Pt. III Lipstick Traces: Greil Marcus Legends Of Freedom

August 2, 2007



A Review

Part III

Legends Of Freedom


Greil En Repose


     So Mr. Marcus’ question is:  Why am I nothing when I should be everything?  Sounds like a lot of frustration to me.  If the questioner doesn’t understand the answer then he is in a veritable quandary.  In the first place nobody can be ‘everything.’  Nobody can corner all the money in the world although it doesn’t stop some people from trying, some people who have a more effective plan than Karl Marx or…Johnny Rotten or…Guy Debord or…do I dare say Greil Marcus? 

     One must question in this novel of frustrations, for that is what it is, to what extent is the author talking about himself; he certainly sems to identify with his characters.  He named a subsequent book The Shape Of Things To Come after a title of the man who wrote The Anatomy Of Frustration, H.G. Wells.

     Writing is a dangerous vocation.  I’m terrified by it everytime I put pen to paper.  No matter how careful you are you must expose your real self to a readership that may or may not be all that forgiving.  For myself I have abandoned any hope of concealment and write as my needs dictate.  However once published your fate is in the hands of any readers.  So, I sympathize with Mr. Marcus but wonder if he himself isn’t frustrated by a lack of monetary success that he thinks he deserves.

     Why else would he concentrate on such nonentities as Johnny Rotten, Guy Debord and these non-entities hanging around the Cafe Voltaire.  I have a feeling that Lipstick Traces could have been titled The New Anatomy Of Frustration.

     Why am I nothing when I should be everything?

     Did Guy Debord think he would become everything by plastering grafitti like Ne Travaille Jamais all over Paris?  Ne travaille Jamais?

Guy Debord

     There’s a defeatist slogan if I ever heard one.  Mr. Marcus has worked plenty hard to realize his something.  My god, the effort I have put in trying to make a success as a writer.  Mr. Marcus at least has made it into print for which he has been paid something I should think.  I’ve spent twenty years writing with no recompense and I still am.  The only consolation I have is that the readership of my blogs seems to be growing.  That’s something, no money, but something.

     Ne travaille jamais?  Why does Mr. Marcus want to make a hero out of some yo-yo sitting around a bar cadging drinks from people who do travaille?  Unless Mr. Marcus explains, that is going to remain a mystery to me.

     What is Guy Debord doing as he sits around drinking cadged absinthe, ruining his liver?  Yes, but he’s trying to dream up ‘situations’ in which he can bring the society that won’t recognize his greatness to its knees.  And according to Mr. Marcus he nearly succeeded in the Paris of 1968.  That was the the work of the SI he says.  SI, Situationist International.

     Debord and his SI remind me of nothing so much as the fable of the Ants And The Grasshopper.  You remember that.  The Ants worked hard all summer storing up supplies against the long cold winter that inevitably follows the short pleasant summer while the grasshoppers lived heedlessly off the land fiddling and dancing.

     When the inevitable happened as the inevitable will they who had thought they were everything turned out to be nothing.  They demanded charity, much as Debord and his kind do, when they were refused their response was that they would burn the stores of the Ants and they wouldn’t have anything either.  Mr. Marcus appears to admire this attitude.

     What did Shakespeare say in Hamlet of  ‘the spurns that patient merit takes of the unworthy’?  Are those who will not contribute to be given the same consideration as those who do?  The people who trashed Paris in ’68 thought so.  The Grasshoppers did the only thing they knew how, they burned what les travailleurs had created.

     Mr. Marcus admires that.  Unless I read him wrong he considers that ‘freedom’.  Guy Debord is one of legends of freedom.

     SI.  Situationist International.  International- some guy sitting in a bar in Paris cadging drinks dreaming that he runs an International subversive organization.  Some legend of freedom.  So far Mr. Marcus’ argument is not very convincing.

     During some very very formative years Mr. Marcus and I were subjected to many of the very same influences.  I’d gotten out of the Navy in late ’59 moving into the East Bay of the SF Bay.  Mr Marcus at that time, as I gather, was growing up in Menlo Park on the Peninsula.  I was based in San Leandro-Castro Valley-Hayward.  I worked in Oakland and San Francisco while hanging out as much as I could in Berkeley.  While as I gather Mr. Marcus was fortunate enough to attend UC-Berkeley I was running the gamut of various Junior Colleges beginning with Oakland City finally ending up at Hayward State from which I graduated in ’66.

     I’m willing to bet that Mr. Marcus is familiar with Henry Miller, The Story Of O, Steppenwolf and several other similar titles that were de rigeur in that cockpit of Freedom, the so-called Free Speech Movement from ’64 or slightly earlier on.  Needless to say the apostles of the Frankfurt School, Adorno, Fromm, Reich, Marcuse et al. were running around trying to force that crap on everyone.

     Since we’re talking Legends Of Freedom here that Mr. Marcus identifies, jokingly I hope, p.181:

     They were “enfants perdu” Debord often said, lost children, and so they claimed any father in whose faces they could recognize their own; (cough, cough)  the surrealists, the dadaists, the failed revolutionaries of the first third of the twentieth century, the Communards, the young Karl Marx, Saint-Just, medieval heretics-and all, as Debord and the others began talking in the 1950s, were moribund, forgotten memories and rumors, manque, maudit.  All were, at best, legends- to the LI and SI, part of the legend of freedom.

     Legends of freedom!  Hmm…pardon me while I smile, pardon me further, I’m beginning to shake uncontrollably from laughter.  Karl Marx and the Soviet Union legends of freedom?  Oh yes, indeed, Mr. Marcus.  A trick of perspective perhaps?

     Listen now.  Mr. Marcus hopes that the so-called Free Speech Movement at Berkeley may be included in those great freedom battles.  But I ask Mr. Marcus, Freedom for who?  As it happens Cal-State was a new college with a very small library so we were given library privileges at UC.  So I was actually on campus when a lot of this was going on.  I even tried to join up but was rejected in this great experiment in freedom because I wasn’t…Jewish.  But I would be allowed to carry a sign and throw my body on the barricades…if I wanted to help this legend of freedom along.  Well, I declined, envisioning myself in a more exalted postion as I did, I who should have been everything spurned away with the foot as nothing.

     As I say I graduated in’66 so I spent the summer attending summer school at Berkeley.  By this time the Revolution was over and the revolutionists were in control.  When I came up from Hayward I entered the campus through the famous Sather Gate, perhaps since renamed Legends Of Freedom Gate, I don’t know.  I used to see the ‘fabled’ Allen Ginsberg there trying to sell the Berkeley Barb or whatever.

     Just inside the Gates Of Freedom, I think Dylan sang about some such fantasy, just inside the gates of freedom the Jewish Commissars of the revolution sat.  One was supposed to submit one’s free American manhood to these ‘revolutionary’ slugs if one wished to attend classes unmolested.  I just walked by these slugs because I didn’t know what was going on.  I was told what was going on.  Well, I’m a free American boy, born that way, not going to give it up, you dig?  I don’t submit my manhood to anybody least of all some degenerate looking slug pretending to be Cheka, Gestapo, Che or whatever.  Fuck that… pardon me, none of that for me.

     Now, Berkeley had these huge thousand member or something like that, lecture classes.  The teaching genius who wrote a book or two you’ve never heard of, lectured from a podium about a mile away then we were all divided into groups of about thirty and turned over to teaching assistants who were, you guessed it, vetted by the Commissars.  You know where I stood in that great battle for, what was that word Mr. Marcus?  Freedom?  A legendary one too.

     And you mentioned all these legends of freedom that preceded the so-called Free Speech Movement of Berkeley as representative?

     And did we all dance with one hand waving free with no fences but the sky facing?

      Don’t be disingenuous sir!  None of the people you mention were interested in the least in freedom for anyone but themselves and I’m afraid that might include you.  So was Berkeley a mere created situation that preceded the situation in Paris in ’68?  Were the Commissars active in Paris as they were in Berkeley?  I’ll bet they were.

     Actually I’m beyond the third reading which is quite a tribute to Mr. Marcus.  I’m up to five readings of Legends Of Freedom and I’ll probably be at five for the rest of the situations Mr. Marcus records.  I may do some more detail work when I finish the main outline.

     Next let us turn to the second situation.  The Art Of Yesterday’s Crash.

End Of Part III

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