Saturday, August 04, 2012

Notes from Greil Marcus's Lipstick Traces

I took these notes when I read the book seven or eight years ago. 

Bataille’s notion that humanity wants to act with no end in mind, to commit free acts of “destruction” not linked to civilized utility. Humans, instinctively wanting to act destructive, are made by a civilized society to feel alone in their destructive impulses, but others share this repressed urge, which expresses itself in society’s dark vices: gambling, incest, prostitution, drug addiction, wasted potential of all kinds. The bourgeoisie have forfeited this kind of open pleasure (which once formed the potlatch, the humiliation that can’t be returned). Marcus sees punk as a kind of potlatch, an eagerness to destroy for no reason, and assert a primal sense of being alive as opposed to dead, rationalized bourgeois culture. (395)

Isou: “Let youth cease to serve as a commodity merely to become the consumer of its own elan.” (271)

Postwar project: “To prove that real life was back, and to restrict the definition of real life to the pleasurable consumption of material goods within a system of male supremacy and corporate hegemony.” (258). This goes hand in hand with the “reality principle” or the quasi-Hegelian notion of accepting the limits of reality, of seeing reality as compromise of one’s ideals. To be realistic is to accept the hegemony and seek circumscribed happiness there (which is always just not quite attained, the unquenchable thirst is what the hegemony instills)

From a leftist book in 1984: “ The sixties is merely the name we give to a disruption of late-capitalist ideological and political hegemony, to a disruption of the bourgeois dream of unproblematic production, of everyday life as the bureaucratic society of controlled consumption.” Were the radical movements of the sixties products of capitalism overreaching itself, succeeding too well? “Too many people had too much of everything that was on the market, and so they had the leisure to think about what else they might want.” (133)

Good quote from Arendt: “The transformation of the family man from a respectable member of society, interested in all public affairs to a ‘bourgeois’ concerned only with his private existence and knowing no civic virtue, is an international modern phenomenon… Each time society, through unemployment, frustrates the small man in his normal functioning and normal self-respect, it trains him for that last stage in which he will willingly undertake any function, even that of a hangman.” This is the effect of bogus private life and pseudo-individuality divorced from social interaction, and the consequences of man lacking meaningful work.

The 190s perverted 1960s rhetoric about risk, adventure and personal fulfillment and freedom as an individual to underwrite dog-eat-dog capitalism without an ounce of civic decency or common empathy among citizens.

The “popular” must be fashioned, must be produced as a rabble, and are thus made to be constitutively unstable. Popular culture creates this unstable rabble. The rabble doesn’t precede the junk culture made for it, made to make it. (149)
The idea of being “blackmailed by utility,” that one can’t criticize something that functions even if it demeans. Since it works, it must be accepted, must be accepted as “real” as in the “reality principle” of compromise.

Life lived as spontaneous art, as a utopian realization of pure freedom, with no moment continuous from the previous one, a commitment to perpetual reinvention at every instant -- who wants this as a permanent state, even as an ideal? Isn’t this better experienced convulsively, in carnivalesque fits that surprise us, or are even planned -- it may be that this is all we can tolerate, that to live like that is insane.
Ads conjure a desire for this kind of unknowable spontaneous freedom, this kind of eternal retransformation at every instant in the name of maximum happiness, and diverts it to take solace in goods when we realize that it can’t be fulfilled, that we can’t live up to the daring of our own dreams (planted by the ads, of course, but we don’t recognize it). So we blame ourselves and not the ads for the impossible desires we come to possess, and consume the ads even more eagerly as wish fulfillment dramas for those dreams of metamorphosis.

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