who have changed the course of my life, introducing me to new ways of thinking, whether by publishing the Whole Earth Catalog (which brought me to CalArts in the 70s) or The Media Labwhich led us, Louis Rossetto and me, to create Wired 90s review.
There’s worse than choosing to be a wide-eyed optimist. It’s so easy to criticize from afar. Harris’ mercantile focus will never understand the West Coast’s yearning for new possibilities. Naive? Absolutely. And yet, the future continues to be built here.
Maier and McCarthyism
Re “Candids”, by Sarah Jaffe [June 13/20]: It seems to me that the discussion of Vivian Maier and her work can also be situated in the history of photography. Maier was surely aware of the excellent work of the Photo League in New York, an organization which from at least 1936 produced “working-class photography” until closing its doors in 1951 following accusations of to be “un-American”. Self-protection, at that time, could certainly have caused Maier to publicly avoid the communist left and preserve his ability to continue working and photographing without a federal ban.