Lipstick Traces

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Marcus begins and ends LIPSTICK TRACES with a rhapsody on punk musician Johnny Rotten, “perhaps the only truly terrifying singer rock ’n’ roll has known.” In 1976, at the beginning of a song called “Anarchy in the U.K.” that he recorded with his band the Sex Pistols, Rotten ranted: “I AM AN ANTICHRIST.” Though the group has since disintegrated, Marcus believes those impious words “remain as powerful as anything I know.” Their power lies in a raw denial of all cultural facts and a provocative insistence that anything is possible. What Marcus finds to admire in the cast of cranks, pranksters, and maniacs who flit through the pages of LIPSTICK TRACES is a vivid desire to change the world.

Marcus recounts how, on Easter Sunday, 1950, with ten thousand worshipers assembled in the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, a twenty-two-year-old blasphemer dressed as a Dominican monk mounted the altar and began to preach “God is dead,” until the Swiss Guards attacked him and three cohorts with their swords. He recalls how, in 1534, Anabaptists took control of the German town of Munster and established a theocratic utopia in which money, private property, and work were abolished--until mercenary soldiers dispatched by the Lutheran bishop invaded Munster and exterminated its men. He finds common cause in 1956 Budapest, 1964 Berkeley, 1968 Prague, and a 1971 record album called THE BEST OF MARCEL MARCEAU.

Organized as a series of musical riffs and recapitulations, LIPSTICK TRACES is less interested in a coherent, conscious tradition than in subterranean affinities in spiritual resistance. Returning to “Anarchy in the U.K.,” Marcus concedes that his elaborate variations on the history of countercultural insurgency “seems like a lot for a pop song to contain,” but he refuses to repudiate the subversive zest in vital gestures of denial.