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Lipstick Traces

A Secret History of the 20th Century
by Greil Marcus

Written by art/rock critic and Sex Pistols super-groupie Greil Marcus, Lipstick Traces follows "a conversation of negation" through 20th Century avant garde art and popular culture. Marcus' basic thesis is that various political and art movements from dada to the situationists to the punks have offered a fairly clear and consistent critique of Western capitalist society. These groups have attempted to bring attention to this critique through acts of negation, rebellion, destruction and detournement. He argues that while there may not be a direct, historical lineage from one movement to the next, the spirit and strategies of these groups are almost identical.

Marcus uses several key events in pop cultural history, plus his own experiences (such as the last Sex Pistols concert) as threads that continuously weave in and out of an otherwise dry and redundant narrative. It's a bold experiment -- clumsy in some spots, brilliant and inspiring in others. The real strength of this book is in introducing these movements and ideas to a popular audience. Readers are given a tour of aberrant cultural history from the medieval heretics Saint-Just and Abiezer Coppe to the French avant garde and the punks of the 70's and 80's. And, there's lots of obscure artists, rock stars and mass murderers thrown in for good measure. Lipstick Traces' extensive bibliography had me busily book-hunting for about a year (yum!)

(G. Branwyn)




Lipstick Traces
Greil Marcus
Harvard Press
1989, 497 pgs., HB, $29.95

Graphic: photo of Johnny Rotten

Here is the TEXT POPUP for Lipstick Traces...

This book is about a single serpentine fact: late in 1976 a record called Anarchy in the U.K. was issued in London, and this event launched a transformation of pop music all over the world. Made by a four-man rock 'n' roll band called the Sex Pistols, and written by singer Johnny Rotten, the song distilled, in crudely poetic form, a critique of modern society once set out by a small group of Paris-based intellectuals.

The situationists meant to define a stance, not an ideology, because they saw all ideologies as alienations, transformations of subjectivity into objectivity, desire into a power that rendered the individual powerless.

The slightest familiarity with the history of the avant-garde makes it obvious that nothing is easier than the provocation of a riot by a putative art statement.

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