Protest Literature

General policies

The Beinecke collects materials in a variety of genres and formats that document the rise of an international culture of protest and generational revolt that came to a climax in the the social unrest and upheavals of 1968. Novels, plays, political tracts, artist manifestos, broadsides, posters, underground journals, political comics, performance art, street ac-tions, rock concerts, “happenings,” and a wide variety of other ephemera, scandals, and protests left behind a vivid and colorful record of this convergence all across Europe—on both sides of the Iron Curtain (and indeed both sides of the Atlantic)—in the decades following the Second World War.

The genre heading ‘Protest Literature’ has been chosen to trace this distinctive blend of postwar literary, artistic, and political (or quasi- or even anti-political) experimentation across the various genres, formats, and countries in which the Beinecke is actively seeking to build a collection. Clearly the term applies equally well to other periods. The postwar culture of protest itself was in fact–initally at least—clearly grounded in similar creative experiments of the Modernist era, and the tradition of blending literature and art with protest is easily traced back to much earlier movements and eras. What is readily available for these more familiar areas of collection development is what is lacking, however, for the sundry manifestations of postwar cultural protest: a clearly-defined taxonomy of movements and figures sharing similar characteristics, which are all subsumed under one or more familiar umbrella terms (e.g. Modernism, Romanticism, Revolution). ‘Protest Literature’ will act as a place-holder until such time as scholarship provides us with a similar widely-accepted nomenclature for the period 1945-1989.

What was ‘Protest Literature,’ thus defined, protesting against? While causes were numerous and sundry—anti-imperialism, pacifism, racial equality, sexual liberation, gay and lesbian rights, organized labor, environmentalism, and so on—there was more coherence when it came to the broader picture. Behind these various movements a generalized critique of Western society and politics emerged, feeding and shaping the culture of protest and informing a distinctive style of expression that was shared by generations of writers, artists, and activists who defined themselves in opposition to the status quo. As the critique assumed clearer contours, the targets of attack likewise came into focus, albeit in very generic (and indeed globalizing) terms: Consumer capitalism, alienation, objectification, subjugation, oppression, “totalitarianism,” and “the establishment” became buzz words for a nightmarish vision of the West forged in the main out of the experience of fascism, the holocaust, the Second World War, and its aftermath.

Lettrism, Situationism, and several of other international avant-garde movements influenced both this generalized critique and its characteristic style of expression in powerful ways (see below). As noted above, the central figures of these movements in turn drew heavily from Modernist precedents that are well represented in the Beinecke’s holdings. The aesthetic as well as philosophical, and political vocabularies of Lettrism in particular emerged directly out of intense engagement with debates that had occupied Dadaist, Surrealist, and even Futurist circles, almost as if nothing had happened since the 1930s. Yet within a very few years, between 1945 and 1951, the entire vocabulary of Lettrism (and, following swiftly on its heels, Situationism) was geared toward a frontal assault on issues that were entirely foreign to the interwar era. And while much of this vocabulary clearly had a leftist—and specifically Marxist—provenance, the nightmarish vision of Western modernity that emerged with the culture of protest in the 1950s and 1960s was as critical of Soviet-style communism on the one hand as it was of capitalism and consumer culture on the other.

The emergence of this generational mindset, its culmination in the uprisings of 1968 (and 1977), and its further evolution in the decades before the collapse of the Iron Curtain is what Beinecke’s collection development for the postwar era is seeking to document under the heading ‘Protest Literature.’ QED.


Some examples of the protest literature that we collect:


Autonomism refers to a set of left-wing political and social movements and theories close to the socialist movement. Autonomism (autonomia) emerged in Italy in the 1960s from workerist (operaismo) communism. Later, post-Marxist and anarchist tendencies became significant after influence from the Situationists, the failure of the Italian far-left movements in the 1970s and the emergence of a number of important theorists including Antonio Negri, who had contributed to the 1969 founding of Potere Operaio Marxist group, Mario Tronti, Paolo Virno, etc. It influenced the German and Dutch Autonomen, the worldwide Social Center movement, and today is influential in Italy, France, the United States and some other English-speaking countries. It is also referred to as “autonomist Marxism”.


Lettrism is a French avant-garde movement, established in Paris in the mid-1940s by Romanian immigrant Isidore Isou. In a body of work totalling hundreds of volumes, Isou and the Lettrists have applied their theories to all areas of art and culture, most notably in poetry, film, painting and political theory. The movement has its theoretical roots in Dada and Surrealism. Isou viewed his fellow countryman, Tristan Tzara, as the greatest creator and rightful leader of the Dada movement, and dismissed most of the others as plagiarists and falsifiers. Among the Surrealists, André Breton was a significant influence, but Isou was dissatisfied by what he saw as the stagnation and theoretical bankruptcy of the movement as it stood in the 1940s.
In French the movement is called Lettrisme, from the French word for letter, arising from the fact that many of their early works centered around letters and other visual or spoken symbols. The Lettrists themselves prefer the spelling ‘Letterism’ for the Anglicised term, and this is the form that is used on those rare occasions when they produce or supervise English translations of their writings; however, ‘Lettrism’ is at least as common in English usage. The term, having been the original name that was first given to the group, has lingered as a blanket term to cover all of their activities, even as many of these have moved away from any connection to letters. But other names have also been introduced, either for the group as a whole or for its activities in specific domains, such as ‘the Isouian movement’, ‘youth uprising’, ‘hypergraphics’, ‘creatics’, ‘infinitesimal art’ and ‘excoördism’.
Some links to Lettrism:
Le Lettrisme

Movimento del ‘77

A movement in Italy in 1977.


Pataphysics is the French absurdist concept of a philosophy or science dedicated to studying what lies beyond the realm of metaphysics, intended as a parody of the methods and theories of modern science and often expressed in nonsensical language. It was invented by the writer Alfred Jarry, who defined it as “the science of imaginary solutions, which attaches to symbolically lineaments properties of the objects described by their virtuality.”


Situationism is premised on the social scientific insight that the naïve psychology—that is, the highly simplified, affirming, and widely held model for understanding human thinking and behavior—on which our laws and institutions are based is largely wrong. Situationists (including critical realists, behavioral realists, and related neo-realists) seek first to establish a view of the human animal that is as realistic as possible before turning to legal theory or policy. To do so, situationists rely on the insights of scientific disciplines devoted to understanding how humans make sense of their world—including social psychology, social cognition, cognitive neuroscience, and related disciplines—and the practices of institutions devoted to understanding, predicting, and influencing people’s conduct—particularly market practices.
Situationism is the ideology of the Situationist International (SI), a small group of international political and artistic agitators with roots in Marxism, Lettrism and the early 20th century European artistic and political avant-gardes. Formed in 1957, the SI was active in Europe through the 1960s and aspired to major social and political transformations. In the 1960s it split into a number of different groups, including the Situationist Bauhaus, the Antinational and the Second Situationist International. The first SI disbanded in 1972. For more information, see Situationist International Online.

Genre and Subject Tracings

General | Specific Movements | Other headings

General tracings

Always use the broad genre term “ Protest literature” for all types of protest literature; provide additional genre terms and LC subject headings for more specific movements when applicable. Local subject heading and genre term proposals may be submitted to LC or RBMS Controlled Vocabularies Editorial Group for approval. Always provide a 752 Hierarchical Place Name for the place of publication (see: Hierarchical Place Names for more information.

655   7 ‡a Protest literature. ‡2 rbmscv
752     ‡a Italy ‡d Milan.

Specific Movements

Use the local genre term Autonomist literature. In addition, use the local subject heading Autonomism, subdivided by country, for works about the movement.

655   7 ‡a Protest literature. ‡2 rbmscv
655   7 ‡a Autonomist literature. ‡2 local
690   4 ‡a Autonomism ‡z Italy.
752     ‡a Italy ‡d Milan.

Use the local genre term Lettrist literature. In addition, use the subject heading Lettrism, for works about the movement.

650   0 ‡a Lettrism ‡z France.
655   7 ‡a Protest literature. ‡2 rbmscv
655   7 ‡a Lettrist literature. ‡2 local
752     ‡a France ‡d Paris.

Movimento del ‘77
Use the local genre term Movimento del ‘77 literature. In addition, use the local subject heading Movimento del ‘77 for works about the movement.

655   7 ‡a Protest literature. ‡2 rbmscv
655   7 ‡a Movimento del ‘77 literature. ‡2 local
690   4 ‡a Movimento del ‘77.
752     ‡a Italy ‡d Milan.

Use the genre term Pataphysical literature. In addition, use the subject heading Pataphysics for works about the movement. Generally, the broader term Protest literature is not used.

650   0 ‡a Pataphysics.
655   7 ‡a Pataphysical literature. ‡2 rbmscv
752     ‡a France ‡d Paris.

Use the local genre term Situationist literature. In addition, use the local subject heading Situationism, subdivided by country and date of publication, for works about the movement.

655   7 ‡a Protest literature. ‡2 rbmscv
655   7 ‡a Situationist literature. ‡2 local
690   4 ‡a Situationism ‡z England ‡y 1978.
752     ‡a England ‡d London.

Other headings

Several subjects and genre headings have been used for the various movements. Here are some of them:



  • ‡x Social conditions
  • ‡x Politics and government
  • ‡x Politics and government ‡v Caricatures and cartoons
  • ‡x Social life and customs
  • ‡x Intellectual life
  • ‡x Economic conditions


New Left

  • Works on the radical leftist movement, active especially during the 1960’s and 1970’s, composed of diverse groups and political tendencies but united in its demand for major changes in the socio-economic-political system

Protest literature

Protest movements

Protest songs


Red Brigades


Sexual liberation

Social change

Social conflict

Sexual freedom

Social psychology

Student movements

Students ‡z [Geographic area] ‡x Political activity

Genre terms

Protest literature. ‡2 rbmscv

Comics (Graphic works) ‡2 lcgft

Political cartoons. ‡2 lcgft

Student protest literature. ‡2 rbmscv

Underground comics. ‡2 lcgft

Underground periodicals. [code 655_0]

Underground newspapers. [code 655_0]

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