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  • “Just like Eddie”1 or as far as a boy can go: Vedder, Barthes, and Handke Dismember Mama
  • Stephanie Barbé Hammer

1. can’t find a better man2

A feminist hitchhiker/hijacker on/of the rock and roll culture bandwagon, I grab the wheel and direct a critical detour from the wild and wooly trail mapped out by Greil Marcus in Lipstick Traces. I track his assumption that rock culture — the stars of whom have replaced both heroes and cinema icons — provides a useful, crucial set of metaphors for thinking about contemporary high-culture, and extend the route with my conviction that both high culture writers and theorists are canonized within and beyond academe in ways that mimic the vagaries of rock and roll “fame.”3 Marcus notes in his earlier work, Mystery Train, that rock music is not so much an object of interpretation as an interpretive enabler for our own particular situation — a hermeneutic which “acts upon” the listener/viewer and which produces different meanings at different moments (Street on Marcus, 157). So, I will use one man to get another; I leave Marcus I and turn on Eddie Vedder, lead singer of Pearl Jam, whom I turn into an apparatus rather than a mere object (although he is this also) in order to shed light upon the work of Roland Barthes and Peter Handke. It is also apropos; Barthes repeatedly expressed his admiration for such underground masculine icons as professional wrestlers (one wonders what he would have made of grunge), while Handke has frequently cited rock lyrics in his most seemingly neo-classical works, as in the pastoral poem Beyond the Villages (Über die Dörfer), which is prefaced by a quote from Creedence Clearwater Revival.

I would like Barthes and Handke to meet (and jam) on Eddie Vedder’s stage for several reasons. First, I bewail their relegation to the esoteric heights of high literary endeavor; they have become so “important” that no one knows who they are, as opposed to Vedder who is so unimportant that everyone knows about him. Like the critically acclaimed art films that no one sees and that can’t be found on video, and the avant-garde art exhibitions which no one goes to, Barthes and Handke are writers that no one reads, because their work can’t be located at Super Crown or at B. Dalton. No one, meaning, regular people; no one meaning everyone who isn’t an intellectual. Second, I distrust the fact that they have consistently been written about in such complete accordance with the stereotypes about French and German language and culture which have functioned for at least 200 years (i.e. since the Enlightenment). Third, I suspect that Eddie Vedder is indeed “important,” in spite of himself. Fourth, in my fem-fan capacity, I want to introduce questions of gender, sexuality, desire, and pleasure/pain to the mix of rock and roll, cultural studies, postmodern writing and see how they play, for play they must. Will their (my) presence wreck the party which is postmodernism/ity? Maybe, or maybe their presence make any party more interesting, as Leslie Gore once tearfully implied. Joni Mitchell, Simone de Beauvoir, Bjork, Desree, and Avital Ronell second that emotion — that it is necessary for girls to deconstruct boys who deconstruct.

Clear nationalist biases are at work in the general understanding of Barthes and Handke, and these transparently “obvious,” genetic differences between the French and the German — between a wry ironic pederasty and an ascetic, parzival-like heterosexuality — are tempting, for they look very neat; Barthes and Handke become, according to such orientations, mere inverted mirrors of each other, and on the surface (if only there) this binary holds. The French one moved from semiotic criticism to a writing which increasingly proclaimed itself to be personal, eccentric, and unscientific — a creative writing which made the essay into a kind of internal theater, a critical strip-tease which resembled the disreputable joints Barthes frequented on the night he was killed. Not surprisingly, the written words about Barthes mimic the perception of him; they spill over the pages in a testimonial to bliss, they break the rules, they invoke photography...

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