Stewart Home's Reviews > Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century

Lipstick Traces by Greil Marcus
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's review
Dec 26, 11

Read in March, 1989


The emphasis Marcus places upon personalities ultimately nullifies any sense of individuality which his subjects might possess. The links drawn between free spirit heretics and members of the Lettriste, Situationist and PUNK movements, are forged without acknowledgement of the fact that the former lived in feudal communities while the latter were attempting to effect change within industrialised societies. Since the mental sets and social networks of individuals living under capitalism are fundamentally different to those shared by members of a feudal community, comparisons between the two are specious.

The device used to link these diverse individuals and movements is the metaphor of the medium; Johnny Rotten is a passive creator whose body is taken over by what Marcus describes as 'the voice,' but which we might just as well call the muse, or God – because it's a higher authority. In his description of the last Sex Pistols concert, Marcus portrays Johnny Rotten as a puppet whose actions are controlled by an occult force:

"As in other moments on the same stage on the same night, as in so many moments on the singles the Sex Pistols put out over the previous year, he seemed not to know what he was saying. He seemed not to be himself, whoever that was, once more he was less singing a song than being sung by it."

With the concept of 'the voice,' a hidden authority which (dis)organises the world, Marcus abandons any need for a rational explanation of the events he describes. Such a mode of discourse has more in common with the simple faith of a priest, than the considered reflections of a critic or historian; it is a creed which, with its refusal of difference, does a gross disservice both to the post-war avant-garde and the PUNK music Marcus claims to love.

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