Señor Ernesto de la Cruz, the patriarchal musician-god worshiped by the protagonist in the Disney-Pixar film Coco (2017) says, “Never underestimate the power of music.” The film’s secretive, cunning protagonist Miguel abandons his matriarchal, tradition-obsessed shoemaker family in order to pursue his dream of becoming a musician, only to then embark on a trippy, out-of-body journey through a magical-realist alternate-modernity Mexico among the souls of his dead ancestors in the company of spirit-creatures and a dog named Dante. To resolve the contradiction between its content and its form as animated digital spectacle, the film must imagine a distinction between moral and immoral action: valid artistic aspiration and talent cultivation on the one hand, and murderous, deceitful capitalist fame-chasing on the other. Spirit-animals and ancestors will come to our rescue, the film suggests, and justice will triumph, the false patriarch-god crushed beneath the weight of a bell — this latter symbol resonating, of course, in ways both sacred and profane. Liberty Bell, Mission Bell, Taco Bell: all are potential referents, threads of sense woven into the film’s system of meaning.
A course begins to take shape before my eyes. Are there works of literature, I wonder, that can be usefully classified as examples of “hippie modernism”? Works by the Beats, certainly, and the Black Mountain poets. Thomas Pynchon. Richard Brautigan. Philip K. Dick. Utopian science-fiction writers of the 60s and 70s: Marge Piercy, Samuel R. Delany, Ernest Callenbach, Ursula K. Le Guin. If only there was a way to teach this material in conjunction with other media. My interests are always broader than the merely literary. Consciousness set loose explores countless ontological realms, digital abstractions accessed through screens and hashtags. I’ve somehow only just now discovered the manifold psychedelic riches of Adult Swim’s anthology series Off the Air. What’s the value of hippie modernist literature when one can feast one’s eyes on Hiraoka Masanobu’s “Land”?