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)
Not many critics quote Leon Trotsky in one breath and the Sex Pistols in the next, which is why Greil Marcus occupies such a special niche in American culture...Marcus writes with clarity and warmth...The Dustbin of History reminds us that criticism at its best is a generous act of faith, not a judgmental dressing-down. Wendy Smith
Marcus is a little like the guys who, in my father's childhood, hawked decoder rings on the radio. Only what he's selling is no gyp. In his review of American Hot Wax, he says the movie makes ordinary life seem no longer ordinary: 'It seems like a gift.' After reading Marcus, you're ready to seek out the meanings lurking in newspaper reports, pop songs, the language of politicians, movies so familiar their content seems exhausted. An ordinary life no longer seems ordinary. It seems like an adventure. McKenzie Wark - World Art
A liberal, humane, critical intelligence fully engaged, alert, unafraid to acknowledge the debt our aesthetic sensibilities owe to our emotions. Ann Powers - Village Voice
I have never read The Wind Chill Factor, and probably never will, but what is most valuable about Marcus is that he can redeem it, pull it back from the dustbin, or from that purgatory of the printed word--the secondhand bookstore. Redemption in Marcus's view of history means the rejoining of the conversation. Phil Baker - Times Literary Supplement
Marcus is a little like the guys who, in my father's childhood, hawked decoder rings on the radio. Only what he's selling is no gyp. In his review of American Hot Wax,he says themovie makes ordinary life seem no longer ordinary: 'It seems like a gift.' After reading Marcus, you're ready to seek out the meanings lurking in newspaper reports, pop songs, the language of politicians, movies so familiar theircontent seems exhausted. An ordinary life no longer seems ordinary. It seems like an adventure.
The true sequel to Greil Marcus's historic Mystery Train...[This book] carries through not the theme but the promise of his earlier book...Being able to see the history of the human species scraped onto the wall of a cave ultimately does connect with being able to hear the history of a society engraved in the black vinyl grooves of a 45, and Marcus knows this. Esquire [UK]
Marcus has abilities which I've always thought of as characteristic of the best critics of the great New York School: he embeds the works of art he discusses in a wonderfully vivid recreation of the cultures that produced them. As a historian he succeeds again and again shows how a speech, an exhibit, a song, or a movie, seen in context but not reduced to context, offers us either the history we didn't get to live or the history we couldn't avoid--and does so better than a library of supposedly higher art forms. Aaron Howard - Jewish Herald-Voice
This book could just as easily be called The Theft of History. Even being a witness to events is no longer a guarantee of their permanence. In the course of my recent interrogations, I found that Greil Marcus's words were quoted to me as often as those of the subjects of his essays. But once you have enough words in circulation, somebody will come along to use them to trip you up. Dave Marsh - City Pages
For Marcus, real history equals pop culture; that is, real history is the moment when everything is at stake and nothing is resolved...There's plenty to argue about in his understanding of history. As to his insights into pop culture, he's one of the best in the field. His essays are a delight to read--which is, unfortunately, more than one can say about most historians. Elvis Costello
Marcus knows no academic bounds to what he feels entitled to comment upon. Books, films, art ancient and modern, all fall into his sights...He writes with the trenchancy, even urgency, of a man on a mission. Cleveland Plain Dealer
Marcus finds in Hannah Arendt's words a chilling warning: 'Once a specific crime has appeared for the first time, its reappearance is more likely than its emergence could ever have been.' Possibility, then, is a two-way street. If jack boots goosestepped down the Champs Elysees once, they could do it again. Thus the dustbin swells into a mass grave. Mat Snow - Mojo
Greil Marcus's critical writings about history, films, books, musicians, and television movies...are always filled with tremendous passion for American popular culture...Marcus's highly enlightening and heartfelt pieces express this passion fully. Sarah Vowell - New Art Examiner
Another significant step in an important critic's reading of American culture, an assertion that history can be found embedded in fleeting moments of music, movies and all the fragments of mass culture. Christine Schwartz Hartley - New York Times Book Review
Greil Marcus is one of the most accomplished commentators on popular culture writing today...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. John Doyle - Toronto Globe and Mail
Marcus never ceases to be fully human or an American; he can sometimes write with a bizarrely North American earnestness, but he also shows a strong and perhaps more surprising vein of almost Orwellian decency. Virginia Quarterly Review
At his best, his writing leaves you slightly out of breath, moving along from point to point so it's hard to put the book down even when you finish an essay. Charles Taylor - Boston Phoenix
As a seemingly inexhaustible stream of right-wing apologists, self-help writers, pundits, and trendwatchers serve as poor excuses for intellectuals, Marcus is the real thing: a man engaged with culture as a deeply woven fabric. Amy Holberg - Puncture
Whether writings about Dylan's Christianity, Tiananmen Square or John Wayne, Marcus's eye remains cool, prescient and unblinking. Phil Edwards - New Statesman and Society
impoverished as our present sense of the past.
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.
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.
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.
Table of Contents
The Dustbin of History in a World Made Fresh
The Mask of Dimitrios
Myth and Misquotation
TERRITORIES A Single Revelation
On Peter Handke's Short Letter, Long Farewell
Götterdämmerung after Twenty-OneYears
On Nazi-Hunting ThriIers
You Could Catch It
On Guy Debord's Panegyric
Dylan as Historian
On "Blind Willie McTell"
On E. L. Doctrow's Ragtime and Robert Altman's Nashville
Cowboys and Germans
On Wim Wenders's Emotion Pictures
Cowboy Boots and Germans
On A Susan Sontag Reader
The Bob McFadden Experience
On The Beat Generation CD Box Set
Thc Expanding Vacant Spot
On Dale Maharidge and Michael Williamson's And Their Children after Them
Jan and Dean as Purloined Letter
On Dead Man's Curve: The Story of Jan and Dean
Dead Man's Curve
On American Hot Wax
When You Walk in the Room
On Robert Johnson
Cretins, Fools, Morons, and Lunatics
On Umbcrto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum
On Camille Paglia's Sexual Personae
A Change in the Weathcr
On The Book of J
Lost and Found
On the Exhibition Ice Age Art
Escape from New York
On Herschel Chipp's Picasso's "Guernica"
A Dream of the Cold War
On The Manchurian Candidate
John Wayne listening
Germany in a Second Language
On Peter Schneider's The Wall Jumper
The Deborah Chessler Story
Think We Might Get Some Rain?