Revolution for the Hell of It

by Abbie Hoffman
(1967)
   Only abbie hoffman would open a Beat/jazz/ hip/revolutionary/yippie masterpiece like Revolution for the Hell of It with a letter supposedly from his mother. It is dated November 1, 1967, and in it Mrs. Hoffman, real or imagined, frets over Time magazine’s coverage of Abbie’s latest plans to levitate the Pentagon. As his “mother” chides him for his irresponsible hippie ways (he is even thinking about moving to California!), we get the full blast of Time’s bewilderment at Abbie’s application for a permit to raise the Pentagon 30 feet off the ground by surrounding it and chanting, no doubt while under the influence of illegal drugs. Abbie Hoffman’s Revolution for the Hell of It thus blasts its way into literary history as a streamof-consciousness riff on a society that is ravaged by war and a revolutionary movement that is led by stoned youngsters with absolutely no idea what they were doing.
   After those words from Mrs. Hoffman, Abbie quotes the legendary revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara as telling us that “In Revolution, one wins or dies.” Then he presents us with a televison commercial touting Dash as a “revolution” in cleansing powder.
   The intense media/political schizophrenia of the 1960s is thus epitomized and skewered as its leading street psychotherapist tears off on an introductory rant.
   As a literary pioneer, Hoffman is alternatively coherent and babbling, brilliant and baffled. “There is no way to run a revolution,” he says, and then he repeats “do your thing” six times. He writes: “There are no rules, only images. Only a System has boundaries. Eichmann lived by rules.”
   It is tempting to call the stream-of-consciousness rant that opens Revolution for the Hell of It a Beat brand of anarchism, but Hoffman would have rejected that; he wrote repeatedly that “isms are wasms.”
   Instead the book relies on mantralike allen ginsbergian chants that stem from a deep faith in the one thing Hoffman trusts: the inner human spirit.
   “TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS. TRUST. TRUST. TRUST . . .” is repeated many times. After he finishes his opening rant, Hoffman fills Revolution for the Hell of It with scraps of press releases, sectarian arguments, logistical instructions for getting to Chicago for the infamous 1968 Democratic Convention, acid-based definitions of Yippie, and a crazed account of how he kicked in Sergeant Fink’s trophy case to get himself arrested in solidarity with “spades” who were being harassed on the Lower East Side.
   Revolution for the Hell of It becomes a zen koan as Abbie answers a reporter’s question “Is that a club?” by answering that it is “a part of a tree. It symbolizes my love for nature.” Today Revolution for the Hell of It can seem dated, so deeply is it rooted in its time, but it bridges the ages in its hectic, eclectic style and never shies from the universal, transcendent issues of war, love, and existence. As a condensation/ concentration of the mindset of an astonishing era, Revolution for the Hell of It will be around for a long, long time.
   Harvey Wasserman

Encyclopedia of Beat Literature. . 2014.

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