Wednesday, November 29, 2006
I enjoy reading Greil Marcus, but usually the insights I take away from his writing are different from the points he is trying to make. That may be why I liked "Mystery Train" the best-- it seemed more like a conversation we were both having, rather than a harangue that I was only half paying attention to, like "Lipstick Traces". "Like a Rolling Stone: Bob Dylan at the Crossroads" didn't quite get there for me, and "Invisible Republic: Bob Dylan's Basement Tapes" was full of interesting information, but didn't quite get there for me on the Dylan stuff. (I've said elsewhere that "Invisible Republic" might have worked better as a book about The Band.) Still, I loved "The Rose & the Briar: Death, Love and Liberty in the American Ballad", and I know that I'll get around to The Shape of Things to Come: Prophecy and the American Voice. If John H. Summers' review is correct, the thesis of the book is that the United States, "alone among the world of nations, subsists in its symbols: Upon the virtue of its symbols it depends for its survival." This is, I think, close enough to correct to be completely wrong. It is true to say that the United States was the first nation created out of a set of ideas-- from a philosophy, if you like. It is also true that there are a number of symbols that stand for those ideas, here and abroad, and that the US is unusual in that many of those symbols resonate with greater meaning abroad than at home. But there are symbols that represent almost every nation. The pervasiveness of American iconography is distinctive, not the mere fact of it.