Synopses & Reviews
From the author of Mystery Train and Lipstick Traces, an exhilarating and provocative investigation of the tangle of American identity “America is a place and a story, made up of exuberance and suspicion, crime and liberation, lynch mobs and escapes; its greatest testaments are made of portents and warnings, biblical allusions that lose all certainty in the American air.” It is this story of self-invention and nationhood that Greil Marcus rediscovers, beginning with John Winthrop’s invocation of America as a “city on the hill,” Lincoln’s second inaugural address, and Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech about his American dream. Listening to these prophetic founding statements, Marcus explores America’s promise as a New Jerusalem and the nature of its covenant: first with God, and then with its own citizens. In the nineteenth century, this vision of the nation’s story was told in public as part of common discourse, to be fought over in plain speech and flights of gorgeous rhetoric. Since then, Marcus argues, it has become cryptic, a story told more in art than in politics. He traces it across the continent and through time, hearing the tale in the disparate voices of writers, filmmakers, performers, and actors: Philip Roth, David Lynch, David Thomas, Allen Ginsberg, Sheryl Lee, and Bill Pullman. In The Shape of Things to Come, the future and the past merge in extraordinary and uncanny ways, and Marcus proves once again that he is our most imaginative and original cultural critic.
"Marcus plumbs the depth and breadth of American exceptionalism through his unique lens of cultural criticism, forging often astounding links between people, places, works of art and miscellaneous phenomena, as he has in most of his previous nine books. The independent scholar posits that the United States of America is a cultural construction, grounded in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Without those bedrocks, Marcus believes, the nation would be 'little more than a collection of buildings and people who have no special reason to speak to each other, and nothing to say.' Marcus builds his own erudite vision upon John Winthrop's 1630 speech 'A Modell of Christian Charity,' Abraham Lincoln's second inaugural address in 1865, Martin Luther King Jr.'s 1963 exhortation from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, the later novels of Philip Roth, the films of David Lynch and the music of David Thomas with his band Pere Ubu. More than most books, Marcus's latest tour de force is quite likely to divide readers into two camps: those who find it brilliant and those who find it baffling. (Sept.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Ranging as he does from Monica Lewinsky to David Lynch, Lou Reed back to Philip Roth, the Pixies to Pere Ubu, the great cultural critic Greil Marcus suggests in The Shape of Things to Come
that in the USA, artists rather than politicians truly have the measure of the country."--Paul Muldoon, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Horse Latitudes
"A pirate radio station broadcasting late at night from the heart of the lost republic."--D. D. Guttenplan, The Times Literary Supplement (London)
"There are wonders on nearly every page, connections made and broken between history and pop culture, and always there is Marcus's gift for summoning up an entire phenomenon in a single sentence."--Ken Tucker, Entertainment Weekly
"Like Lipstick Traces, this book is an impossible fever dream- conversation, in which Abraham Lincoln, Sleater-Kinney, obscure bluesmen, old punks, characters from 24, Sinclair Lewis, and Martin Luther King Jr. speak to each other on some frequency that only Marcus can transcribe. The cacophony is in us, and in such scary times it's imperative that we listen."--Frances Reade, San Francisco Weekly
"His writing is cool, vivid, fixated--and you see what he sees. . . . I will commit myself: this book is brilliant. Frightening, exciting, sickening. It brings you alive as an American."--Devin McKinney, The American Prospect
From the author of "Mystery Train" and "Lipstick Traces," comes an exhilarating and provocative investigation of the tangle of American identity.
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 contemporary artists. Marcus considers the birth of America as a New Jerusalem, a place of promises so vast that they could only be betrayed--and how from that betrayal emerged the nation's prophetic voice, the voice that calls America's citizens to self-judgment. Over the course of our history, Marcus finds that the prophetic voice has sounded less and less in the political realm--where it can be heard in the words of John Winthrop, Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King, Jr.--and more in the work of individual artists, including Philip Roth, David Lynch, Sinclair Lewis, John Dos Passos, David Thomas of Pere Ubu, Allen Ginsberg, the band Heavens to Betsy, Bill Pullman, and Sheryl Lee.
In The Shape of Things to Come, the past and the present merge in the most extraordinary and surprising ways. Greil Marcus presents a stirring, and frightening, portrait of our country, our ideals, and ourselves.
About the Author
Greil Marcus is the author of nine previous books, including Lipstick Traces, Mystery Train, and The Dustbin of History. He lives in Berkeley, California.