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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 of 5 stars 3.57  ·  rating details  ·  197 ratings  ·  31 reviews
Shape Of Things To Come, The: Prophecy And The American Voice, by Marcus, Greil
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published September 5th 2006 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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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.
May 06, 2009 Stop added it
Shelves: interviewees
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
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
Bob Redmond
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
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
Oct 03, 2007 Dave-O rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
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
There are few books that- as soon as I've finished it- I could conceivably start re-reading immediately. One such book was William T. Vollmann's Imperial. Even though it was a heavy tome of a book, Volmmann wrote about Imperial County (and by extension- the American Project as a whole) in such a completely beguiling and feverish way that the pages flowed by swiftly. Though much shorter, Greil Marcus' The Shape of Things to Come captures that same sort of poetic and lyrical examination of the str ...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
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
Monica Westin
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.
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
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.
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."
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.
Oct 20, 2014 Pete rated it 3 of 5 stars
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.
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.
Nov 04, 2007 Daniel rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
David Rogers
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.
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.
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.
A great little book written by a great writer. A surprisingly quick read that can't help but pale in comparison to Lipstick Traces, but worth checking out regardless.
Hugo Filipe
Too far fetched, the references were not that interesting and the book was definitely missing some of the inspiration of "lipstick traces"
Emperor has no clothes. Total gibberish. Got logic?
Interesting read, but writing style lost me.
I'm not really sure what this book is about.
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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
More about Greil Marcus...
Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock 'n' Roll The Old, Weird America: The World of Bob Dylan's Basement Tapes Like a Rolling Stone: Bob Dylan at the Crossroads Ranters and Crowd Pleasers: Punk in Pop Music, 1977-1992

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