Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Lipstick Traces

Reading Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the 20th Century (recommended by Kathleen McConnell), I am drawn to Greil Marcus's kaleidoscopic collision of paths and passageways, a détournement that conveys the confidence of that mythical cyberpunk author who powers a jet fighter straight toward the ground. Will he pull out in time?

Pregnant pauses, ragged references, and joyful noises sprawl through a narrative that starts with the Sex Pistols' "Anarchy in the UK" and leads to multiple pasts and futures, each unified in the celebration/critique of modernity, "a voice of teeth ground down to points." Some big dots receive requisite name-checks -- Guy Debord, Henri Lefebvre, Hugo Ball and the dadaists, right alongside Johnny Rotten, Jonathan Richman, and Michael Jackson (with surprisingly good cause). Other ideas are more fleeting, like early-morning highway ghosts, but no less potent.

Modern spectacle

"A recurrent Situationist theme: the idea of 'the vacation' as a sort of loop of alienation and domination, a symbol of the false promises of modern life" (p. 21).

"In the spectacle, passivity was simultaneously the means and the end of the great hidden project, a project of social control" (p. 99).

"Capitalism left the essence of the old (hierarchy, separation, alienation) altogether in place, and raised instead a screen of continuous change, a show in which everything that was new was old as soon as it was pictured, and thus could be replaced by something even more falsely new" (p. 128).

"An ideology is dominant to the degree that it falsifies, to the degree that it can float free of all real-world referents… The hallmark of any ideology is its invisibility as such" (pp. 136, 139).

In the era of Haussmannization, "The separations between work, family, and leisure forced by the new map of the city were internalized by the newly atomized, autonomous individuals of the new Paris -- after all, the whole notion of "individualism" was a modernism, a function of one's subjective choice of what to do with free income and free time. The Commune was a comma in Haussmann's sentence; he had won" (p. 138).

According to the Situationists, "Modern capitalism dissuades people from criticizing architecture with the simple argument that people need a roof over their heads, just as television is accepted on the grounds that people need information and entertainment. People are made to overlook the obvious fact that this information, this entertainment, and this kind of dwelling place are not made for them, but without them and against them. The whole of urban planning can be understood only as a society's field of publicity-propaganda -- that is as the organization of participation in something in which it is impossible to participate" (p. 139).

Describing Le Corbusier's Radiant City: "a prison without walls" (p. 370).

Modern lament

"What could be more productive of an atomized, hopeless fatalism than the feeling that one is deadened precisely where one ought to be having fun?" (p. 50)

"Boredom was a haze, a confusion, and finally the ultimate mode of control, self-control, alienation perfected: a bad conscience" (p. 51).

"Here a miracle as strange as that claimed by any religion was repeated again and again, every day. What was, once, yourself, was now presented as an unreachable but irresistibly alluring image of what, in this best of all possible worlds, you could be" (p. 101).

"You are nothing unless you have everything: that was modernity" (p. 129).

"Pop culture is a product -- a show, a spectacle, a channeling of suppressed wishes into marketable form - and it is an impulse -- a production of suppressed wishes that once released can call their own tune" (p. 149).

"To believe that the present-day novel will be read in a hundred years is not to praise the novel but to condemn the world" (p. 247).

[Radically] incomplete pleasures 

In the ashes, "anything would be possible, and permitted: the most profound love, the most casual crime" (p. 18).

Real mysteries cannot be solved, but they can be turned into better mysteries" (p. 24).

"The original scene . . . was made of people who were taking chances and operating on obscure fragments of imagination" (p. 36).

"'Nothing is true; everything is permitted.' So said Nietzsche and Mourre, and numerous punks, and Dubord, quoting Rashid al-Din Sinan, Islamic gnostic, leader of the Levantine Assassins, Sinan as he lay on his deathbed… the words make up the first line in the canon of the secret tradition, a nihilist catchphrase, an entry into negation, a utopianism, a shibboleth" (p. 442).

Dadaist satire

Hugo Ball: "All living art will be irrational, primitive, and complex; it will speak a secret language and leave behind documents not of edification but of paradox" (p. 196).

"Dada was the notion that in the constructed setting of a temporally enclosed space -- in this case, a nightclub -- anything could be negated. It was the notion that, there, anything might happen" (p. 241).

On the post-dada world: "The dadaists never got over it: they saw the transformation of the world for a few days in a Zurich bar, and while they glimpsed fragments of that vision for the rest of their lives, they never again saw it whole" (pp. 240-241).

Dadaist truth: "the invulnerable sentence: one that could be understood but never explained" (p. 243).

Situationist remapping

"Now the city would move like a map you were drawing; now you would begin to live your life like a book you were writing. Called forth by a street or a building, an ensemble of gestures might imply that a different street had to be found, that a building could be redesigned by the gestures performed within it, that new gestures had to be made, even that an unknown city had to be built or an old one overthrown" (p. 166).

Ivan Chtcheglov: "Everyone will live in his own cathedral" (p. 172).

"As one turns the pages, the neighborhood becomes a labyrinth, where every chance encounter with a word, a picture, a building, or a person seethes with legend and possibility, opening into a secret utopia accessible to anyone capable of recognizing it" (p. 253).

"What if one created something that would simply go on creating of its own accord, a set of wishes translated by gestures, an ensemble of desires whose force fields would level all museums, habits, routines, all everyday walk and talk, until every moment had to be a new work of art, or nothing?" (p. 339)

"As a use of time it was the shifting of the city back into the primeval forest, then into a haunted house more modern than anything modern architects ever dreamed of, a game of freedom in which the goal was not to score but to remain on the field, to consciously position oneself between past and future" (p. 361).

Ivan Chtcheglov: "Architecture will be, at least in the beginning, a means of experimenting with a thousand ways of modifying life, with a view toward a synthesis today found only in legends" (p. 372).

"They saw that all cities were imaginary, complexes of desires turned into geography or suppressed by it, and they saw that all cities could be explored" (p. 385).

"During May '68, it had seemed as if the game had begun. If you looked you could see it happen: every gesture was extended, every street redrawn, every building demolished and rebuilt, every word part of a new language" (p. 440).

"I found a tale composed of incomplete sentences, voices cut off or falling silent… - a map made altogether of dead ends, where the only movement possible was not progress, not construction, but ricochet and surprise" (p. 446).

Situationist performance

Lefebvre spoke of "laying aside all mistrust, all ambition, all schemes . . . In an atmosphere of passionate oneness we would talk far into the night . . . We drank, sometimes there were other stimulants, and these nights had an earnestness, an affection -- it was more than communication, it was a communion" (p. 146).

"The SI was a group of critics; tipping back in their cafe chairs as others acted, they did not apologize" (p. 176).

"Spreading the bad paper of détournement until it began to turn up everywhere, the SI would devalue the currency of the spectacle, and the result would be a fatal inflation. Then a penny could be a fortune… [Of course] that bad paper is the only currency in this tale: lost children seek their fathers, and fathers seek their lost children, but nobody really looks like anybody else. So all, fixed on the wrong faces, pass each other by: this is the drift of secret history, a history that remains secret even to those who make it, especially to those who make it" (p. 179, 184-184).

Guy Debord: "Our situations will be ephemeral, without a future: passageways" (p. 182)

"The idea was that, to the degree aesthetic categories could be proven false, social barriers could be revealed as constructed illusions, and the world could be changed" (p. 188).

Norman Cohn's ignored warning: "It is characteristic of this kind of movement that its aims and premises are boundless . . . a true prototype of a modern totalitarian party" (p. 322).

"To be revolutionary is not a matter of degree" (p. 343).

"The construction of situations will be the continuous realization of a great game, a game the players have chosen to play" (p. 347, emphasis in original - see also James P. Carse's Finite and Infinite Games).

Sometimes the situation need be little more than "the right graffiti on the right wall, at the right time, in the right place" (p. 357).

"Leisure would soon be the axis of civilization: a realm of potential happiness so complete that it would test all the mechanisms of alienation to dominate it. A war would be fought over the meaning of life. If leisure was conquered, civilization would turn into a prison disguised as a pleasure dome. But if leisure was not conquered, it would serve as a base for a practice of freedom so explosive that no known social order could ever satisfy it" (p. 369 - see also Herbert Marcuse's The End of Utopia].

Guy Debord: "We need to work toward flooding the market -- even if for the moment only the intellectual market -- with a mass of desires whose realization is not beyond the capacity of man's present means of action on the material world, but only beyond the capacity of social organization as it stands" (p. 390).

"God would be dead, and everything would be sacred" (p. 397).

Punk style

"Because the Sex Pistols had no other weapons, because they were fans in spite of themselves, they played rock 'n' roll, stripping it down to essentials of speed, noise, fury, and manic glee no one had touched before. They used rock 'n' roll as a weapon against itself" (p. 57).

"'New Wave' was a code word not for punk without shock, but for punk without meaning" (p. 82).

Punk "was not history. It was a chance to create ephemeral events that would serve as judgements on whatever came next" (p. 82).

"It was a turning point in history where history refused to turn; as a beacon of the future it revealed nothing so vividly as the past" (p. 431).

Generative criticism

"The spectral connections between people long [are] separated by place and time, but somehow [they speak] the same language" (p. 4).

"If one can stop looking at the past and start listening to it, one might hear echoes of a new conversation; then the task of the critic would be to lead speakers and listeners unaware of each other's existence to talk to one another. The job of the critic would be to maintain the ability to be surprised at how the conversation goes, and to communicate that sense of surprise to other people, because a life infused with surprise is better than a life that is not" (p. 23).

"Theories cannot be kept on paper" (p. 274).

"Unfulfilled desires transmit themselves across the years in unfathomable ways, and all that remain on the surface are bits of symbolic discourse, deaf to their sources and blind to their objects -- but those fragments of language… are a last link to notions that have gone under the ground, into a cultural unconscious. All that remains are wishes without language: all that remains is unmade history, which is to say the possibility of poetry. [Of course] as the poetry is made, language recovers and finds its target: the history that has been made" (p. 308).

"Metaphors are transformative things, proofs of the arbitrary nature of language, grants of mystery to ordinary things -- they are in other words incipient utopias" (p. 397).

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