Punk and Revolution: Seven More Interpretations of Peruvian Reality

Punk and Revolution: Seven More Interpretations of Peruvian Reality

by Shane Greene

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In Punk and Revolution Shane Greene radically uproots punk from its iconic place in First World urban culture, Anglo popular music, and the Euro-American avant-garde, situating it instead as a crucial element in Peru's culture of subversive militancy and political violence. Inspired by José Carlos Mariátegui's Seven Interpretive Essays on Peruvian Reality, Greene explores punk's political aspirations and subcultural possibilities while complicating the dominant narratives of the war between the Shining Path and the Peruvian state. In these seven essays, Greene experiments with style and content, bends the ethnographic genre, and juxtaposes the textual and visual. He theorizes punk in Lima as a mode of aesthetic and material underproduction, rants at canonical cultural studies for its failure to acknowledge punk's potential for generating revolutionary politics, and uncovers the intersections of gender, ethnicity, class, and authenticity in the Lima punk scene. Following the theoretical interventions of Debord, Benjamin, and Bakhtin, Greene fundamentally redefines how we might think about the creative contours of punk subculture and the politics of anarchist praxis.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780822373544
Publisher: Duke University Press
Publication date: 10/13/2016
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 248
File size: 17 MB
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About the Author

Shane Greene is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Indiana University and the author of Customizing Indigeneity: Paths to a Visionary Politics in Peru.

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Punk and Revolution

Seven More Interpretations of Peruvian Reality

By Shane Greene

Duke University Press

Copyright © 2016 Duke University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8223-7354-4


interpretation #1

on the risks of underground rock production

Where in the world does punk come from? Typical answers point to particular moments in US and British rock history: the proto period of sixties US garage rock followed by punk "proper" when the term became linked to New York's midseventies underground club scene and was then exported to London where it exploded into public scandal thanks to the Sex Pistols' infamous "filth and fury" (McNeil and McCain 2006; Savage 2002). More than a collection of musical sounds, punk is a conglomeration of bands and shows, fanzines and fliers, social relations and political statements held together loosely by desires to subvert mainstream cultural production with a gritty aesthetic and a do-it-yourself ethic. Like any form of resistance it is difficult both to sustain and to predict its future lives.

Ultimately, this speaks less to the reports that "punk is dead" (so said Crass in 1978 shortly after its official birth in 1977) or rejoinders that "punk's not dead" (so screamed The Exploited in 1980 two years after its death) than to a clarification. In significant part what punk means is relative to time and context. In this essay, I ask: What in the world is the importance of punk as it emerged in Lima, Peru in the 1980s? It is the radical difference in context that permits us to entertain other theoretical possibilities about punk's place in the world. Let's get this straight. I'm not talking about what punk is in essence. Rather, I have an interest in thinking about what punk intends to be, punk as a peculiar way of directing one's attention. Similarly, the issue is less about defining who punks essentially are — and punks really do hate it when you tell them who they are. It's really more about who I think punks aim to be, even if inevitably intentions never perfectly match outcomes.

Dick Hebdige's (1979) now classic semiotic analysis of punk as a subversive "style" appeared shortly after the UK punk explosion of the late seventies, influenced by the poststructuralist turn and cultural studies debates about youth subcultures as ritualized expressions of systemic discontent, constituting symbolic transgression but not a potential for "real" revolutionary change (Hall and Jefferson 2006; cf. Interpretation #2). Contemporary perspectives suggest different readings of punk, from those fueled by gender critique and the transnational approach to the Americas to those searching for a theory of the global city (Nyong'o 2005, 2008; Muñoz 2013; Habell-Pallan 2004; LeBlanc 1999; Nikpour 2012; Nguyen, 2012; Brown 2011). Collectively, they theorize punk as constituted by more diverse voices and multiple global contexts than what the dominant "whitestraightboy punk" (Nikpour's [2012] shorthand) narrative often suggests.

What happens when we encounter punk in one of the rock universe's global elsewheres? Certainly Lima is such a place despite a history of rock that stretches back to the sixties. The condition of geomusical marginality is one of which Peruvian punks are deeply aware; they rock out in a world region most often associated with Latin rhythms, Afro-Peruvian beats, and Andean folklore. I deal then in rock from a peripheral vantage point but one that also reveals something crucial about punk's global intentions. There is the curious case of Los Saicos, a midsixties garage rock band from Lima that only began making headlines in the 2000s for having anticipated punk's primitive sound and boundary-pushing lyrics. A band named Anarkia began playing punk cover songs in Lima clubs in the late seventies — singing the Ramones, Sex Pistols, and Dead Boys tunes in their "bad" English. Yet Peru's punk-inspired music did not come into its own until the mideighties, when it took on the much more particular identity of rock subterráneo ("underground rock"). In fact, it is in this translated idea of "underground rock" that we can identify something about the global importance of rock's subterranean circuits and punk intentionality writ large — the things punk wants to do everywhere even when punks try, succeed, and fail to do them in very particular ways from within specific historical contexts.

On the Risk of Underproduction and Undercutting

The act of naming Lima's punk movement "underground rock" was largely the result of a 1984 flier announcing a show called "Rock Subterráneo Ataca Lima" (Underground Rock Attacks Lima) in which several foundational punk bands played: Leusemia, Narcosis, Guerrilla Urbana, and Autopsia (see figure 1.1). This movement from "underground," an English term with connotations of subversive intent since at least the era of the Underground Railroad, to subterráneo, a Spanish term typically used literally rather than with the connotations of terms such as subversivo ("subversive"), is more than simply direct translation. Most notably, the term "subterráneo" gave rise to a very peculiar urban identity in eighties Lima known as the subte ("under"), a distinctly Peruvian way of talking about punk rockers. A subcultural moniker still used thirty years later, "subte" is rather unique compared to the more direct appropriations of the term "punk" as auto-affirmation in most other global contexts. Fusing Fernando Ortiz (1995) with Stuart Hall and Tony Jefferson (2006), we might see this as an act of transubculturation — a gesture that transgresses global cultural boundaries (e.g., Spanish vs. Anglo, Latin vs. Euro-American) while simultaneously subverting the hegemony of global cultural forms that circulate across borders in mainstream circuits (e.g., rock culture as mass commerce across geopolitical borders). This explains why I use this Lima phrase "rock subterráneo" as interchangeable with "punk rock." The phrase presumes an exchange that takes place across and below the surface of the borders of language, nation, culture, and global commerce.

The subte irrupts into the global dialogue about punk rock using a Peruvian voz ("voice") that struggles to be heard since it is relegated to multiple margins: punk's relative obscurity within popular culture generally, and rock subterráneo's distinct invisibility within the global circuits of a rock culture completely dominated by Anglo expressions from the United States and England. Yet the subte's voice demands to be heard, and in doing so it suggests something distinct about punk's simultaneously universal intentions and contextual conditions.

We might recall that punk is part of a longer genealogy of subversive aesthetics and critical political desires. In the wake of Dadaism and Situationism (G. Marcus 1989), or as the preferred soundtrack for today's global direct-action movements (Graeber 2009), punk positions itself as critique of the mass culture generated by global capital. To capture at least a partial view of this quest to find and defend a rock underground, we can identify at least two basic intentions that result from punk's fusion of material, political, and aesthetic strategies. I think of these as punk's tendency to creatively underproduce while discursively undercutting public values.

I offer these initial thoughts on punk intentions, inspired by the "under" in "underground" and the "subte" in "subterráneo," as relative theoretical guidelines rather than absolute principles. The point is precisely not to suggest there is a means to measure punk's underground status by a fixed material, stable aesthetic, or historically objective standard. Rather, the degree of how punk a particular aesthetic commodity, form of expression, or type of action might be is subject to divergent interpretations at different moments. That relativity derives from the fact that the material dimensions and interpretative registers of aesthetic production exist across different contexts, forming multiple dialogues in which differently positioned voices offer alternative interpretations according to the moment.

Following this more dialogical metaphor we might revisit Simon Frith's history of rock-n-roll. If, as he suggests, punk asks of rock one critical question, "What is the risk of this music?" (1981, 84), I suggest the question was never as rhetorical, nor as limited to rock-n-roll, as he posed it. Instead, this reveals something about punk's intentions in searching for an answer even as the conditions of risk necessarily change — both the riskiness that punk intends to represent to the world and the metarisk of no longer appearing very risky that punk frequently faces. One of punk's core theoretical dilemmas then is deeply dialogical in nature: an ongoing conversation about how something that risks being "under" in one moment risks surfacing into the "over" in another or, for that matter, going back under in yet another.

At one level, punk proposes a means of underproduction, a concerted attempt to intervene crudely but creatively into the problem of overproduction. I mean this in José Carlos Mariátegui's "heroically creative" Marxist sense rather than any dogmatically technical one. Marx famously summarized capitalism as "a social formation in which the process of production has mastery over man, instead of the opposite" (Marx 1977, 175). In essence, he means that the concentration of capital and the systemic barriers to making processes of production socially visible result in a fetishized view of productivity as a whole. They serve to suppress a more conscious realization, and more equitable organization, of the potential for human creativity that production entails. It is precisely this potential for creativity that is held captive in a system organized around a monopolization of the means of production. The entire system is ideologically governed by highly economistic logics that value "being productive" over "being creative" at virtually every level. When "successful" forms of creativity do emerge, they are quickly subsumed into the process of mass production; this assures the route toward homogenous commodification and that any material benefits accrue to the owners of private property that command "productive" labor.

We might build further on this understanding of underproduction by calling attention to the specifically aesthetic connotations in the opposite terminology. Beyond the strict political-economic frame, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, another familiar definition of "overproduce" is to "record or produce (a song or film) in such an elaborate way that the spontaneity or artistry of the original material is lost." We immediately think of excessive editing, too many technical interventions, or a surplus of special effects employed in the industrial spaces of cultural commodity production (studios, editing rooms, etc.). At one level, aesthetic overproduction is the perceived result of various kinds of technical mastery among aesthetic "experts" (producers, managers, editors, engineers, etc.). It is driven by the particular "class" of aesthetic professionals who claim the specialized skills — and control access to the material means — to intervene in aesthetic production in order to generate the standards by which artistic creativity, or simply mass aesthetic appeal, are judged and controlled by the various cultural industries. At stake in this is an underlying opposition between secondary (tertiary, etc.) elaborations of the creative act and the idea (or at least ideal) of creativity in more mundane, spontaneous, and cruder expressions.

Amid industrial drives to professionalize art, standardize creativity, define aesthetic appeal, and monopolize the channels through which cultural expression becomes massified and marketable, the grounds for creative resistance include punk's reclaiming of creativity in more "primary" forms — meaning less materially alienated, more socially direct, and aesthetically scaled down. In a system where "production has the mastery over man" the everyday human creator is faced with this dilemma: the more one feels seduced by how cultural commodities are being creatively produced, amid tendencies to aesthetically overproduce and reinforce particular industrial standards of cultural consumption, the more alienated one feels from one's own capacity to spontaneously engage in a creative process. The Situationists called this the problem of a society organized around commodities as spectacles, provoking reactions of consumptive awe rather than encouraging the impulse for active and spontaneous creative engagement.

Punk intends to intervene in this arena of aesthetic overproduction by defetishizing the cultural industry norms and processes that surround creative production via whatever DIY strategies are available to it: bands using cheap instruments, punks spreading subculture via fanzines, musicians distributing recordings through independent labels, or punks arranging shows through informal social networks. Punk operates on the premise that aesthetic professionalism and monopolization in the creative industries ultimately destroy, or at least inhibit, the creative acts of the "ordinary" creator. One of punk's recurring worldly desires then is to envision one's creative "limitations" — even the explicit limits of one's material means to produce something — as the very grounds on which to express one's liberating creative potential. In sum: it is through the intent to celebrate aesthetic crudeness, and materially resist the cooptation of autonomous forms of creativity, that punk is a means of underproduction.

If the punk means of underproduction are relative rather than absolute, surely the meanings of punk — its semiotic strategies and discursive intentions — are as well. The point is not to look for a special punk vocabulary, series of master symbols, secret list of bands, or definitive style as the way to theorize punk intentionality. I say this despite, or precisely to spite, that very real tendency within subcultures to reify authenticating discourses: the endless petty debates about real punks versus posers, true revolutionaries versus weekend rebels.

Instead, I see punk as starting with a particular kind of discursive intention — this desire to use its means of underproduction to construct an irruptive voice that undercuts public discourse. Here, I would cite certain street definitions. For example, under the heading for the slang phrase "punk as fuck" — clearly one intended to connote a maximal degree of punkness — urbandictionary.com users rank these as the top two definitions: "not giving a fuck," followed closely by "not giving a fuck if you are punk or not." In other words, to be maximally punk one starts by disregarding the accepted definitions of others, including at the metapunkish level the very definitions of what punk is or can be. Punk's primary discursive intention — what one means to say when one engages in a punk means of underproduction — is to disregard. To negate regard. To refuse to respect. To repudiate rather than hold in esteem. So punks start with acts of creative refusal and then try to figure things out from there.

Rather than reaffirm this negation as punk's oft-noted nihilism, we might see it more precisely as a desire to disregard specifically what others consent to as hegemonically neutral public values. To reiterate, this necessarily includes what is publically assumed about what is or is not punk, since punks also, quite inevitably, construct their own internal normative publics (hence the recurring problem of purists and posers). Clearly, I am thinking of Michael Warner's Bakhtinian-inflected discussion of publics and counterpublics, emergent spaces of circulating discourse based on voluntary associations rather than the seemingly more fixed social categories of race, class, gender, and so on. Warner identifies the relation as being defined by constant tension rather than smooth conversation. "The discourse that constitutes it [i.e., a counterpublic] is not merely a different or alternative idiom, but one that in other [i.e., public] contexts would be regarded with hostility or a sense of indecorousness" (Warner 2002, 82). The irruptive quality of counterpublic discourse subjects those who wield it to perceptions that they are irrational actors at best, unwelcome misfits at worst. Yet counterpublics serve precisely to expose the normative assumptions that underpin accepted public discourse, veiled as they are in ideas of social neutrality, shared rationality, and discursive correctness. As Warner suggests, the outcomes depend largely on the "uptake," on how a public discourse is effectively undercut within a given moment, in a given text, or within the frame of a specific performance. In so far as punks desire to provoke a public reaction (small or large) to their discursive disregard, a negative public uptake (e.g., the shock factor, ensuing social panic, legal consequences, etc.) is also what helps punk confirm its underground status. Punk's potential to undercut public norms resides in the act of provocation that successfully enacts a profaned lack of respect for them.


Excerpted from Punk and Revolution by Shane Greene. Copyright © 2016 Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission of Duke University Press.
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Table of Contents

Thanks Go To . . .  ix
Warning!  1
Interpretation #1 / On the Risks of Underground Rock Production  7
Interpretation #2 / El Problema de la Sub-Tierra  45
Interpretation #3 / El Problema del Pituco  52
Re:Interpretation #4 / The Tongue Is a Fire, an Agent, a Traitor  83
Interpretation #5 / The Worth of Art in Three Stages of Underproduction  112
Interpretation #6 / A Series of Situations Resulting in X  151
Interprestation #7 / Hot Revolution with Punk Pancakes (a drunken dialogue)  188
PS!  205
Notes  211
Bibliography  219
Index  225

What People are Saying About This

Thurston Moore

"Shane Greene offers a welcome enlightenment and dignity to a geo-obscurant adjunct in punk rock history, one which may be historically discredited as simply unruly but, in light of Punk and Revolution, has a revolutionary intellectualism/activism that is both singular to its culture and significant in its universal engagement. An amazing read."

The Peru Reader - Orin Starn

"Shane Greene's pioneering book exudes a brilliant, destructive punk energy. It’s a screamed prose-theory-anthropology-zine-poem to punk, and a daring mosh pit stage dive of an experimental ethnography"

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