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Unconvincing attempt to link punk to Dadaism
on 14 February 2009
Perhaps the subtitle "A Secret History of the Twentieth Century" should have alerted me, but with the name Greil Marcus and a picture of Johnny Rotten on the cover, I presumed that this book was about music. Not so: taking punk as his starting point, Marcus spends the vast bulk of this book talking about Dadaism, Situationism and various other philosophical/political/cultural movements I had never heard of, citing similarities between them and 1970's punk, though not suggesting the punks had any awareness of these movements.
Lipstick Traces is a tough read, making little allowance for the fact that most people will never have heard of the subjects discussed, many of which are nebulous, ill-defined and self-contradictory. I still don't quite know what Dada means, if anything. Admittedly, I skimmed rather than scrutinized much of the book, as I did not develop any interest in the subjects and felt that Marcus was ascribing more importance to them than they actually possessed, and imposing a coherent ideology on what sometimes seemed little more than juvenile bluster and meaningless soundbites. It is characteristic of Marcus to over-intellectualize the subjects he writes on, but in other books when he is speaking of subjects I was already interested in this did not bother me, as he is a good writer; here, though, some of his theorizing seems quite fanciful and the entire concept of the book is questionable. What is to be gained by seeing Punk through the prism of situationism? Is there really any link, outside of the author's mind?
I cannot condemn this book as I did not fully understand it, however I would say that it definitely has very select appeal and will not necessarily appeal to fans of Marcus's other works.