The Impossibility of Negation: Punk Rock, Christian Rock, and the Problem of Negationist Subculture

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Master of Arts (MA)




Both the punk rock end Christian rock music subcultures have been the subject of analyses that cast them in “negationist” terms-as groups critically opposed to popular/secular culture. Despite their categorization of these music genres as antitheses, however, no analysis has gone so far as to read them specifically in the context of German philosopher GAV.F. Hegel whose dialectical model systematized the opposition of thesis and antithesis. Moreover, no analysis has juxtaposed the two suspiciously similar subcultures in dialectical terms, and theorized them in terms of their documented opposition to each other. Such is the goal of this thesis.

Therefore, beginning with Greil Marcus’ and H.R. Niebuhr’s negationist readings of punk and Christianity, respectively, this thesis applies the second chapter (“Self- Consciousness”) of Hegel’; enomenology o f Spirit (1807) to the punk and Christian rock music subcultures, analyzing them concomitantly in relation to both the mainstream/secular culture they have refused and each other. This paper may be described, then, as a Hegelian reading of rock music the goal of which is to locate, through textual analysis, homologies between the punk and Christian rock subcultures. The texts in question include each genres’ songs (lyrics and their performance), couture, album art, and even the genres’ commercial practices.

Following definitions and a very brief history of each genre, the categorization and interpretation of their negative desire in the context of Phenomenology\ and the exploration of punk’s religiosity, the essay will offer two primary conclusions. First, despite the complete opposite ideologies/theologies that inspired and continue to inspire these groups’ negationism (not to mention their hatred for each other), the subcultures are actually responding similarly to the domi’.iant culture, turning them, paradoxically, into “identical opposites” whose refusals of each other are ironic and perhaps unwarranted. In effect, this suggests that the fluid superficial features of all would-be negationist subcultures are, while relevant, secondary both in terms of the groups’ original impulse to negation and the theoretical consequences for the subcultures’ adherents following their rebellion. Specifically, it is negation itself that is an impossible position. Second, while negation fails communities in that it simply displaces rather than resolving the philosophical and social enigma, the conceptual area where negation has succeeded (in fact is necessary in dialectical terms) is in supplying individuals (the individual selfconsciousness as described by Hegel) with both a lexicon and forum for both cultural and self-criticism and a better understanding of both the self and heretofore negated Other (and, by proxy, Spirit), which becomes practical, paradoxically, only when negation is itself negated and the grander dialectical chain consummated.

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