Stories For The Future (Updated)
A cold and wet March day just passed, along with two talented men, and I promise to get back to writing about movies and pop culture soon. But I can't get Barack Obama's speech out of my head. I didn't see it on TV-- I was on-campus working-- but I read the text of the speech, and was deeply moved. It's a brilliant piece of work, so strong that even the smart, tough Hillary Clinton supporter Tom Watson (whom I admire a great deal, and with whom I've disagreed about almost everything this political season) had kind words for it. I have no idea how it will play: it is full of complex movements from individual concerns to national ones, from recognizing divisions to calling for unity, from the personal to the social and back again, and there's already been some pundit carping that it "didn't go far enough" (in one regard, it went further than Joan Walsh did, by addressing the Geraldine Ferraro controversy she completely ignored last week, and doing so with a surprising degree of grace).
Personally, I thought its imaginative weave of meanings, emotional registers, historical references and personal detail was enthralling, and exactly the kind of thoughtful and honest exploration of ideas that I always want from a politician, and so seldom get. In his book The Avant-Garde Finds Andy Hardy, Robert Ray quotes the anthropologist Michael Taussig, who, when he asked why certain colonial movements had succeeded, was told "Because their stories were better than ours." For so long, American politics has been dominated by well-worn narratives about itself, and about its various threads of race, class, gender and identity; much of the primary season thus far has been dominated those older narratives (of both the left and the right) and their shibboleths. What's exciting about Obama's speech was its desire for new narratives, for better stories about who we are and who we might be, stories that acknowledge pain while still expressing a hope for the future. In blog terms, it's a re-routing of conventional narratives, finding new links and paths through the familiar, whose turns offer different perspectives from the linear fatalism that often dominates such debates. It's a reminder that "the audacity of hope" is not just a good campaign phrase (although it is certainly that), but also a way of thinking about the links between rhetoric, imagination, and possibility (there are many parallels between politics and academia, but a key one might be an overreliance on a patented hipster skepticism, a desire to not be caught out, and to therefore close out the notion of a different future). Please go read the speech: it made me very proud to have voted for him, and on a cold and wet March day, that was a warm thought indeed.
UPDATE: This'll teach me not to blog so late at night: here I was, urging people to read the speech, and I forgot to provide the link!. Bob also provides a link to the video clip in the comments section.