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

By Greil Marcus

From the writer of puzzle educate and Lipstick lines, an exciting and provocative research of the tangle of yankee identity

"America is a spot and a narrative, made from exuberance and suspicion, crime and liberation, lynch mobs and escapes; its maximum testaments are made up of portents and warnings, biblical allusions that lose all walk in the park within the American air." it really is this tale of self-invention and nationhood that Greil Marcus rediscovers, starting with John Winthrop's invocation of the United States as a "city at the hill," Lincoln's moment inaugural tackle, and Martin Luther King Jr.'s speech approximately his American dream. hearing those prophetic founding statements, Marcus explores America's promise as a brand new Jerusalem and the character of its covenant: first with God, after which with its personal electorate. within the 19th century, this imaginative and prescient of the nation's tale was once advised in public as a part of universal discourse, to be fought over in undeniable speech and flights of lovely rhetoric. due to the fact that then, Marcus argues, it has develop into cryptic, a narrative informed extra in paintings than in politics. He lines it around the continent and during time, listening to the story within the disparate voices of writers, filmmakers, performers, and actors: Philip Roth, David Lynch, David Thomas, Allen Ginsberg, Sheryl Lee, and invoice Pullman. within the form of items to come back, the longer term and the previous merge in notable and uncanny methods, and Marcus proves once more that he's our such a lot creative and unique cultural critic.

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The pain is that the great nation King prophesied so long ago no more exists today than it did then. America raised itself on the rock of a metaphysically perfect idea, and on that rock it broke into pieces: the nation, not the idea. “I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and alllll flesh! ” So said Martin Luther King in his most ecstatic moment, the words from Isaiah 40:4–5 all but rendering him as much spirit as he was flesh.

His lumbering phrases were too carefully polished. His tone was odd. As he spoke, it was as if the audience were missing; the speech called up not the nation before him but a vacuum, as if King were listening most of all for the echo of his own words. “In a sense we’ve come to our nation’s capital to cash a check,” King said to the civil rights workers who had driven from the South in old cars and buses, who had for a few days left behind their burned churches and bullet-riddled communal houses.

In his Second Inaugural, Lincoln edged closer to this god, to this voice, a modern voice that is also an ancient voice—the voice of God in the most blasted deserts of the Old Testament, the voice of a trickster god no more moral than the weather. As sometimes happened when Lincoln spoke—in the most carefully prepared, written-out speeches—passion rose up with lust and fear. As you read one hundred and fifty years later, you can imagine the speaker’s face changing, Dr. Jekyll into Mr. Hyde, the worried man into a werewolf, a nineteenth-century rhetorical trick or the rhetorical cadence of late-twentieth-century Washington state punk, something from Nirvana or Sleater-Kinney: the straight, well-built verse, the chorus in flames, the song blowing up in your face.

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