Friday, February 29, 2008

Writing off the Wall: Transcription as Resistance

We know that inscribing texts on masonry is a political act, whether celebrating the powers that created the building (commemorative inscriptions) or declaring an unofficial subversive message (graffiti). But what about the scholarly act of transcribing inscriptions, copying the scratchings, deciphering the paleography and interpreting their content?

Between November 1943 and March 1944, Anastasios K. Orlandos transcribed 130 unknown inscriptions from the Early Christian and Byzantine phase of the Parthenon in Athens. This act of decipherment doubled our epigraphic knowledge to a total of 232 inscriptions, which were fully published with Leandros I. Vranouses three decades later, in Ta charagmata tou Parthenononos (Athens, 1973). Reading the preface of this volume made me realize that Orlandos was operating during the height of the Nazi occupation. Orlandos remained head of the Greek Restoration Service during the war, a time when all resources for restoration were naturally limited. Climbing up on the walls of the Parthenon to transcribe these invisible inscriptions resonates as an act of resistance, keeping busy at a time of limited resources. When you are not able to inscribe your own message, transcribing a latent message seems to be a powerful alternative, especially when these texts contain political ideas in proxy. Some of the Byzantine inscriptions (like the one represented here) mention Greek generals (strategou tes Ellados). Propped on a ladder within the masonry of the Parthenon and communing with past generals must have offered the kind of political hope that a powerless archaeologist needed under the oversight of the German authorities. OrlandosAcademy of Athens on June 15, 1944, still under the German regime (the Allies liberated Greece four month later in October). One can only wonder whether there was a political tone in the public lecture. Preliminary French publication followed in 1946, during the Greek Civil War, in Bulletin de Correspondence Hellénique (1946) 70, pp. 418-427. Incidentally, the final 1973 publication took place a year before the Greek military junta fell. presented his inscriptions at the

Orlandos was not the only Greek spending wartime with inscriptions. In 1941, the Society of Christian Archaeology in Athens began the corpus of early Christian inscriptions. Orlandos’ mentor, the academician Nikolaos Vees published the first volume on the inscriptions of CorinthCorpus der Griechisch-Christilichen Inschriften von Hellas. Band I. Die Griechisch-Inschriften des Peloponnes (Athens). So what is it about inscriptions and a time of war? Is it simply a passive way to do archaeology, or is it also instrumental in regaining authorial power? and Isthmia,

How bizarre it would have been for Orlandos in 1943 to discover inscriptions referring to a number of Byzantines named Germanos (nos. 79, 142, 156, 160, 161, 187), a word which had ceased to be used as a personal name and meant quite explicitly the German. Even if the Germanoi of Byzantium were archbishops, domestikoi, episkopoi, or sakelarioi, in the realities of 1940s they were the occupying forces. Many of these funerary inscriptions, celebrated the death of the Germanos (as in no. 160 reproduced here). Could phrases like “Germanos has died” also offer hidden and subversive hope? I think they might have.

The intersection between scholarship and political oppression contains all kinds of ethical problems and compromises. Before World War II, Orlandos had been a Germano-phile, attending the lectures of Wilhelm Dörpfeld and pursuing the Bauforschungen methods of the German school. Then suddenly, his national mentors became his oppressors. Although I am not sure of Orlandos’ political leanings and activities after the War (and during the Civil War), his oppression by the German forces seems undeniable. As a government official he did not starve like many other Athenians, but his position cannot have been comfortable or easy. The situation of Vees must have been equally conflicted, having had strong academic connections with Germany from the turn of the century.

Looking down from his ladder on the Acropolis, Orlandos’ view of Athens in 1943-1944 must have been gruesome, a city ravaged by starvation and death. Mark Mazower’ Inside Hitler’s Greece: The Experience of Occupation, 1941-1944 (New Haven, 1993) provides a detailed account of the horrors, including the role of archaeology. More recently, Tony Judt’s Postwar: A History of Europe since 1945 (New York, 2005) revisits the utter disparity between German occupations in Greece and northern Europe (France, Belgium, etc.): “Nazis treated western Europeans with some respect, if only the better to exploit them, and western Europeans returned the compliment by doing relatively little to disrupt or oppose the German war effort. In eastern and south-eastern Europe, the occupying Germans were merciless, and not only because local partisans—in Greece, Yugoslavia and Ukraine especially—fought relentless if hopeless battles against them.” (p. 17).

The Acropolis was an important locus of representational resistance for the Greek people. It was from here that on May 30, 1941, Manolis Glezos and Apostolos Santas (two law students) took down the Nazi flag replacing it with a Greek flag. We must also not forget that Yannis Miliadis, the director of the Acropolis left the service in opposition to the collaborationist Greek government. In 1941 he joined the Communist-dominated government (EAM/ELAS) in the mountains. During the battles between the British and the Communists in December 1944, Miliadis was arrested and exiled. Orlandos, in contrast, chose a more passive form of resistance. For more information on Greek archaeology under dictatorship, see Dimitra Kokkinidou and Marianna Nikolaidou, “On the Stage and Behind the Scenes: Greek Archaeology in Times of Dictatorship,” in Archaeology under Dictatorship, ed. Michael L. Galaty and Charles Watkinson, (New York, 2004) pp. 155-190.

I should note that the person that has turned me onto the Parthenon inscriptions is Amy Papalexandrou. My digression on Orlandos' political action was triggered by Amy's terrific new study, "Echoes of Orality in the Monumental Inscriptions of Byzantium," Art and Text in Byzantine Culture, ed. Liz James (Cambridge, 2007), pp. 161-187. The article suggests directions of "voiced readings" that animate an otherwise dull discipline. I personally cannot wait for the book, even if a couple of books down the line. Same goes to Linda Safran, whose sociolinguistic approach has transformed the inscriptions of southern Italy, see "Language Choice in the Medieval Salento: A Sociolinguistic Approach to Greek and Latin Inscriptions," Zwischen Polis, Provinz und Peripherie (Wiesbaden, 2005), pp. 819-840. I thank both for sharing their research with me. I also look forward to reading Bill Caraher's work on early-Christian inscriptions.

For a related posting on Nazi-occupied Greece, see Bishops, Earthquakes, Immigration.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

"Priest Houses": Sacred or Profane?

Architectural history is plagued by a typological binary between sacred and profane functions. The roots for such a demarcation lie in the theological debates of the Protestant Reformation and their eventual translation into the concerns of secular nation-states and their academies. A tendency to identify pre-modern civilizations with their religious cultures has lead to an over-representation of temples, churches and mosques in material-culture studies. Byzantine architectural history is almost exclusively a history of churches. The standard textbooks, Cyril Mango's Byzantine Architecture (New York, 1974) and Richard Krautheimer's Early Christian and Byzantine Architecture (New York 1986, 4th ed.), include very little domestic architecture, nor can one find a rudimentary survey of houses in the Byzantine world. But this is a quite well known problem, the result of an ultra-conservative discipline.

What concerns me here is a related, but smaller problem, one that smacks the ignorance of houses against the scholarly plethora of churches. In other words, what happens when a house is slapped against a church? How do we separate sacred from secular in such an instant? The question came to my mind after reading William Caraher's discussion of "Early Christian and Hybrid Space"and the Lechaion Basilica in Corinth. Caraher is here concerned with the original 6th-c. phase of the building (dated a century later than previously thought). Instead, I am interested in the 7th-c. shrinking of the church and the attachment of a domestic quarter; this is the lesser known phase, discussed by Demetrios Pallas in his excavation reports (
Praktika 1956-1961). Although, I am not as close to the material as Caraher or Guy Sanders (who has looked at Pallas' pottery), I distinctly remember a residential accretion described as the bishop's palace.

In a different context, I have been reading up on early British medieval excavation methods, using Christopher Gerrard's guide,
Medieval Archaeology: Understanding Traditions and Contemporary Approaches (London, 2003). The book is slightly misleading in not including the word "United Kingdom" anywhere on its title, since it concerns itself with British archaeology. Discussing the emergence of sound scientific methods in the interwar period, Gerrard mentions the excavations of St. Catharine's Hill at Winchester College of 1925-1928 (p. 69). Although not remarkable in excavation techniques, this project included detailed documentation of all kinds of lesser finds, including (what interests me greatly) medieval roof tiles. So, I requested the original publication through Interlibrary Loan, C.F.K. Hawkes, J.N.L. Myers, and C.G. Stevens, Saint Catharine's Hill Winchester (Winchester, 1930) and started reading through the publication once it arrived (from Harvard!!! Clemson never gets ILL from Harvard!!!). The site's medieval phase (over the earlier Iron Age) constitutes of a church built in 1110-1125 and characteristic of Norman plans; an earlier phase, isolated in the east, may date close to the conquest, 1066. Around 1530, the chapel was suppressed at a time when the local cardinal closed a number of monasteries and transfered their endowments to Colleges at Oxford and Ipswich. The first lay tenant of the property is responsible for the destruction of the building, which remained unknown until its archaeological discovery.

In addition to the beautifully illustrated rooftiles, what interests me about this excavation is the discovery of two small rooms attached to the tip of the chapel's northeast corner. In its precarious proximity the space was assigned the function of "priest's house," a natural conclusion. But is it really that natural? What does this proximity say about the life of priests, or the boundary between sacred and profane. Is everything near a recognizably religious building a priest's house. Such haphazard identifications characterize much of ancient archaeology, as well. Any seemingly residential complex near ancient sanctuaries has always been called the house of priests or priestess. This is exactly the subject of Deborah Brown's on-going dissertation at Bryn Mawr College.

So, I'm simply raising the question. Given the insurmountable boundary in modern conceptions of religious versus domestic space, houses that attach themselves to churches throw a nice wrench. Churches that attach themselves to houses have been more thoroughly dealt with as "private chapels." At this interface between church and house we might find the vocabulary to talk about medieval domestic architecture more meaningfully.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Philadelphia Literature?

"There is no good literature on Philadelphia,” said David Leatherbarrow over dinner at Greenville, South Carolina, the day before giving his lecture at Clemson University Architecture Department's Critical Practice for the Next Generation (Feb. 22, 2008). Dr. Leatherbarrow (my undergraduate mentor and theory hero) made this comment in relation to a class he is currently teaching at Penn, where the students read city-specific writings on architecture and literature. David’s comment put me into a query, and since it’s Philadelphia that I call home, I struggled for some bibliography.

There are, of course, Christopher Morley’s writings from the 1920s, edited by Ken Kalfus (Christopher Morley’s Philadelphia, 1990). Kalfus’ most recent novel A Disorder Peculiar to This County (2006) deals with 9/11 (hence a New York focus). Some of his previous works narrates personal experiences from the Soviet Union, where he resided with his wife, the Moscow correspondent of the Philadelphia Inquirer at the time -- see Pu-239 And Other Russian Fantasies (1999), the title story of which was made into an HBO movie and premiered November 17, 2007. I first saw Kalfus on Bloomsday, the celebration of James Joyce’s Ulysses taking place at the Rosenbach Library. He read with his wife, Inga Saffron who is currently the architectural critic of the Inquirer. They both live in Philadelphia and are spotted on the street with their daughter (who seems like the coolest teenager in the world). Saffron’s blog, Skyline Online provides the BEST update on what’s happening on Philadelphia’s architectural scene. So, I wouldn’t be surprised if the next best Philadelphia fiction does not come out of the pen of Ken Kalfus. I’m impatiently waiting for a Philadelphia Ulysses.

In the meantime, I want to suggest a couple of quintessential urban Philadelphia works, not necessarily novels. For instance, my recent most favorite has to do with the Mummer’s Parade of 2008. Space 1026 is a funky art collaborative on Arch Street, whose importance was recognized in a 2002 exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Art. Members of the group formed the Vaude-Villains and entered the Parade with the theme “Eaglize It.” The resulting confrontation between old and new, straight and gay, working class and art class is so incredibly Philadelphia; I cannot think of a better manifestation of the city’s new greatness. For a full coverage of this project, see Ryan Creed, “Never Mind the Sequins,” The City Paper (Dec. 26, 2007).

A slightly older book which grows from Philadelphian experiences is The Immortal Class: Bike Messengers and the Cult of Human Power (2002). Although from Chicago, Travis Hugh Culley lived in Philadelphia while writing this memoir. The book is very intelligent, exploring the bike-messenger as the ultimate new urban hero, but also revisiting the American city and the persistent suppression of anything non-automotive throughout its history. It is not surprising that Philadelphia has the hippest track-bike culture in the US. How can anyone resist buying a bag from R.E. Load, a grass-roots manufacturing company. The neo-Arts & Crafts movement is shaping up in Philadelphia.

Consider, moreover, that not all of the editors of n+1 (the recent literary journal) live in New York. Some live in Philadelphia; and they are producing masterpieces. Mark Greif’s “Afternoon of the Sex Children" (N+1, no. 4, Spring 2006) is one of the best things I’ve read for a while. Not only was it reproduced in Harper’s (Nov. 20060, but also selected for The Best American Essays 2007, ed. David Foster Wallace. Two year earlier, Greif’s essay “Against Exercise’ (n+1, no. 1, Fall 2004) was selected for The Best American Essay 2005, ed. Susan Orlean and Robert Atwan. I may be mistaken but either Mark Greif or Marco Roth lives in Philadelphia. At least I want them to live in Philadelphia.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

New Books: Peripatetic History

André Breton worshiped aimlessness, wandering through the city and facilitating chance encounters. One was the encounter with Nadja, the subject of his 1928 novel by the same name. Such surreal narrations established a literary form of free association and an intellectual discipline of peripatetic urban research. The late-19th-century flâneur wandered the streets of Paris in disengaged poetic alienation, which for Charles Baudelaire (and later Walter Benjamin) became the archetype of modernity and aesthetic experience. The narrative meandering of Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time is another classic paradigm (Swann's Way is literally a road). Yet again in the 1960s, a second generation of Surrealists, the Situationist International, refined the method of urban drift (dérive) into an arbitrary science; the Beats did the same in the US (plus Algeria, and even Greece). The Baudelaire-Surrealist-Situationist-Beat tradition was still palpable in the intellectual climate of the late-1980s and early-1990s; consider among a multitude of examples, Jim Jarmusch's 1984 classic Stranger than Paradise, which has just been released on DVD (Criterion Series, 2007). I'm immensely grateful that Clemson's library already has a copy. And to wrap a thread between this and the last posting on punk archaeology, let me highlight Joe Strummer's strong relationship with Jarmusch (he even appeared in one of his movies, Mystery Train, 1989). The Situationists bled into the Clash (and punk) through their producer Bernie Rhodes, who was inspired by the Situationists. Rhodes was the intellectual directing the Clash into theoretical coherence (and away from silly love songs). It was Rhodes, for instance, that convinced Paul Simonon (bassist) to design the band's clothes and fill them with texts, to emulate the Situationists' famous psycho-maps (Chris Salewicz, Redemption Song, New York, 2006, p. 151).

I mention this intellectual tradition of urban wandering and psychogeography because I've noticed a resurgence of peripatetic literature in the last few months. By no means related to each other, or even claiming a common genealogy, a number of new authors explore wandering as a structure for history writing. For those of us who study and teach historical objects, monuments and landscapes, the model of the aimless memoir brings some excitement into our jobs. Most of the books that I will discuss below are not academic publications, but they manage to tell academic stories. In reviewing one of those books, Mark Mazower asked, "who would dissent from the desire to rescue history from the curators, the academics and the heritage industry experts and to inject it with the passion that will win its new devotees?" (
The Nation, Feb. 11 2008, p. 43) As an academic, and hence a member of the heritage industry, my ears perk up. I fling my doors open to the flaneur and invite him up into my dull academic office hours -- the student don't come anyway.

Although a couple of years old, I should include Rebecca Solnit's,
A Field Guide to Getting Lost (New York, 2005) into the great recent works on wandering (the hardback is on remainder on Amazon for only $6.49). Many of you may have noticed that 2007 was the year of Jack Kerouac since On the Road celebrated its 50th Anniversary. Remember how 2005 was the year of Allen Ginsberg's "Howl," another 50th Anniversary? A couple of weekends ago (while visiting my good friend Joe Alchermes for dinner in Manhattan), I chanced upon a wonderful exhibit displaying Kerouac's original manuscript and other paraphernalia at the New York Public Library (the exhibit is on till March 16, 2008). I will say more about this NYC visit because I also chanced uponDamien Hirst's installation at the Lever House. But this blog-posting is not about my derivee in New York; it is about some interesting new books that can be read while siting.

The new books are Will Self's,
Psychogeography, William Vollmann's, Riding Toward Everywhere, Geert Mak's, In Europe and Sarah Vowell's, Assassination Vacation. I should note at the outset that I have not read these books yet. They've come to my attention through a variety of sources (the Nation, the Sunday New York Times, National Public Radio, or Public Radio International). As I write, they sit on my bookshelf (or my Amazon cart). So what will follow is less of a review and more of an invitation. This is what I'll be reading in the next few months; want to join me?

Will Self and Ralph Steadman,
Psychogeography: Disentangling the Modern Conundrum of Psyche and Place (New York, 2007). Will Self is a British writer and journalist with a regular column on the Independent. I've glimpsed through a previous collection, Junk Mail (2006), but really learned about this book from Kurt Andersen's radio show, Studio 360 ( #849, Dec. 7, 2007). The Studio 369 interview begins where the book begins. On a trip from London to New York, Self walks from his home to Heathrow and after the flight from JFK to Manhattan. This becomes an act of resilience, a political gesture against the intentional placelessness of modern topography (with slight 911 overtones). The book is illustrated by Ralph Steadman, the British cartoonist best known for his illustrations of Hunter S. Thompson. The illustrations are reason enough to buy the book; Steadman's style revives the surreal visions of Max Ernst with a dosage of George Grosz and Francis Bacon.

William T. Vollmann,
Riding Toward Everywhere (New York, 2008). Vollmann is also a journalist/novelist. I haven't read much of his work, I've only browsed through his recent historical novel Europe Central (2005), which won the National Book Award. His new book is about jumping on trains and traveling aimlessly. See review in NYT Book Review. Vollmann's book has a different flavor as his interests fall on the world of the underclasses, the hobos who actually ride the trains. The journalistic research on poverty dominates his earlier Poor People (2007; just released in paperback). Riding Toward Everywhere is not sociological or preachy. It has two dominant motifs, a desire to reconnect with an earlier generation of blue collar American males immersed in industry, metal and machines (Vollmann's father and grandfather) and a call for liberation. Vollmann wants to inspire his contemporaries to escape with him.

Geert Mak,
In Europe: Travels through the Twentieth Century (New York, 2007).
This sounds like an amazing enterprise. Dutch journalist Geert Mak has been traveling through Europe's modern monuments, the places where Europe's tortured identity was written. There, he investigates the vestiges of cultural memory that remain in the 21st century. As the European identity drifts away from the burden of historical conscience (inescapable in the 20th century), its landmarks dissipate in memory and commemoration. This books wanders through those places looking for their past in their present. Mak's earlier book is interesting, too;
Jorwerd: The Death of the Village in Late Twentieth Century Europe (London, 2001) documents rural depopulation and its effects on the European psyche. Jorwerd, Mak's home village in the northwest Netherlands (Friesland), forms his case study. In Europe was beautifully reviewed by Mark Mazower, "Rambling Man," The Nation (Feb. 11, 2008), pp. 38-43. Mazower, a historian at Columbia University, is prolific (The Balkans; Dark Continent; Salonica); his best work and a must for ANYONE working on Greece is Inside Hitler's Greece (New Haven, 1993). More recently, he also edited a fascinating collection of essays dealing with the effects of the Greek Civil War in ordinary society, see After the War Was Over (Princeton, 1993). If Mazower endorses this ramble (see quote in first paragraph), then I cannot wait to read it.

Sarah Vowell,
Assassination Vacation (New York, 2005; new in paperback).
Sarah Vowell is one of the amazing young journalists contributing to Ira Glass's
This American Life on Public Radio International. The premise of her book is visiting every place that an American president has been assassinated. This peculiar self-imposed tourism becomes a narrative of American history as well as a documentary project on the present reality of those historical landmarks. You can hear Vowell speak about the Lincoln Memorial in last week's Studio 360, "American Icons: The Lincoln Memorial" on(#907, Feb. 15, 2008).

Happy reading. Tell me what you think. I'm personally very excited about these books.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Punk Suburbs

For this post, I'll cheat and direct you to another blog that contains some brilliant comments on Punk Archaeology. Ordinarily William Caraher's "The Archaeology of the Mediterranean World" is devoted to archaeological topics (methodological, theoretical, and other), providing an additional insight into the activities at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, where Bill is currently Carpenter Professor. Although written in Athens, this blog also addresses the regional complexities of North Dakota, where Bill teaches when he's not on-leave. So, I'm thrilled to have distracted Bill towards yet another of his interdisciplinary interests. Without further ado, please visit, "Punk Archaeology: Some Preliminary Thoughts."

You'll find some wonderful theoretical insights and an urban complement that I had inadvertently ignored, namely the suburb. Having bought into punk's own urban mythology, I've failed to appreciate the suburban origins of the music; as Bill points out, Garage Rock is by definition suburban. Perhaps I'm also avoiding the scene's most contemporary phase, residing almost exclusively in mall merchandising. I still have not made up my mind whether I like mall-punk (Green Day, Rancid, Offspring). Or simply, I've had my nose buried in British bibliography. I'm deeply humbled by my cyber conversation with Bill across the waters. This is truly the first proof I've ever received that blogging can have practical intellectual value, helping towards a more communal form of brainstorming.

Since this very posting is outwardly directive, I include some indispensable secondary literature. This is by no means exhaustive, but includes the most enduring general histories that I have read.

Azerrad, Michael. 2001. Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground 1981-1991, Boston, New York and London

Hebdige, Dick. 1979. Subculture: The Meaning of Style, London. (2nd edition, 2005)

Marcus, Greil. 1989. Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century, Cambridge, Mass.

McNeil, Legs, and Gilliam McCain. 1996. Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk, New York. (New edition, 2006)

Savage, Jon. 1992. England’s Dreaming: Anarchy, Sex Pistols, Punk Rock and Beyond, New York.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Punk Topography 101(ers)

The Clash front man Joe Strummer started his first band in 1974. Their name "The 101'ers" reveals the urban domestic origins of punk, named after 101 Walterton Road, where the band members squatted. Strummer had just bought his iconic Fender Telecaster; among other odd jobs he trimmed flower beds at Hyde Park and was janitor for the English National Opera. Earlier in the winter 1972-73, Strummer had a truly archaeological job, working as a gravedigger (as did Rod Stewart) The story of the band is told in Strummer's official biography, Chris Salewicz, Redemption Song: The Ballad of Joe Strummer (New York, 2006). Strummer and the rest of the 101'ers lived and practiced in the basement, which had a dirt floor. Walterton Street was a war time ghetto, which the government was slowly tearing down, house-by-house. 101 Walterton was the last house on the block razed in 1975. The squatters then moved to 36 St. Luke Road, close to a West Indian community. Essentially, the 101'ers were inhabiting an abandoned urban carcass. The house had no interior toilet, no hot water, no electricity and was flea infested. Electricity was illegally tapped from the public grid (Salewicz, pp. 116, 118, 129). The photo on the left, from Salewicz, p. 110, gives an architectural image of punk's origins, rising out of dilapidated brick houses of the 19th-century. Spaces such as these would become dwellings and performing spaces for countless bands in the UK and the USA.

Although 101 Walterton does not exist anymore, it was located at 51°31'29.83"N, 0°12'3.08"W (lat/long) and can be visited via GoogleEarth. Technically, quatting means the occupation of abandoned buildings without official permission or payment of rent. For a global overview, see

Masonry brick wall became central to the iconography of punk. In stark low budget black-and-white photography, the brick matrix provided dramatic visuality to the music. An exaggerated Xerox manipulation, further contrasted the black brick against the white mortar. Consider the architectural backdrop on the Ramones self-titled debut album (1976), a graffitied masonry wall from Lower Manhattan (probably outside CBGB's). Similarly, when the Clash released their first (also self-titled) record in 1977, it also set the band within a highly dramatic brick wall. The photo was taken by Kate Simon for an article in
Sounds in late 1976. The setting was an alleyway opposite the front door of the band's Rehearsal Rehearsals building in Camden Town (Salewicz 181). The 1980 album cover for Sandinista also featured a brick-wall background. The aesthetics of bare brick walls contrasts with those of a decade earlier. When Andy Warhol moved into the Factory in January 1964, he had Billy Name (a lighting technician) cover the bare brick walls with silver. The demise of the Factory in 1968 corresponds with the pealing of the silver application. Punk did not have glitter. It's also noteworthy to compare the punk walls with rock's most famous masonry, namely The Wall by Pink Floyd in 1979. The 2-LP album sleeves highlight a crisply drafted wall, pure whiteness inscribed by pure black lines. Above this orthographic drawing, we have the blotchy graffiti of the band's name and record title. True to its conceptual art-rock narrative, this wall exists in a fantastic, timeless, highly representational graphic realm. Although of similar iconography, it is foreign to the rough and real bricks of the Ramones and the Clash.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Punk Archaeology

Punk rock seems to be one of the most urban music movements of the late 20th-century in contrast to the Arcadian aesthetics of the hippies. An aversion to nature helped the punks define themselves against the hippies, one of their many professed enemies. From the outdoor concerts like Woodstock to the creating of self-sufficient alternative communities, the Sixties fit into romantic tradition where the countryside reveals paths to goodness, hope and rebirth; hippies were the offspring of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Enlightenment and Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Transcendentalism. The desire to build a new society took hippies outdoors, dancing on the tabula rasa, living physically within nature, freely cultivating natural substances that induced heightened sensorial experiences and practicing non-hierarchical organic social relations like free love. Cities, the consummate product of the bourgeoisie, were not good places for such an enterprise. Even if dwelling in urban centers, the hippies abandoned the modern city as an intellectual project. This is not to say that alternative communities did not flourish in cities. San Francisco is a good example, but even here the image of Golden Gate Park dominates. The political component of the Sixties had a visible urban manifestation in the anti-Vietnam and the Civil-Rights movement. We can hardly visualize 1968 without urban demonstrations. And we can hardly generalize the Sixties; experiences varied from region to region. May 1968 in Paris, for example, was undeniably one of the highest expressions of urbanism (incited by Guy Debord, Henri Lefebvre, the Situationists). But was the Parisian left, really hippie? Already we encounter some technical problems in defining “the Sixties.” The French experience differs greatly from the American experience; not only was it more fundamentally urban, but also more politically structured around the Communist party.

However we encapsulate the Sixties radical generation, it was undeniably different than the generation of the late Seventies and Eighties. Something happened in 1977. The contemporaries were keenly self-aware of articulating a new movement and, in retrospect, they historicized it in their narratives. One distinctive difference between punks and hippies lies in their urban commitment. Punks found the hippies idealistic, deluded and soft. Replacing escapism with nihilism, the punks embraced urban blight and tailored their identities to fit within the physical spaces of abandoned urban form. Rather than communing with nature, punks squatted in the city; they literally inhabited abandoned buildings and shaped an aggressively edgy existence out of domestic ruins. Growing up at the heights of suburban flight and the demise of the American city, the punks were the first post-industrial generation. Hippies, on the other hand, grew up at the heights of industrialism, benefiting from America’s postwar prosperity. The same industrial might that won World War II had been redirected to domestic social realms: cheap suburban houses, comforts, appliances, social conformity and streamlining. The American dream of the Fifties was a dream of victory. The hippies grew up in a prosperous, although socially constraining environment. Coming of age within the coherence of the Fifties household, they accumulated a profound social confidence. If their parents could reinvent—and rule—the world so could they, except that the world they desired was different. Living the optimism of the American dream, deceived them into unreachable goals, such as creating an equally universal alternative.

The punks emerged at the tail end of economic prosperity. In the words of Jon Savage, they came together "in a network of relationships as complicated as a the rabbit-warren London slums of Dickens's novels" (
England's Dreaming, New York, 1992, p. 3) Their internalized sensibility was one of coping, resisting and collapse. The punks experienced abandonment the way that the hippies experienced flight. Whether conceived as a music movement, a youth movement, or a cultural movement, they created a pervasive ethos with various characteristics, including an archaeological one. I will explore the connection between punk and archaeology in a series of case studies. For me, the connection is obvious at a visceral and deeply personal level. Generally speaking, I belong to Generation X—I even read the manual as soon as it came out, Douglas Coupland’s Generation X: Tales of an Accelerated Culture (1991). My formative youth experiences (high-school and college) fit comfortably within 1981-1991. More specifically, however, I grew up in cities. My attraction to the post-punk music and social culture began in Columbia, South Carolina, and flourished when my family moved to Philadelphia, which at the time was one of the most devastated cities in the East Coast. As a teenager immigrant, I never quite fit in main stream youth culture (Michael Jackson, proms, malls) but was attracted to the intellectual sophistication, public sphere and sensual character of the musical underground. The punk/post-punk scene manifested itself in multifarious musings and gatherings within the urban fabric. Punks squatted in the abandoned houses of West Philadelphia, where they also formed bands and performed; these were my friends, this was my dilapidated neighborhood. The movement’s superstars (like the Clash, Black Flag, Hüsker Dü, Dead Kennedys, Minor Threat) had such a limited audience that they performed at small venues, church basements, rotary clubs, bars, houses. There were no “concerts” only “shows.” To get the full historical flavor of the scene read, Michael Azerrad’s Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground 1981-1991 (2001). Having grown up around an underground that lived and breathed the abandoned city, I hope to articulate what I can only describe as an archaeological. It is not a surprise to me that the punk ethos directly cultivated in me an archaeological predilection. The punk ethos has caused much conflict in its generation by its sheer negativity. How do you continue to fight the power when you accumulate power as a mature member of society. Professionally, I translated punk’s spirit of abjection into archaeology, which I practice academically. Thus, the case studies that follow are exercises in self-reflection if not self-validation. The archaeological manifestations of punk are clear to my friends who shared these formative experiences during our teens and twenties. Not surprisingly, many are now academics. More importantly, they have shaped their respective intellectual inquires according to some feature of this shared punk ethos (whatever it might be). I didn’t fully realize the poetic significance of this generational experience until reading Rebecca Solnit’s A Field Guide to Getting Lost (2005); of course, we all knew that we were part of something larger from Greil Marcus’, Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century (1990). I owe many of my ideas to the critical discursive culture that the punk scene generated. I will probably bring their stories to bear, so I will enumerate those friends as a preliminary expression of gratitude. They are Jennie Uleman, Stephanie Camp, Elias Markolefas, Laurel Taylor, Emily Hage, Jules Dingle, Jenn Ball, Bill Caraher .

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Kostis Kourelis

Philadelphia, PA, United States