Lipstick Traces and Rare Confusions
‘Bleeding Book’ (partial) from Minispace.com
“Leave this off your fucking charts!” - - song of the same name, from Fear of a Black Planet, Public Enemy
“My insides feel queer an’ I’m in a rare confusion…. I can’t tell where all this talk is leadin’, sir.”—Netley, From Hell, Ch. 4: “What doth the Lord require of thee?”
At the above moment in Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell’s dense and awesome graphic novel, the man who is about to become Jack the Ripper has been leading his rather dim-witted coachman, Netley, on a tour of London architectural landmarks for the better part of the day, rambling on about William Hawksmoor, the goddess Diana, and William Blake. Another William, Gull, spreads the map of London before his exasperated soon-to-be-accomplice and forces the poor man to draw in the lines between their stops. A pentacle emerges. Gull sees in the pattern the occult power of the Sun gods, whose grasp and restrictions on female divinity must be maintained; lady liberty has won too many battles in this late 19TH century moment, and Gull will cement a threatened male hierarchy, he hopes, by killing London prostitutes. Netley recoils, and Gull pursues him: “Our story’s written, Netley, inked in blood long dry…engraved in stone.”
A secret pattern, what’s been there all along: that is what Marcus seeks to expose in Lipstick Traces. The pattern perceived by Marcus has caused in some the same reaction Gull’s pattern does in Netley, who vomits in the street; the book’s scope disorients, its pace exhausts, and it has pissed off a few punks who think Marcus fails in his attempt to tell ‘the story of punk’. Since he never attempts that, he doesn’t fail at it. (And pause for a moment on the disgusting and despairing anti-punk idea that punk should be told as a hegemonic, singular narrative, a late-night commercial for all your favorite punk hits! Spirit of ’77!) The locus of Lipstick Traces is not the Sex Pistols or their first single, “Anarchy in the U.K.”, as a 1989 review of the original edition in The Nation claimed, anymore than it is dada, the lettrists, the situationists, Charley Starkweather, Michael Jackson, Guy Debord, Isidore Isou or Catherine Deneuve. Instead Marcus ruminates about just what it says on the tin: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century, which is to say, a history of modernity, capitalism and consumerism and their attempted negations: anarchy, protest and social revolution. Or, as Marcus puts it:
The history of the twentieth century was to be the account of the creation of reality through its erasure: through killing people, through the extermination of subjective objects, of realized or potential individuals as forests to be cleared.
To explore this erasure, Marcus skims over the question of what punk is—less a formal genre than a social instance and set of ideas, “a moment in time that took shape as a language anticipating its own destruction”—to the question of why it felt and can still feel “like the greatest thing you ever heard”. Still, the answer helps elucidate the form, that moment and its ideas, and the histories of resistance.
So, it’s like this: faced with the perception that the world is not as you want it to be, that it’s unjust, cruel, deadly, or just boring, you can either try to change the world or go to another world, which is death. Life, love or leave it! Apathy is just being dead while you’re still alive. Changing the world, well, that’s a task of many methods; one is to level the world, flatten or burn it, turn it into compost so that something new can be made. Anything other than annihilation won’t clean the slate thoroughly enough.