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The Shape of Things to Come: Prophecy and the American Voice
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The Shape of Things to Come: Prophecy and the American Voice

3.57  ·  Rating Details ·  220 Ratings  ·  31 Reviews
A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice

A San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of the Year

A London Times Literary Supplement Best Book of the Year

In this exhilarating and kaleidoscopic investigation of American identity, Greil Marcus traces the nation's fable of self invention from its earliest Puritan beginnings to its successive retellings in the work of diverse contemp
Paperback, 336 pages
Published August 21st 2007 by Picador (first published September 5th 2006)
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James Klagge
I have previously read 3 books by Marcus, and enjoyed or at least appreciated them--Mystery Train, Invisible Republic, and a collection of his essays on Dylan. The only one I've read in the last 10 years (since I began tracking my reading here) is the collection, for which I began my review thus: "I doubt Greil Marcus is a pleasant person, and I don't often agree with him, but he is well worth reading when it comes to Bob Dylan, rock music, blues, or old-time music. He knows a huge amount, and a ...more
Sep 20, 2007 Dave-O rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: exceptionalists
Shelves: nonfiction
If something can feel incomplete and still be a bit genius, this book is it. Its difficult to follow the imaginative threads that Marcus makes for American democracy and pop culture. Avant grade music, Philip Roth books, David Lynch films, Alan Ginsburg's poetry, an obscure graphic novel about Uncle Sam, are used by Marcus as examples of American exceptionalism. An exceptionalism, he notes best exemplified by American artists and not politicians.

Some essays are easier to read than others, but on
Mar 28, 2011 Andrewhouston rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: couldn-t-finish
I feel like I should like this. Greil Marcus likes the things I like: American history and literature, rock and roll, Bob Dylan, Dave Thomas of Pere Ubu When I read the premise for this book I think "that sounds great!" But I just can't get in to it. His ideas feel more like hat tricks than really well thought out writing. I feel like he keeps making the same point over and over without really expounding on that point. Am I wrong? It seems like a lot of other really respectable people revere him ...more
May 07, 2008 Richard rated it really liked it
This book is all over the place and won't sit still. It's like Greil Marcus somehow turned his behavioral disorder to his advantage. Apparently, ADHD can be a critical method.
Aug 19, 2013 Dan rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Emperor has no clothes. Total gibberish. Got logic?
Bob Redmond
Jul 19, 2010 Bob Redmond rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: americana
It took me four years to read this book, primarily because Marcus' incisive cultural critiques crack open my skull, and once I realized this was happening, I had to put it aside.

Marcus broadens his music-culture purview in this 2006 book to tackle America itself, specifically its capacity, even necessity, of failed promise. From the "City on a Hill" vision of John Winthrop, sailing into Jamestown in 1630, through Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr, says Marcus, America has had consistent
Jun 19, 2009 Daniel rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
What do David Lynch, John Winthrop, Abraham Lincoln, Philip Roth, Pere Ubu, John Grisham, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Allen Ginsberg, John Dos Passos, Sleater-Kinney, and Robert McNamara have in common? If you read this book, you might be able to to answer this question. Then again, you'd be forgiven if an answer is not at the tip of your tongue.

I still have a few questions. What is the American voice? What brings us from the City on a Hill to Mulholland Drive (besides similar topography). Does our cu
Read the STOP SMILING interview with Greil Marcus:

A Wonderful Kind of Mess

by Kathryn Knight

The Shape of Things to Come: Prophecy and the American Voice, Greil Marcus’s latest book, demands to be put down. And picked up. And put down. And picked up. I had to force myself to read on not because the writing was shabby — quite the contrary — but because every sentence, paragraph and page is full of Marcus’s tangential observations on American film, music, literature and politics, all of which led th
Patrick McCoy
Sep 21, 2011 Patrick McCoy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: essays
I’ve always considered Greil Marcus one of America’s more profound and interesting cultural critics. I found his old Real Life Rock Top 10 columns for Salon, and now for The Believer magazine, eclectic and interesting. He shows this once again with his fascinating book The Shape of Things to Come: Prophecy and the American Voice. He looks at the American tradition and where it is going by looking at cultural artifacts as diverse as sermons by John Winthrop, the novels of Philip Roth, the films o ...more

I reviewed this for Flak Magazine, and I've said a whole bunch of things I wanted to say already, so I'm just going to add a few things here.

The thing is, I love what Marcus does. Related texts from high culture to low culture (neither designation really means anything, I know) which create a form, a pattern and a narrative that tells social history. Awesome.

And he's very good at it. The thing is, I can't quite investigate these things further. A good third of what he mentions (and he mentions a
Nov 19, 2007 Graham rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is weird and i am not even sure it makes sense. Apparently Marcus believes there is some sort of prophetic voice that connects the works of Philip Roth, Pere Ubu, and David Lynch (most specifically in Twin Peaks if I remember correctly). The most concrete idea in this book is that America is a promise impossible to keep and therefore betrayed.

Either I missed something or Marcus is reaching. Still, it is kinda fun to read. Maybe it's because I never really did get the music of Pere Ubu
Dec 06, 2010 robert rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Marcus always inspires me. I don't read his books straight through, I just dip in when the mood strikes. He usually makes me feel excited and energized. Perhaps this quote from page 185 encapsulates what I mean: "All these years later the thrill of what Thomas Jefferson called 'public happiness' still leaps off the pages -- the thrill of discovering the infinite subtlety of the language of oppression, and creating the language of refusal."
Aug 29, 2007 Lisle rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm never going to finish this. It had such a dry tone. It was kind of interesting, but I was really having to push just to skim it. This time of year (early September), makes it hard for me to think about prophecies. But I guess I needed to this some about Lincoln's second inaugural address and its relation to Dr. King's dream. Greil Marcus was one of my icons as a teen. It is good to see that he is still thinking deep thoughts, and that linking them to rock and roll is not oxymoronic.
Apr 05, 2013 Greg rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Would have given it five stars if it wasn't for the Pere Ubu essay. Ii've heard many arguments on the belief of America being a symbol, a gilded result of prophetic vision, but few social commentators can clearly break down the pathos of that argument and deconstruct its meaning and shortcomings. Greil can.
Dec 28, 2009 Graham rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Goddammit. I typed a long-ass review of this and for some reason it didn't save. I'm not gonna type it again, but in a nutshell, if you like Greil Marcus, read this. If you don't like Greil Marcus, keep on reading Chuck Klosterman or whatever. If you've never read Greil Marcus, start with "Lipstick Traces". Phew. Hope this one works.
Jan 02, 2010 Pete rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2010, usa
Greil Marcus is the rock star of academic writing. I'm not sure what the point of this book was, really, or that I can believe that "the American Voice" runs through Bill Pullman's facial expressions as much as it did Abraham Lincoln's speeches and John Winthrop's sermons, but Greil Marcus is a pretty cool guy for trying to draw the connection.
Dec 12, 2009 John is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
I will commit myself; the book is brilliant, Frightening, exciting, sickening. It brings you alive as an american.--Devin McKinney The American Prospect..... This is a page turner, .. truth not fiction thru popular culture.. for those who truly feel they want to know what the quantifiable collective American consciousness may represent.... stay tuned.
Nov 04, 2007 Daniel rated it liked it
Recommends it for: people who are interested in the American myth
This would have gotten four stars from me except that it was a little scattered. The subject matter is interesting enough (basically, the role of the American myth - America as the New Jerusalem - in American history and thought) and it is apt enough reading with Thanksgiving around the corner.
Oct 26, 2010 Andrewh rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Up to Greil Marcus' usual brilliant if opaque standard of writing - if you like his free-associating, cultural-archaelogical style, then you should read this; manages to draw connections between the US puritan tradition to avant-garde rockers Pere Ubu, so go figure.
Joseph Volk
Sep 02, 2009 Joseph Volk rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Marcus' treatment of Phillip Roth and David Lynch combine to make this book worth the read and that's not even mentioning all the rest of the ground he covers. Loving, creative, and personal, this is the best kind of criticism.
Mar 25, 2011 Kathleen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I spent a whole semester on this book for an English class and hated every minute of it. However, the moment I started writing about Marcus's ideas, I began to like them. Looking back, it really was an interesting read. I'll never look at Bill Pullman the same way again.
Nov 19, 2007 Wm rated it liked it
If cultural criticism is your thing.

And if you enjoy the work of Roth, David Lynch or Pere Ubu.

And if you share certain liberal values related to America and art.

Then you might just like this book.
Nov 18, 2007 Tosh rated it really liked it
To spend time with Greil Marcus is a pleasure. Here is a group of essaays regarding America of sorts via the writings of Philip Roth and more important to me, the films of David Lynch. He also gets points for mentioning Bruce Conners, who for sure influenced Lynch.
Feb 22, 2008 Cho rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm not really sure what this book is about.
Hugo Filipe
Too far fetched, the references were not that interesting and the book was definitely missing some of the inspiration of "lipstick traces"
Grace Krilanovich
I was surprised by the Heavens to Betsy chapter. Nobody talks about this band, especially in books with the american flag on the cover. Unfortunately none of it really connected.
Jun 20, 2009 Cindy rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Interesting read, but writing style lost me.
Jan 14, 2008 Eric rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Greil Marcus may be the best cultural critic we have today. His expansive meditations on topics as disparate as Pere Ubu, Philip Roth, and David Lynch are essential.
Monica Westin
Oct 31, 2014 Monica Westin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Some astounding sentences in here, including the world's greatest description of Bill Pullman's face. This is Marcus' criticism at its most confident, and occasionally completely berserk.
David Rogers
May 23, 2008 David Rogers rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Not only does Marcus effectively re-plug American culture into its history, he gives us (I kid you not) a 60-page essay on Bill Pullman's face, which alone is worth the price of admission.
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Greil Marcus is the author of Mystery Train (1975), Lipstick Traces (1989), The Shape of Things to Come (2006), When that Rough God Goes Riding and Bob Dylan by Greil Marcus (both 2010), and other books. With Werner Sollors he is the editor of A New Literary History of America (2009). In recent years he has taught at Berkeley, Princeton, Minnesota, NYU, and the New School in New York. He lives in ...more
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