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I'm still trying to slog a way through the new Greil Marcus.*
But it just strikes me that what was once pith, is now portenousness.
What was once razor sharp is now waffle and camoflague and ... well, I once thought that British journo/author Gordon Burn couldnt be bettered (or 'worsted'?) when it came to the promiscuous and self-defeating quotation of Other Authors in a piece that was meant to showcase your own P.O.V.

But here, taken at random, from the opening FIVE pages of Marcus essay "on" David Thomas/Pere Ubu/the entire footnoted inventory of every thought that's ever occured to Greil about the entire cultural history of everything that's ever happened in America ever, is a list of the 'sources' he namechecks or quotes (sometimes at wearying and obstructive length):

Edmund Wilson
Isiah and Jeremiah and Amos
Norman Cohn's The Pursuit of The Millennium
Nazism [and] Stalinism [and] the Caliphate
Edmund Wilson [again]
the wrath of God
Tennessee Ernie Ford
Sheikh Ibrahim Mudeiris, Palestinian Authority [spokesman]
Abraham Lincoln
a Moby Dick / Ishmael two-fer
D.H. Lawrence
"Babe and Joe and Eddie in the Do Da room" [huh? means nothing to me...]
"[as] my student Tanya Kalivas [once put it]..."
Preston Sturges}
Manny Farber}
"critic" W.S. Poster (nope, me either)}
Jimmy Carter

{ = all in the same dense sentence/paragraph.

*{THE SHAPE OF THINGS TO COME: Prophecy and The American Voice. Faber & Faber. £17.99

{{Even that title seems to be a giveaway. At the time of the properly epochal Mystery Train all this sort of air-tunnel subtext stuff would have been simply implied for the reader to then pick up on and develop. But nowadays Marcus can't have a passing thought without underlining it fourteen times in the professorial equivalent of purple biro, and dragging in ten other writers or songs or films to back it up.

posted by Ian 9/28/2006 11:25:00 AM

I've posted this link before on another thread but this piece by Richard Meltzer contains a glorious demolition-job on Marcus's stifling portentousness:


It's three-quarters of the way down, starting from the para which begins: "It was more in his "intellectual oversight" capacity...."
As entertaining as 'Lipstick traces' was, I'm with Meltzer and Carducci on the damage done by the relentless mythologising and New Journalism portentions of 'Rolling Stone' writers. These corporate hippies have a lot to answer for. Just consider the rainforsets of flatulent bullshit written about Dylan, Pistols, Springsteen ad nausaem. Audiences and reception (even pleasure) are often shoved out of the equation in favour of pseudo-shamanistic 'spirit of a nation' nonsense.


It's often obvious that most of these guys are oh-so-frustrated at not quite being Doctorow or Delilo (the ones that have attempted novels - even successfully - have shortly found their way into the lit bargain bin within a decade). Is it an american disease? Something can't just be 'about' something, but about AMERICA (hear the portentous orchestra as you read the back page blurb).
Also developed a problem with any books and movies that have the prefix 'American...' or 'An American...'. 350 million highly diverse, divided people do not a shared spirit make... that attitude is 'part of the problem' mannnn....
What a strange POV - do you deny that such a thing as "national character" exists?

How is it that my best friend, 100% Korean by blood but born and raised in America, can fly to Seoul, get off a plane, and have people walk up to her and ask her in English if she'd like a cab?

Obviously, she carries herself in a manner that marks her indelibly as "American" in that context. I think it's those commonalities that make these exercises not only legitimate, but vital.

Too bad that some of you don't like or can't keep up with this sort of analysis; I imagine you're the same folks who got frustrated back in 7th grade when it turned out that literature and poetry meant something more than was just written on the page.

Hey, you want to just put on the records and dance? Great. But please don't flatter yourselves that you're somehow more honest, open to pleasure (as if there couldn't be pleasure in making these kinds of connections!), etc. than those of us who like to look at things from a more historical and critically-informed POV.
I don't deny some kinda 'national character' exists - I'm just weary of por/pre/tentious mythologising to discuss Dylan albums, Scorcese movies etc.
Perhaps it's time to abandon notions of 'national myths', 'spirit of a nation' and 'manifest destiny' - especially as its often contrived, packaged and marketed to justify all kinds of horrors. Maybe your all-american pal with '100% Korean blood' (racial 'blood' being yet another dangerous myth) needs to consider what ideas about 'national character' has done for Korea.
I can 'keep up' with the analysis (especially since it grew old back in the 70s); but sometims a cigar is simply a cigar.
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