Pity the Avant-Garde

Chris Kraus reviews Richard Cabut and Andrew Gallix’s Punk is Dead in the TLS. It was a short-lived movement, with a golden age of “between four and eighteen months,” and was over by 1978.

That obsolescence was built-in, as philosopher Simon Critchley says in an interview in the book: “Because of the acute awareness of the fact that punk . . . would become a creature of the very music industry whose codes it subverted, we knew that it was going to be shortlived. And that was fine.”

In Critchley’s view, punk was a Reformation without God: “We wanted to see reality for what it was in all its ugliness . . . and tear away the decadence and fallenness of the culture industry that surrounded us.”

Even while it lasted, it depended on the bourgeois world it rejected. Kraus quotes from Judy Nylon: “There’s a lot of people saying ‘we’ when they write about punk, but those who had a job working for the record companies, or music papers, or clothes shops have a whole different level of immersion than those of us who didn’t . . . . In punk, having backup was all-important if rarely mentioned. You can’t get philosophical if you’re in real danger of not surviving . . . . My punk story is a diamond slice I can show you to help you imagine a rock too big for the frame.”

Pity the avant garde: If successful, it sells out to commercialism. If unsuccessful, no one hears of it.

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