Tools of Transformation: Appropriate Technology in U.S. Countercultural Literature

  • Peter Mortensen Aarhus University, Denmark


This essay takes its cue from second-wave ecocriticism and from recent scholarly interest in the “appropriate technology” movement that evolved during the 1960s and 1970s in California and elsewhere. “Appropriate technology” (or AT) refers to a loosely-knit group of writers, engineers and designers active in the years around 1970, and more generally to the counterculture’s promotion, development and application of technologies that were small-scale, low-cost, user-friendly, human-empowering and environmentally sound. Focusing on two roughly contemporary but now largely forgotten American texts Sidney Goldfarb’s lyric poem “Solar-Heated-Rhombic-Dodecahedron” (1969) and Gurney Norman’s novel Divine Right’s Trip (1971)—I consider how “hip” literary writers contributed to eco-technological discourse and argue for the 1960s counterculture’s relevance to present-day ecological concerns. Goldfarb’s and Norman’s texts interest me because they conceptualize iconic 1960s technologies—especially the Buckminster Fuller-inspired geodesic dome and the Volkswagen van—not as inherently alienating machines but as tools of profound individual, social and environmental transformation. Synthesizing antimodernist back-to-nature desires with modernist enthusiasm for (certain kinds of) machinery, these texts adumbrate a humanity- and modernity-centered post-wilderness model of environmentalism that resonates with the dilemmas that we face in our increasingly resource-impoverished, rapidly warming and densely populated world.