The Assault on Greil Marcus:

Open Letter to Stewart Home

P>In his widely-circulated "Introduction to the Polish edition of The Assault on Culture," Stewart Home writes, "While I am very pleased to see the work translated into Polish, I would write something completely different if I were to sit down again and compose a treatise on the movements that are described in the following pages." Why is that? According to Home, "the text has its faults"; however, "if I began to correct them there'd be no end to the process and I'd find myself writing a different work." In other words, The Assault on Culture is a piece of shit -- twice in his introduction Home describes it as a "bluff your way guide," and as "a fairly painless means of getting an overview" of utopian currents since the late 1940s. He knows that the only reason his book was ever taken seriously is that it was "published in the summer of 1988, at a time when it was difficult for English readers to obtain information on groups such as the Situationists and Fluxus." Unfortunately for Home and the other bluff-your-way-through-it-all "intellectuals" for whom he writes, "there have been [since then] major retrospective exhibitions devoted to both these movements and the publication of numerous catalogues," as well as "[t]wo further monographs" that are neither bluffs nor "painless" books to read. And so, only one year after its publication, The Assault on Culture stood revealed as a hollow shell, a bluff that had been called. It should either be rewritten in the light of the books published in 1989 or quite simply flushed down the toilet.

Home has found a third alternative: instead of defending his book against claims that it is a bluff with nothing to back it up, he is attacking those who have written the books that called his bluff in the first place. In particular, Home has targeted his alienated anger at Greil Marcus's Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century (Harvard, 1989), the book that goes over much of the same ground -- in particular, the idea that the punk bands of the late 1970s took up the most radical positions staked out in the 1960s -- that is covered in The Assault on Culture. In 1990, Home published no less than four negative reviews of Lipstick Traces; these reviews appeared in Here and Now, the New Art Examiner, City Lights and Home's own pro-situationist fanzine Smile. According to Home's quite obviously less-than-impartial judgments, "With the concept of the 'voice,' a hidden authority which (dis)organizes the world, Marcus abandons any need for a rational explanation of the events he describes." Home alleges that "such a discourse has more in common with the simple faith of a priest than the considered reflections of a critic or historian."

One would think a person such as Stewart Home would be content with hurling these insults and then moving on to other things, confident in the knowledge that people cry when he puts them down. But no. Home remains so bent upon assassinating both Greil Marcus's personal character and the intellectual character of Lipstick Traces that the majority of his "Introduction to the Polish edition" of The Assault on Culture (Warsaw: Wydawnictwo Hotel Sztuki, 1993) is devoted to these twisted aims. We admit that there might well be another motive for devoting so much space to attacks on Greil Marcus: it is clear that Home knows next to nothing about revolutionary movements in Poland, the citizens of which he is supposed to be addressing. All he knows comes from bluff-your-way-through-it guides: "It was reported that during a December demonstration," he writes, "members of the [Polish group] Orange Alternative dressed up as Father Christmas -- and that this caused a great deal of confusion among representatives of the Polish authorities." It is, in Home's words, "likely" (some would say "obvious" or even "unsurprising") that "at least some Orange Alternative activists were familiar with both Debordist theory and the sixties counterculture of the West." But just in case his Polish readers misunderstand and take offense at what he will go on to say about Debord and the other situationists, Home is there to say -- wearing his best poker face, one assumes -- that the Polish pro-situationists "clearly developed a praxis that reflected their unique social situation."