Thursday, August 27, 2009

Pistols! Treason! Murder!: Punk History

Iain McCalman described Pistols! Treason! Murder! as 'punk history'. I suspect he was simply free-associating (Pistols! = Sex Pistols = punk), but in the spirit of 1977 (or 1976 for purists), I decided to pre-empt the inevitable question - what exactly is punk history? - by inventing a post-facto manifesto for this non-existent movement. The manifesto has four points.

1. We mean it man. Total cynicism towards the conventional pieties of historical writing combined with passionate commitment to a particular subject.

2. Boredom. Get it over with as fast as you can: maximum speed, maximum aggression. Why use eight thousand words when eight hundred will do, or eighty? If anything gets in the way of the forward momentum of the story, including contextual information, feel free to ignore it. Cut until it bleeds.

(Alternatively, lavish attention on details that other writers would dismiss as irrelevant. This inversion of the rule is equally important. Why use eighty words when you can use eight hundred, or eight thousand?)

3. Do it yourself. Why should you be limited by someone else’s lack of imagination? You don’t have an unlimited budget. So what? Script the illustrations yourself. Supervise their production. Provide a design brief. Tell the typesetter what you want. Don’t try and do other people’s job for them – they’re better at it than you are – but be involved. Have an opinion. Be prepared to justify it.

4. No future. Write as if your career is already over. You have nothing left to lose, so it doesn’t matter who you offend.

Gerolamo Vano is the ideal subject for such a history. Vano stands not only for aggressive indifference to pious convention, but also for unlimited cynicism, maximum exploitation of a limited talent by ruthless opportunism, an almost ascetic indifference to the suffering of others, and a willingness to exploit the fear and credulity of his employers for his own gain. Unique among his contemporaries, Vano understood the uselessness of all sectarian rhetoric in the brave new world of espionage. He confined all references to such trivial distractions to the one place where they might serve some purpose: requests for money. Only when pleading for more ducats did Vano adopt the guise of a patriot. For Vano, the only thing that mattered was keeping the audience’s attention, by any means necessary.

I admire him tremendously. I hope to emulate his success.


N.B. Some of these points were discussed in an interview with Phillip Adams on Radio National's Late Night Live. The audio file of this interview is available in the Press section of my site (under 15 February 2007).

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