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The Dustbin of Historyby Greil Marcus
Synopses & Reviews
"How much history can be communicated by pressure on a guitar string?" Robert Palmer wondered in Deep Blues. Greil Marcus answers here: more than we will ever know. It is the history in the riff, in the movie or novel or photograph, in the actor's pose or critic's posturing--in short, the history in cultural happenstance--that Marcus reveals here, exposing along the way the distortions and denials that keep us oblivious if not immune to its lessons.
Whether writing about the Beat Generation or Umberto Eco, Picasso's Guernica or the massacre in Tiananmen Square, The Manchurian Candidate or John Wayne's acting, Eric Ambler's antifascist thrillers or Camille Paglia, Marcus uncovers the histories embedded in our cultural moments and acts, and shows how, through our reading of the truths our culture tells and those it twists and conceals, we situate ourselves in that history and in the world. Rarely has a history lesson been so exhilarating. With the startling insights and electric style that have made him our foremost writer on American music, Marcus brings back to life the cultural events that have defined us and our time, the social milieu in which they took place, and the individuals engaged in them. As he does so, we see that these cultural instances--as lofty as The Book of J, as humble as a TV movie about Jan and Dean, as fleeting as a few words spoken at the height of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement, as enduring as a Paleolithic painting--often have more to tell us than the master-narratives so often passed off as faultless representations of the past.
Again and again Marcus skewers the widespread assumption that history exists only in the past, that it is behind us, relegated to the dustbin. Here we see instead that history is very much with us, being made and unmade every day, and unless we recognize it our future will be as cramped and impoverished as our present sense of the past.
"Greil Marcus is one of the most accomplished commentators on popular culture writing today. Though a freelance writer, he has all the virtues of a good academic: he cares passionately for getting his facts right, is alert to the larger meaning of seemingly minor events, and can read any text—be it novel, rock song, or movie—with an eye for grand patterns and minutely significant detail. But he manages to steer clear of the typical faults of academics: his prose is free of all affectation, pretentions, and jargon. Above all, he writes clearly and knows how to shape an essay so that it has a beginning, a middle, and an end. This collection of pieces written over the past two decades for such journals as Rolling Stone and The Village Voice can serve as an excellent introduction to Marcus' distinctive role as a critic, uncovering the byways of culture that often escape the eyes of academics. Whether he is pricking the balloon of Susan Sontag's reputation, or thoughtfully analyzing a seemingly forgettable (and forgotten) television movie about pop singers Jan and Dean, or giving a surprisingly sympathetic appreciation of the acting ability of John Wayne, Marcus has one outstanding quality as a critic: he is unpredictable. And in today's world of pre-packaged intellectuality, that is an increasingly rare and hence treasurable quality." Reviewed by Daniel Weiss, Virginia Quarterly Review (Copyright 2006 Virginia Quarterly Review)
With the startling insights and electric style that have made him our foremost writer on American music, Greil Marcus brings back to life the cultural events that have defined us and our time. Again and again he skewers the widespread assumption that history exists only in the past, that it is behind us, relegated to the dustbin.
Whether writing about the Beat Generation or Umberto Eco, Picasso's Guernica or the massacre at Tiananmen Square, Marcus uncovers the histories embedded in our cultural moments and acts, and shows how, through our reading of the truths our culture tells and those it twists and conceals, we situate ourselves in that history and in the world.
impoverished as our present sense of the past.
About the Author
Greil Marcus is the author of Lipstick Traces, The Dustbin of History (both from Harvard), and The Shape of Things to Come, The Old, Weird America, Mystery Train, and other books.
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