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Dustbin Of History
     

Dustbin Of History

by Greil Marcus
 

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"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,

Overview

"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.

Editorial Reviews

Cleveland Plain Dealer

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

Mojo

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.
— Mat Snow

New Art Examiner

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.
— Sarah Vowell

New York Times Book Review

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.
— Christine Schwartz Hartley

Toronto Globe and Mail

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.
— John Doyle

Virginia Quarterly 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.
Times Literary Supplement

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.
— Phil Baker

World Art

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.
— McKenzie Wark

Boston Phoenix

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.
— Charles Taylor

Puncture

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.
— Amy Holberg

Village Voice

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.
— Ann Powers

New Statesman and Society

A liberal, humane, critical intelligence fully engaged, alert, unafraid to acknowledge the debt our aesthetic sensibilities owe to our emotions.
— Phil Edwards

Esquire [UK]

Whether writings about Dylan's Christianity, Tiananmen Square or John Wayne, Marcus's eye remains cool, prescient and unblinking.

City Pages

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.
— Dave Marsh

Jewish Herald-Voice

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.
— Aaron Howard

Cleveland Plain Dealer - Wendy Smith
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.
Mojo - Mat Snow
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.
New Art Examiner - Sarah Vowell
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.
New York Times Book Review - Christine Schwartz Hartley
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.
Toronto Globe and Mail - John Doyle
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.
Times Literary Supplement - Phil Baker
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.
World Art - McKenzie Wark
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.
Boston Phoenix - Charles Taylor
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.
Puncture - Amy Holberg
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.
Village Voice - Ann Powers
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.
New Statesman and Society - Phil Edwards
A liberal, humane, critical intelligence fully engaged, alert, unafraid to acknowledge the debt our aesthetic sensibilities owe to our emotions.
Esquire [uk]
Whether writings about Dylan's Christianity, Tiananmen Square or John Wayne, Marcus's eye remains cool, prescient and unblinking.
City Pages - Dave Marsh
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.
Elvis Costello
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.
Jewish Herald-Voice - Aaron Howard
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.
Anthony Grafton
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.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This is a collection of disparate essays, most of them previously published in "small" journals, by the esteemed author of the oft-reprinted and expanded Mystery Train (LJ 4/1/75). Here Marcus ponders the blues, John Wayne, genocide, French intellectual anomie, Cro-Magnons, and a few dozen other phenomena he declines to connect editorially. The closer he stays to rock, the better he does: the best, freshest pieces are on Jan and Dean and R&B songwriter Deborah Chussler (also the subject of a large section of his book Lipstick Traces, LJ 4/15/89). His Robert Johnson meditation will bore the initiated and scare off the blues-challenged, and the moral derivative for his complaints about some recent writers on Nazism seems to be outrage for its own sake. Marcus is so bright and covers so much ground that the book does offer intermittent pleasures, but he expresses nothing of particular import. Not recommended.-Scott H. Silverman, Bryn Mawr Coll. Lib., Pa.
Booknews
A collection of 26 essays on history, popular culture, music, and the media which have appeared in magazines such as Artfocus, The Village Voice, and Threepenny Review. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780674218581
Publisher:
Harvard University Press
Publication date:
04/25/1997
Pages:
288
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.60(d)

What People are Saying About This

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.
Anthony Grafton
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.
Anthony Grafton, author of New Worlds, Ancient Texts
Elvis Costello
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.

Meet the Author

Greil Marcus is the author of The Doors, Mystery Train, and other books.

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