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Born in Flames

Born in Flames

Termite Dreams, Dialectical Fairy Tales, and Pop Apocalypses

Howard Hampton

ISBN 9780674027329

Publication date: 04/15/2008

Twenty years as an outsider scouring the underbelly of American culture has made Howard Hampton a uniquely hard-nosed guide to the heart of pop darkness. Bridging the fatalistic, intensely charged space between Apocalypse Now Redux and Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” his writing breaks down barriers of ignorance and arrogance that have segregated art forms from each other and often from the world at large.

In the freewheeling spirit of Pauline Kael, Lester Bangs, and Manny Farber, Hampton calls up the extremist, underground tendencies and archaic forces simmering beneath the surface of popular forms. Ranging from the kinetic poetry of Hong Kong cinema and the neo–New Wave energy of Irma Vep to the punk heroines of Sleater-Kinney and Ghost World, Born in Flames plays odd couples off one another: pitting Natural Born Killers against Forrest Gump, contrasting Jean-Luc Godard with Steven Spielberg, defending David Lynch against aesthetic ideologues, invoking The Curse of the Mekons against Fredric Jameson’s Postmodernism, and introducing D. H. Lawrence to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. “We are born in flames,” sang the incandescent Lora Logic, and here those flames are a source of illumination as well as destruction, warmth as well as consumption.

From the scorched-earth works of action-movie provocateurs Seijun Suzuki and Sam Peckinpah to the cargo cult soundscapes of Pere Ubu and the Czech dissidents Plastic People of the Universe, Born in Flames is a headlong plunge into the passions and disruptive power of art.


  • Born in Flames encompasses literature and movies, television, the jazz of Anthony Braxton and William Parker, the post-punk of Wire and Essential Logic. It’s one thing to make seemingly wild connections among genres, artists and epochs, pairing Buffy the Vampire Slayer with D.H. Lawrence’s Studies in Classic American Literature or Apocalypse Now with Nirvana. It’s another to make those connections stick… Best of all, he’s fun to read… An aesthetic of pleasure runs through Hampton’s writing… The best criticism forms an unconscious self-portrait of the critic. When Howard Hampton describes the work that matters most to him as having ‘a personal touch that brings something unique and special, always that sense of discovery, of finding things they didn’t anticipate and going further than they thought,’ he’s perfectly described his own.

    —Charles Taylor, Los Angeles Times


  • Howard Hampton has written for Film Comment, Artforum, the Believer, the Village Voice, L.A. Weekly, Black Clock, the Boston Globe, and the New York Times, among other publications.

Book Details

  • 496 pages
  • 1-1/4 x 5-1/8 x 7-15/16 inches
  • Harvard University Press