Beginning to See the Light Form and Content

Ellen Willis

Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Ellen Willis’ choice of the title Beginning to See the Light to name a selected collection of her journalism from the late 1960’s to the early 1980’s has a double significance. First, the title is lifted from a rock song by one of her favorite groups, the Velvet Underground, thus signaling that her origins as a writer were in music criticism and that she has an abiding concern with the lessons she learned in that field. Second, there is the literal meaning of the title, which refers to the process of enlightenment that the writer undergoes as she brings her sensibility to bear on new subjects outside the cultural field, particularly on feminist and Jewish issues. Willis both learns from these issues and, laterally, uses them to tease out undeveloped perceptions that she had about popular culture. The book’s thematic shift from music to social concerns—these make up the two major parts of the book—parallel a meditation on history that juxtaposes the 1960’s and the 1970’s, analyzing how the latter demolished many of the assumptions of the former in a way that was tragic and yet enabling, in that it allowed for a reconstruction of some of the projects of the 1960’s on firmer footing.

The book has three parts. The first and second, as noted, focus on cultural and social concerns. The first contains such pieces as a review of rock icon Elvis Presley’s comeback concert and of various music festivals, assessment of the careers of rock...

(The entire section is 601 words.)