Dispelling American Myths
The Shape of Things to Come: Prophecy and the American Voice
by Greil Marcus
Date: 4/1/2015 12:47:46 PM ( 6 y ) ... viewed 744 times
At Scribd I found a book that caught my attention and have just spent the last few hours commenting on one of the reviews of that book at Amazon. (I should be getting paid to do this! ; ~ )
First the review:
Brilliant writing stye, dazzling command of popular culture, depressing and depressed view of America
By Craig Matteson
HALL OF FAME TOP 1000 REVIEWER
on October 18, 2006
Greil Marcus has made his bones as a journalist, critic, historian, and his own genus of philosopher of pop music and related cultural issues. His writing style is very much his own. It is quite mannered, and feels to me to be much like musical improvisation (but is carefully worked out) mixed with a more or less leftist political sensibilities and pessimistic dismissal of political and historical America as the cause of all misery and pain in the world mixed in with a spoonful or two of ADHD.
For Marcus, there is no authority to appeal to; nothing outside of oneself to serve or protect. His whole universe is a collection of images, sounds, and words that come to mind, are linked in some way and that linkage and presentation creates or gives voice to some emotionally needy sense of reality. He seems to have taken in the lessons of deconstructionist philosophy. If there are only personal narratives with no possibility of objective communication, why not just riff and try to get the reader to agree with and share your feelings about things by sharing common images and sounds. Figures in literature or the movies are just as valid as any historical figure, since both are constructed and presented to us by some author communicating his or her own narrative through those characters.
Yeah, I know.
This book consists of seven essays. The conceit of the book is that there are voices in America's past that vibrate sympathetically to our time and that as we hear those voices we can see the reality of our own time, terrible as it is. These past voices are our true prophets and their artistic works are the true prophecies.
I have to say that I am quite impressed with Marcus' writing style. It is an interesting achievement and his broad knowledge of popular culture and command of its artifacts is quite dazzling. While much of each essay reads like sparks of ideas flashing intensely and quickly before our eyes, there are also small periods of discourse that go on for a few paragraphs. But these are more about telling the story of something he is using as illustration rather than presentation of any argument. Because, again, if all there can be is personal narrative, it makes not sense to try and use logic, reason, evidence, and conclusion (you know, the tools that enabled the human race to leave the caves and trees). All there can be is persuasion and emotional affinity, a redoubt of the well schooled but poorly educated.
For this author, America is past decline, it is less than a failure, it was a promise never fulfilled but still owed, and our ideals nothing more than comforting bedtime stories (pg. 260). In an extended riff on Steve Darnall's 1997 comic book "Uncle Sam", Marcus conflates the battlefields of our Revolutionary War with the Andersonville prison camp of the Civil war with the 1832 massacre of the Blackhawks by the U. S. Army with the "massacre of union workers by private police at the Rouge River Ford plant in Dearborn, Michigan a hundred years after that" (pg. 262).
Well, the only problem with that is that the "Battle of the Overpass" did not result in any massacre. Yes, UAW officers and workers were seriously hurt, but no one died. The pictures in the Detroit News made it a national event, but its brutality was not in the league of the Homestead strike of 1892 where ten died or the death of about 20 in the Ludlow coal strike in Colorado. So, why does he pick the Rouge River? Was it the poetry of the "Red River" and blood? I don't know. It just seemed odd to me. However, just anti-intellectual enough to embody the tone of much of the book.
Another example is his riff on Marian Anderson, the great contralto, who was denied access to the use Constitution Hall in Washington D. C. for a recital in 1939 because she was black. So, a wonderful and important open air recital was arranged on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. It made an exquisite point and is an important historical event. On page thirty-six, Marcus notes that Anderson wore "a heavy coat against the chill". Now, everyone knows that famous picture of her with the big statue of the seated Lincoln behind her. If you don't, just do a web image search on Marian Anderson Lincoln Memorial and you can see her in that heavy FUR coat. I wonder if Marcus left out that fur part because of modern sensibilities. I mean, with the way our time uses modern moral fashions to disqualify important folks of former times, did he avoid identifying her heavy coat as fur because of the current sentiment against them? Again, I don't know, but the very nature of this book and its style of writing called this question to my mind.
While I admire the facility of the writing of this book, I end up having a problem with the way the author makes his arguments. He gathers together a huge number of brand name images and sounds that have pre-associated feelings so it is the collage of these feelings that frame the "argument" rather than reason or evidence (which I assume Marcus does not believe in anyway). In the end, it is a meal that is unusual in its presentation and leaves one strangely empty even after a lot of eating. I also vastly disagree with his premises, commentary, and conclusions (such as they are) about America, its history, and the value of our society. But then again I am part of the "pure American corn" that he so easily looks down upon.
Good for him. Next!
Much appreciate the line: "In the end, it is a meal that is unusual in its presentation and leaves one strangely empty even after a lot of eating." That speaks volumes to me! Interestingly it reminds me of the "Standard American Diet" (SAD) and all the health issues ascribed to that.
From just the little bit of reading of this book (that I accessed at Scribd) and from the handful of reviews I read here I realize the difficulty in speaking about "America" when I consider what Americans have been taught in public schools. The long and short of this history lesson is that the public school students are led to believe that they are getting all that they need to fully actualize their American heritage based only on the government's interpretive writing of that history; an interpretation that essentially relies on just the last of the four Organic Laws! However, according to all four Organic Laws the true American spirit that is reflected in the first Organic Law (that we all know as The Declaration of Independence) is one that rejected government!
This same truly American spirit continued to be known through the second Organic Law (known as: The Articles of Confederation) wherein it refers to "free inhabitants". (These are the American individuals who continued to reject the services of the external government and chose to truly live free - a manner of living that is not too common now).
By the third Organic Law (Northwest Ordinance) we have the government's scheme presented regarding its Lawful jurisdiction that is proprietary in nature. This proprietary-based limitation on government's jurisdiction is actually the missing key in the public school system's government history lesson!
The fourth Organic Law is the one done in secrecy. Why? With this question those with public school education can begin to shed their beliefs on the myths of what it is to be a red-blooded American (mistakenly thought of as a "United States citizen" when that status did not exist until after the War Against The States!).
I appreciate the preceding line regarding "images and sounds". IMO Americans have been taught to believe in the "images and sounds" that were first imprinted during the early school years and that continue through the media and the like! All the images and sounds cannot nourish our American spirit as the "self-evident truths" do (plus the truth that continuing to believe in American myths can now be clearly seen as a dead end).
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