I am thinking of this because I just finished reading Dreams from My Father, and I’m not one whit closer to an understanding of who this person actually is than I was before I opened the book. As advertised, it is elegantly written, but detached, opaque, impersonal – despite being an autobiography. Its literary elegance disguises rather than reveals.
At first, we think we’re going to get some insight into his head and heart – and I went into it genuinely open to that. I want to love the one I’m (perforce) with. But what we get, instead of self-expression, is a series of reflections on race, mostly in the form of emblematic scenes from his life, each of which illustrates some political point, each of which has the same hedged, muted, multi-perspective aura. In what is by far the most engaging part of the book – its final section, describing his first trip to
This is, I think, every bit as much of a campaign document as The Audacity of Hope – even if it was written ten years earlier. Barack Obama, it seems clear, set his mind on becoming President of the
This is a man whose true genius is hiding in plain sight. (For anybody who is familiar with Sigurd Burckhardt’s famous essay on King Lear, “The Quality of Nothing,” Obama is the perfect anti-Lear, the antithesis of a figure constitutionally incapable of mediacy. He may vote “present,” but he can’t be present. He’s almost too post-modern, too Derridean, too palpably the presence of an absence.)
It doesn’t matter what he does. He can talk for hours, joke around, expose himself to the world’s media, be the focus object for millions of hungry souls… he can even write entire books on himself… and yet he recedes ever farther from actual view. Is this a skill, or a psychiatric condition? I don’t think it can be a sham. Nobody could pull that off. He really must be so terrified of what lies inside, must have sealed it up so tight, that he himself hasn’t the first idea who’s in there.
Thing is, he’s now in a place where there’s a better-than-even chance that it’ll be smoked out. He has walked out onto the stage, one of the biggest and barest of them all. It’s not easy to hide there, maybe impossible. And there's a fellow whispering in the cellarage -- only this ghost isn't saying, "Remember me." This one is saying, “Nothing will come of nothing.”
One can only wonder what play is going to be spawned by whoever this protagonist turns out to be.