May 14, 2012

The 8 ghosts that haunt "Dreams From My Father."

This is the second in a series of posts based on the search for a single word in Barack Obama's memoir "Dreams From My Father." I'm proceeding intuitively, choosing a word, and taking advantage of the searchable Kindle text. In Saturday's post, the word was "faceless," chosen because I'd found it striking that Obama had used that word to describe the white children who'd taunted him and led him to be cruel to a little black girl he called Coretta. I found 2 other occurrences of "faceless," and one involved a poor black woman he called Ruby. She was not the faceless one. What was faceless was an image of white people contained within — "buried deep within" — black people who had developed their own identity around "a very particular experience with hate."

Obama portrayed black people as having an inner white person, and he wondered "whether the bonds of community could be restored without collectively exorcising that ghostly figure that haunted black dreams." So that inner white person wasn't real. It was a ghost — a ghost that haunted dreams. The book is "Dreams From My Father," so it's quite significant to find the notion of dreams haunted by white people, and white people conceptualized as ghosts.

So I have selected "ghost" as my word for this second post in the series. I consult my Kindle text and discover there are 8 ghosts in "Dreams From My Father." The inner white-person ghost that distorts the identity of black people like Ruby is Ghost #4. I'll tell you about the other 7 ghosts, but first I want to remind you of another memoir in a genre we might call: minority identity in the midst of white people. That book is  "The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts," by Maxine Hong Kingston, which that came out in 1975.  I'm rather sure Obama knew this book, because Kingston moved to Hawaii in 1967, where Obama lived from 1961-1962, 1963-1967, and 1971-1979. According to the short bio in the Kindle version of "The Woman Warrior," Kingston has been awarded "rare title of 'Living Treasure of Hawai’i.'"

What were these "ghosts" Kingston wrote about in her memoir? They were the people who were not of her race (which was Chinese). Born in 1940, one year after her mother moved to America, Kingston described her perception of Americans with the ghost metaphor:
But America has been full of machines and ghosts—Taxi Ghosts, Bus Ghosts, Police Ghosts, Fire Ghosts, Meter Reader Ghosts, Tree Trimming Ghosts, Five-and-Dime Ghosts. Once upon a time the world was so thick with ghosts, I could hardly breathe; I could hardly walk, limping my way around the White Ghosts and their cars. There were Black Ghosts too, but they were open eyed and full of laughter, more distinct than White Ghosts....
If Obama had over-indulged his propensity to call white people ghosts, he might have seemed too much like Maxine Hong Kingston, and he could not have conveyed the thoughtful, hopeful vibe about race that worked so well for him in the 2008 election season. "Ghost" appears in "The Woman Warrior" far more than 100 times. (A Kindle search maxes out at 100.) There are only 8 "ghosts" in "Dreams From My Father." We have seen #4. Let's encounter the rest.

Ghost #1 is Obama himself, in the introduction, imagining how others see him as "the ghostly image of the tragic mulatto trapped between two worlds":
[S]ome people have a hard time taking me at face value. When people who don’t know me well, black or white, discover my background (and it is usually a discovery, for I ceased to advertise my mother’s race at the age of twelve or thirteen, when I began to suspect that by doing so I was ingratiating myself to whites), I see the split-second adjustments they have to make, the searching of my eyes for some telltale sign. They no longer know who I am. Privately, they guess at my troubled heart, I suppose—the mixed blood, the divided soul, the ghostly image of the tragic mulatto trapped between two worlds. And if I were to explain that no, the tragedy is not mine, or at least not mine alone, it is yours, sons and daughters of Plymouth Rock and Ellis Island, it is yours, children of Africa, it is the tragedy of both my wife’s six-year-old cousin and his white first grade classmates, so that you need not guess at what troubles me, it’s on the nightly news for all to see, and that if we could acknowledge at least that much then the tragic cycle begins to break down … well, I suspect that I sound incurably naive, wedded to lost hopes, like those Communists who peddle their newspapers on the fringes of various college towns. Or worse, I sound like I’m trying to hide from myself.
Is the ghost the white component that he perceives in himself? He doesn't say that. He imagines other people thinking about him. Are those imagined other people seeing his white half as a ghost? He doesn't say that. The ghost is "the tragic mulatto," both black and white, but he disowns that "image." It's in the heads of "people who don’t know me well, black or white," but it's an image that forms — he thinks — when they find out that his mother is white, which is something he admits withholding from people. He withholds — avoids "advertis[ing]" — because he suspects that he is seeking to ingratiate himself with whites. When they find out about the white mother, they see him as a ghost trapped between 2 worlds, but he wants them to know that the tragedy belongs to all Americans — or, that is, he thinks about rambling and ranting about how the tragedy belongs to all Americans and then he brings himself up short with the notion that he sounds like a college-town Communist.

Ghost #2 appears as an adjective — "ghostly" — used to describe the skin of a black man who used skin lightener, whom Obama claims to have seen in a photograph in Life magazine (though I've read that there really was no such photograph in Life). Obama's mother has taken the young boy to the library, where he's come across a collection of old Life magazines.
Eventually I came across a photograph of an older man in dark glasses and a raincoat walking down an empty road. I couldn’t guess what this picture was about; there seemed nothing unusual about the subject. On the next page was another photograph, this one a close-up of the same man’s hands. They had a strange, unnatural pallor, as if blood had been drawn from the flesh. Turning back to the first picture, I now saw that the man’s crinkly hair, his heavy lips and broad, fleshy nose, all had this same uneven, ghostly hue.

He must be terribly sick, I thought. A radiation victim, maybe, or an albino — albino—I had seen one of those on the street a few days before, and my mother had explained about such things. Except when I read the words that went with the picture, that wasn’t it at all. The man had received a chemical treatment, the article explained, to lighten his complexion. He had paid for it with his own money. He expressed some regret about trying to pass himself off as a white man, was sorry about how badly things had turned out. But the results were irreversible. There were thousands of people like him, black men and women back in America who’d undergone the same treatment in response to advertisements that promised happiness as a white person.
I felt my face and neck get hot. My stomach knotted; the type began to blur on the page. Did my mother know about this?
"Ghostly" describes the color achieved by a black man who tried to become white. It's an unpleasant look, the result of delusion and oppression. It's the bad dream of becoming white. A black man imagined he could "pass" as white and that would make him happy, but it didn't work, and he feels regret. He feels regret and Obama feels sick, and Obama wonders whether his white mother understands. She brought him to the safe environs of the library, but he found a clue of the suffering that's out there in the world.
I had a desperate urge to jump out of my seat, to show them what I had learned, to demand some explanation or assurance. But something held me back. As in a dream, I had no voice for my newfound fear. By the time my mother came to take me home, my face wore a smile and the magazines were back in their proper place. The room, the air, was quiet as before.
It seems that he withdrew into whiteness, to walk home quietly with his white mother, into his white life. But the fear was implanted, that his outward life of whiteness was a sickly, ghostly pallor. Understood this way, Ghost #2 is also Obama, as he identifies with the deluded black man who attempted to recolor his skin.

Ghost #3 is Obama's father, as Obama, the young man, experiences disillusionment:
All my life, I had carried a single image of my father, one that I had sometimes rebelled against but had never questioned, one that I had later tried to take as my own. The brilliant scholar, the generous friend, the upstanding leader—my father had been all those things. All those things and more, because except for that one brief visit in Hawaii, he had never been present to foil the image, because I hadn’t seen what perhaps most men see at some point in their lives: their father’s body shrinking, their father’s best hopes dashed, their father’s face lined with grief and regret....

Now, as I sat in the glow of a single light bulb, rocking slightly on a hard-backed chair, that image had suddenly vanished. Replaced by … what? A bitter drunk? An abusive husband? A defeated, lonely bureaucrat? To think that all my life I had been wrestling with nothing more than a ghost! For a moment I felt giddy; if Auma hadn’t been in the room, I would have probably laughed out loud. The king is overthrown, I thought. The emerald curtain is pulled aside. The rabble of my head is free to run riot; I can do what I damn well please. 
The idealized man, the father, didn't really exist. He was nothing more than a ghost. Obama finds that liberating — to be free of the role model. The emerald curtain is pulled aside. There is no great and powerful Oz. The king is overthrown... and the rabble in his head — the revolutionaries — run riot. But then: "The night wore on," and the feeling of liberation faded. He fretted: "Who might protect me from doubt or warn me against all the traps that seem laid in a black man’s soul?" So Ghost #3 is not a white person. It is the absence of a father, the father image he had clung to, now dissipated. 

Ghost #5 appears in Kenya, where Obama has traveled to encounter his extended family. Obama is walking in the city with his half-sister Auma:
Auma and I happened to run into an acquaintance of the Old Man’s outside Barclay’s Bank. I could tell that Auma didn’t remember his name, so I held out my hand and introduced myself. The man smiled and said, “My, my—you have grown so tall. How’s your mother? And your brother Mark—has he graduated from university yet?” 
At first I was confused. Did I know this person? And then Auma explained in a low voice that no, I was a different brother, Barack, who grew up in America, the child of a different mother. David had passed away. And then the awkwardness on all sides—the man nodding his head (“I’m sorry, I didn’t know”) but taking another look at me, as if to make sure what he’d heard was true; Auma trying to appear as if the situation, while sad, was somehow the normal stuff of tragedy; me standing to the side, wondering how to feel after having been mistaken for a ghost.
Ghost #5 is David... or Obama himself, appearing to be David, the half-brother he never knew and never could know, the lost family connection.

Ghost #6 rises up in a dream he has in Africa:
I finally fell asleep, and dreamed I was walking along a village road. Children, dressed only in strings of beads, played in front of the round huts, and several old men waved to me as I passed. But as I went farther along, I began to notice that people were looking behind me fearfully, rushing into their huts as I passed. I heard the growl of a leopard and started to run into the forest, tripping over roots and stumps and vines, until at last I couldn’t run any longer and fell to my knees in the middle of a bright clearing. Panting for breath, I turned around to see the day turned night, and a giant figure looming as tall as the trees, wearing only a loincloth and a ghostly mask. The lifeless eyes bored into me, and I heard a thunderous voice saying only that it was time, and my entire body began to shake violently with the sound, as if I were breaking apart …. 
I jerked up in a sweat, hitting my head against the wall lamp that stuck out above the bunk. In the darkness, my heart slowly evened itself, but I couldn’t get back to sleep again.
This ghost seems to embody all of his fears, but perhaps represents his father. We get the description of body heat and visceral disorder as in the library scene, and a lighting fixture plays a supporting role, as in the "emerald curtain" scene. This dream — a literal dream in a book called "Dreams" — seems to express his difficulty finding his place in Africa.

Ghost #7 is a simile used by Obama's great uncle, in this scene that takes place in Kenya:
His hair was snow-white, his skin like parchment. He was motionless, his eyes closed, his fleshless arms propped on the armrests of his chair. I thought perhaps he was asleep, but when Billy stepped forward the old man’s head tilted in our direction, and I saw a mirror image of the face I’d seen yesterday in Alego, in the faded photograph on Granny’s wall. Billy explained who was there, and the old man nodded and began to speak in a low, quaking voice that seemed to rise out of a chamber beneath the floor. “He says that he is glad you have come,” Roy translated. “He was your grandfather’s brother. He wishes you well.” I said that I was happy to see him, and the old man nodded again.
“He says that many young men have been lost to … the white man’s country. He says his own son is in America and has not come home for many years. Such men are like ghosts, he says. When they die, no one will be there to mourn them. No ancestors will be there to welcome them. So … he says it is good that you have returned.” The old man raised his hand and I shook it gently. As we got up to leave, the old man said something else, and Roy nodded his head before closing the door behind us. “He says that if you hear of his son,” Roy explained, “you should tell him that he should come home.”
Here, the ghost is — as the old man tells it — the black man lost to the white man’s country. Obama's great uncle is speaking specifically about his own son, a man who was born in Africa, who needs to come home and to stay connected to his family so he will be mourned when he dies. Despite the reference to death, the condition of being a ghost occurs during life, wandering about in "the white man's country." Does that make Obama a ghost too, since he lives in America, where he was born, and which must be his home? Obama lacks even the definition of being the African man who has on his our relocated to the white man's country and who could come home to the embrace of the African ancestors. He's gone there, to Africa, but is it home for him? Is America not his country?

What happens next in that scene is that everyone drinks a lot of moonshine, and...
Old faces and young faces all glow like jack-o’-lanterns in the shifting lamplight, laughing and shouting, slumped in dark corners or gesticulating wildly for cigarettes or another drink, anger or joy pitching up to a crest, then just as quickly ebbing away, words of Luo and Swahili and English running together in unrecognizable swirls, the voices wheedling for money or shirts or the bottle, the voices laughing and sobbing, the outstretched hands, the faltering angry voices of my own sodden youth, of Harlem and the South Side; the voices of my father.
That's a long sentence! What's going on there? Unrecognizable swirls. Everyone but the brooding Obama seems to dissolve into drunken chaos. No more ghosts, but the people look like jack-o’-lanterns — they become surreal and ghoulish. And yet, he identifies with them, in an alienated way: They are "my own sodden youth."

The final ghost, Ghost #8, is another simile. We're still in Kenya:
On the last weekend of my stay, Auma and I took the train to the coast and stayed at an old beachfront hotel in Mombasa that had once been a favorite of the Old Man’s. It was a modest, clean place, in August filled mostly with German tourists and American sailors on shore leave. We didn’t do much, just read and swam and walked along the beach, watching pale crabs scurry like ghosts into their sandy holes.
Pale crabs, like ghosts, scurry into holes in the beach. Here's a picture of a Mombasa sand crab. Is there any symbolism here? Maybe Obama just walked on the beach one time with Auma. But it's his father's place, and it's a place that sounds as though it's full of white people — Germans and Americans — who presumably went swimming and sunning on that beach. But Auma and Obama looked at the white crabs, who were like ghosts, and they didn't even see the white people, who were, then — one could say — even more ghostly than the ghosts.

98 comments:

Quayle said...

"Who might protect me from doubt or warn me against all the traps that seem laid in a black man’s soul?"

Why, the federal government, son.

Fen said...

This sounds plagiarized to my ear.

Obama doesn't speak or write this way. The style is entirely different.

Unknown said...

Is it productive to psychoanalyze a book that was probably ghost-written?

Balfegor said...

Re: Maxine Hong Kingston using "ghost" -- that may sound poetic and evocative to a Western reader, but actually it's a racial epithet for foreigners.

edutcher said...

Christ, what drivel (not Ann's - Zero's attempts to make himself black)!

The "inner" white man is who he really is - and he damned well knows it. He is the whitest white man (if you ever saw the Blacks Without Soul PSA in the movie, "Amazon Women on the Moon", you know what I mean) on the face of the planet and he wouldn't have it any other way.

PS Agree with Fen, to a point. The way he speaks is rehearsed and coached so how he sounds in private, we really don't know, but the writing is, yeah, more dreams from the guy in the neighborhood who, y'know, lived down the street.

The domestic terrorist.

traditionalguy said...

That is a lot of prose to fill up a small book to sell, but it could be summed up as, "Black Muslim tribesmen are real and dignified, but white northern Europeans are zombies that ate them." And the Wilburforce Society might agree with the historical part of the story.

No wonder his default position is to destroy the American Zombie Hegemon's power over the earth at all costs.

He has almost finished the job.

Chip S. said...

tl;dr

Comanche Voter said...

Textual analysis of twaddle. And as for the "black" man or "inner black man" who wrote it, his name is Bill Ayers.

Scott said...

Claude Lévi-Strauss must be spinning in his grave right now.

MikeR said...

Ann, there's a reason none of us read this book till now. That reason still stands.

MadisonMan said...

Are you trying to write a thesis?

traditionalguy said...

I want to add the observationj that Africans who immigrate to today's America and get good jobs and start companies and grow rich here have NO such views as Obama wants to parade around town every chance he gets.

It is a con job on the white liberals who live in the last century andd still want to help the slaves.

That is so over today. People have brains today. We laugh at the silliness, Liz Warren's con included.

That is why Obama has now pivoted into Save The Gays as the con job issue for 2012.

Save the Slaves is but a ghost of its former emotional cache.

The Crack Emcee said...

There were Black Ghosts too, but they were open eyed and full of laughter, more distinct than White Ghosts....

Ice Cube always has these people nailed:

Stop selling out your race
And wipe that stupid-ass smile off your face
Niggas always gotta show they teeth
Now I'm a be brief
Be true to the game


It's so easy to get confused,...

KJE said...

TL; DR

Mattman26 said...

Ann, I think you've got to find the clip from Undercover Brother, a scene that's a send-up of Sixth Sense, where the kid whispers, "I see white people!"

Michael K said...

I can understand why young African men might stay in America, even if Obama can't. Theodore Dalrymple has written a perceptive essay about his time working in Africa as a doctor. This was in pre-Mugabe Rhodesia.

The black doctors were paid the same and had the same amenities as the white doctors. The problem was that all the blacks were besieged by relatives from their home villages who expected to be supported by the doctor. After all, "It Takes a Village..." The result was that the white doctors had a comfortable life, far from getting rich, but comfortable. The black doctors lived in a sort of poverty after trying to satisfy all the relatives who demand to be supported.

I can certainly see why the old man wants the son to come back and support him and I can see why the son stays away.

Obama, of course, doesn't see this. It's just another "ghost."

Mitchell said...

The problem from the get-go is there's no such thing as ghosts.

MnMark said...

These excerpts from the book, along with the ones from the previous post, reinforce the conviction I've developed over the last couple decades that the best way for us all to be happy is for each people to have their own nation, and to make their lives in that nation, marrying and working and raising children there. Then no one feels a threat that they will be made a minority in their own country by immigration and the higher reproductive rates of immigrants, and no one has to be an alienated minority, resentful that they are surrounded by a majority of "others" (or "ghosts").

How much of Obama's life has been consumed with these feelings of alienation and doubt? And why? Because his 17 year old white mother was allowed to be alone with and have sex with a visiting African bigamist.

This view that each people should have their own nation isn't isolationist, either. We can visit one another's countries as tourists and businessmen, or as college students having an adventure or younger students on foreign exchange. With television and the internet and air travel and tourism and business we can have all the cultural interaction we need, with none of the strife that comes from trying to mix two or more different peoples in one country. It doesn't work. It is liberal delusion that it ever could - the exact same kind of liberal delusion that thought Greece and Germany could be in an economic union and both behave equally fiscally responsibly.

The story of our age is really the story of all of us having to suffer as liberals learn the lesson the hard way that races, ethnicities, genders, and sexual orientations have essential differences that can't be overcome with good intentions. Greece needs a separate economic system to be happiest, and the different racial and ethnic and other identity groups need their own countries.

ricpic said...

What fascinates Althouse about Obama? The fact that he's a fucked up neurotic. In that she is a thoroughly modern person, modern educated person that is. The eminently sane Romney on the other hand bores her to tears. That the country is in the hands of a creature working out his obsessions, resentments and fantasies in the form of economic policy, social policy and foreign policy barely registers. The horror of it, that is.

MaggotAtBroad&Wall said...

I made it to the 3rd ghost before giving up.

My only regret is that I allowed myself to read as far as I did.

EMD said...

Sadly, I wish everyone thought race as irrelevant as I do.

Think of the energy saved, the angst avoided.

Bruce Hayden said...

What fascinates Althouse about Obama? The fact that he's a fucked up neurotic. In that she is a thoroughly modern person, modern educated person that is. The eminently sane Romney on the other hand bores her to tears. That the country is in the hands of a creature working out his obsessions, resentments and fantasies in the form of economic policy, social policy and foreign policy barely registers. The horror of it, that is.

I think that this is a lot of the problem. Do we really need to have someone so sensitive running our government, esp. in such treacherous and tumultuous times? Do we need someone having these dreams, and then playing golf when not dreaming, leading us?

And, maybe that is part of Obama's problem - he far is too much the dreamer, and not enough the doer or the leader. In a complacent time, that might be good to have in our President. But, I don't think now is that time.

But, of course, it appears more and more likely that the dreamer here speaking is none other than long term friend, initial political (and likely financial) supporter, former domestic terrorist Bill Ayers.

Pastafarian said...

I know others thought this post was too long, but again, I think this is fascinating stuff.

This is an interesting way to read a book -- all pulled apart into pieces by someone else, someone analytical. I think it's probably better than just reading the book cover-to-cover.

Please continue, Althouse.

Ann Althouse said...

"What fascinates Althouse about Obama?"

Wow. How can you ask? Who is more fascinating than Obama... by which I mean the entire story of everyone relating to Obama?

He is the most interesting character I've seen emerge in my lifetime, perhaps. Simultaneously, he's boring! Which is interesting.

Who do you find more interesting? Romney's not that interesting.

I don't think Presidents should be chosen based on interestingness, but blogging is based on interestingness.

RHallman said...

oh my Ann, are you still trying to justify or excuse your vote? Get on with things. The whole thing was "ghost" written by Ayers, we know that anyway. Why analyze it now? Too late, too late, too late. And we are the proverbial choir. We understand. It's okay. We forgive you. Now make other points. Please.

Ann Althouse said...

Yes, I see. There may be a 9th ghost, the ghostwriter.

What does it all mean if Obama didn't write it?

My entire project is a phantom.

A ghost.

Seeing Red said...

Why do I think of Bette Midler who grew up red haired, white, short and buxomy in Hawaii? She didn't fit in either.

Chip Ahoy said...

I believe I have met people who are entirely free of this bullshit, or nearly so. And I have also met people who are full of it. The writing that is shown us here, that I've successfully avoided up to now, reminds me of a single particular fellow I met once who showed all this right off the bat, verbally stated a loosing battle in an internal struggle for identity, torn between two worlds within the first few moments of my encounter and I cannot seem to forget that incident because it was so odd. On sight he appeared to be an athlete, a successful student, a sales person, a model, of utterly indistinguishable race, a bit on the short side, but then completely unlike the Obama, when he spoke BLAM tragically racially torn figure.

My dad's dad spoke similar to this, my dad spoke similar to this but lot more watered down, the Vietnamese guy I knew really spoke a lot like this, a Mexican guy spoke like this and finally wore me out, the Japanese national spoke like this, oh, another Mexican guy had an identity crisis too. You know what? I just now realized pretty much everybody I know wondered about their origins and ruminated on the struggle of their lineage. I am impressed that Ayers can summarize, particularize, fantasize and organize Obama's experiences so well.

My favorite part is still from before, "rays of light reached down," that is so Ankhenaten IV, innit. You immediately see the rays from the Sun with little Egyptian curvy hands on the ends. Who thinks of that, to put it in a book as a memory?

EMD said...

Who do you find more interesting? Romney's not that interesting.

Did you even bother trying?


http://ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-786891

http://baskingridge.patch.com/articles/mitt-romney-saved-me-from-drowning

http://www.npr.org/2012/01/13/145190620/a-look-at-romneys-olympic-legacy

http://nymag.com/daily/intel/2012/04/eliza-dushku-mitt-romney-mormon.html

http://mittromneyconfusingchildren.tumblr.com/

http://www.religiondispatches.org/archive/politics/5936/mitt_romney_and_the_ghost_of_anti-mormonism/

http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/newsdesk/2012/05/mitt-romneys-empathy-problem.html

Hagar said...

Isn't this the kind of thesis Naomi Riley was going on about?

Pastafarian said...

One thing that's interesting about Obama and revealed in these excerpts: Just how different he is from me, and everyone I know.

If I wrote my memoirs, Althouse might do a word search for "bourbon" or "goat" to find the juiciest bits; but those bits would be a narrative of things that happened, not...how I felt about it.

Jesus tapdancing Christ, Obama is one sensitive, emoting son of a bitch.

Is this book just written this way to make it more interesting? Or was he really this deeply affected when he first learned that some black people bleached their skin?

I suppose, had I been black and first learned this as a child, I would have found it...what? Irksome? Annoying? I suppose it might piss me off a little bit. I might have said to the guy "What the hell is the matter with you, trying to dye your skin color?"

But my stomach wouldn't have knotted, my vision wouldn't have blurred. WTF. Everything is just so dramatic and overwrought. In my memoirs, the only sections that would have been so emotional as every one of these excerpts would have been the few centered on particular women, or goats. Or bottles of bourbon.

And of course, everything, at all times, is about race with Obama. I can't believe that this book is a real depiction of what his life has been, what went through his head; or he's probably insane.

He feels so picked-upon, so much of the time. If McCain wrote his memoirs, I bet he doesn't display this many instances of feelings of persecution, even in the chapters where he's in a Vietnamese prison being actually, you know, persecuted.

Seeing Red said...

As my dad said about the 60s generation, "If you want to find yourself, look in the mirror or at your driver's license."

It seems like we're on a one long existential boomer journey through life.

If Obama's trying to find himself at this late date, he's never going to find himself and he shouldn't be doing it on my time.

Chip S. said...

He is the most interesting character I've seen emerge in my lifetime, perhaps.

Your teenage years must be a blur, b/c just looking at 1968 I find:

Eugene McCarthy: interesting.

Lyndon Johnson: compelling.

Richard Nixon: Shakespearean.

Obama is about as interesting as a random college sophomore.

Joe said...

Didn't you forget the ninth ghost; the ghost writer?

JAL said...

Boring is good.

garage mahal said...

We know almost everything about Obama, yet we know nothing.

Chip S. said...

Well, we know he's not good at presidentin'.

What else do we need to know?

garage mahal said...

You hate Obama. His presidentin has nothing to do with it.

Chip S. said...

You cannot find a single instance in which I've expressed hatred for Obama.

You, OTOH, demonstrate your hatred of reason and evidence on a daily basis here.

deborah said...

Whether or not the book was written for political propulsion, his upbringing had to have been very difficult being mixed race in a time it was taboo.

On Bloggingheads, Glenn Loury once made the comment that Obama consciously made the decision to adopt the accent and cadence of South Side Chicago. Per Wiki, post-Columbia and pre-Harvard, "[h]e worked for a year at the Business International Corporation,[27] then at the New York Public Interest Research Group" before being hired as a community organizer.

http://en.wikipedia.org
/wiki/Barack_Obama

Seeing Red said...

If that's what gives you comfort, GM, to get thru reading the posts about him. If he had stayed a senator, would anyone have cared?

Seeing Red said...

Being mixed race is still taboo in a lot of places.

cubanbob said...

garage mahal said...
We know almost everything about Obama, yet we know nothing.

5/14/12 12:22 PM

Perhaps because there is no there, there. The guy is a bad ersatz pop band made up by a second rate studio using third rate muscians. It's hype and no substance.
The only interesting thin about him is who is the puppet master pulling the strings?

Chip S. said...

But I don't think Indonesia was ever one of them.

Balfegor said...

Re: Chip S:

Obama is about as interesting as a random college sophomore.

In terms of conventional narrative arcs, maybe, but he is interesting as a piece of a larger narrative about race that modern Americans find intensely fascinating.

Re: deborah:

Whether or not the book was written for political propulsion, his upbringing had to have been very difficult being mixed race in a time it was taboo.

Eehh, not so sure about that. Or rather, it was probably somewhat taboo in Indonesia, yes, and being the son of an African wouldn't help, but once he was back in Hawaii I'm kind of dubious that it was a particularly big deal. There was a large hapa population in Hawaii, after all, and while I have heard from some that hapa used to be derogatory, it doesn't seem particularly so, even in early references (earliest I can find easily in Google Books is 1937).

Chip S. said...

@Balfegor--I'm a modern American, and I don't find "narratives" in general to be more than marginally interesting, and certainly not intensely fascinating. I find them generally to be bullshit.

In Obama's case, the only interesting "narrative" is the story of a man who somehow became POTUS without ever having done much of anything.

"Fascinating" isn't the word that comes to mind to describe such a narrative.

Balfegor said...

@Balfegor--I'm a modern American, and I don't find "narratives" in general to be more than marginally interesting, and certainly not intensely fascinating. I find them generally to be bullshit.

Yes, but they sell reasonably well (by memoir standards, at least), so there's obviously a market.

Roger J. said...

not that I know a lot about pop culture, but it seems to me that Mr Obama is Milli Vanilla--lipsynching

There is no there there

Richard Dolan said...

I don't share Ann's view that Obama is the most interesting man of the age. But her post about the importance of ghosts to his coming to terms with himself and his absent father is well worth a close look.

It's an image that comes with a lot of literary baggage -- Aeneas, Dante and Hamlet (even Scrooge) all come to mind, each of whom had life changing encounters with ghosts of paternal figures. True to his narcissistic form, Obama's ghosts often turn out to be just another aspect of himself. He doesn't feel the essentially religious idea of the dead reaching out to the living, to redirect life's course for those who still have the time and ability to do that. O's ghosts never present him with an Other, absent in body but alive in spirit and calling out to him, insisting he take a different path while he still can.

Obama's ghosts are nothing like that. From Ann's description (I haevn't read his book), they're of the 'why am I who I am' sort of thing, a tracing of influences and contributors from the past that went into making the Wonderful (if sometimes conflicted) Me.

Ghosts of that sort are bound to be a disappointment, unlike those that interested Virgil, Dante and Shakespeare. No surprise, really, that they are the kind of ghosts that Obama conjures up.

TMink said...

See, there is the problem with racial identity and politics laid bare: it is all foolishness.

Black people who have been mistreated feel suspiciously like Asian people and white people and every other person who has been mistreated because we are conspecific.

Humanity trumps every hyphen. There is no inner-whitey, there is just an inner person who is just like me and you.

We have not changed as a species since the dawn of writing.

So of course all the race tripe is just offal. His book, and all the books like it, show that with clarity.

Trey

Paul said...

Skeletons Ann!

Skeletons, not 'Ghost' is what's in Obama's book (and closet.)

Rabel said...

"The rabble of my head is free to run riot; I can do what I damn well please."

Leave me out of this.


Also of note:

"Barack is not in the top 1000 names for any year of birth in the last 12 years.
Please enter another name."

Fen said...

Interesting contrast: In his early years, Reagan spent his time forming and writing down a strategy to end the Cold War.

Obama spent his early years apparently writing two (three now?) biographies.

Did Obama find the inclination to scribble down a few ideas about the Economy? Or did Ayers already have that covered?

“Kill all the rich people. ... Bring the revolution home. Kill your parents.” - Bill Ayers

dokusha said...

I don't know why people would assume Obama didn't write this. You may not like his politics, but there have been plenty of good writers from all over the political spectrum. Let's not be so narrow as to believe that all good writers of the past were actually anachronous representatives of our favorite political ideology. Attempts at that kind of reinterpretation are pointless.

The excerpts here remind me of Derek Walcott's writing, except that Walcott actually arrives at an affirmation of his mixed identity (black+white), whereas it seems like Obama seems to think that that kind of thing would involve too many distasteful compromises with the US's racist past. It's hard to deny that affirming a positive identity for himself would put him at a political disadvantage, because of identity politics, victimhood, etc., which bring such concrete, palpable benefits in the US today.

Obama to one side, those benefits are part of the Catch-22 of race in the US.

Craig said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Smilin' Jack said...

Ghost #1 is Obama himself...

Tsk, tsk...that's tantamount to calling Obama a "spook," which according to the Urban Dictionary
is "A derogatory slur for a person of African descent" equivalent to the dreaded N-word.

Looks like someone around here needs some remedial sensitivity training....

wdnelson93 said...

Heard Dinesh D'Souza speak this weekend at an event. Haven't read his recent book "The Roots of Obama's Rage" yet, but my father-in-law, who has, said the talk pretty much encapsulated the book's thesis. Interesting stuff. Pretty much colors how I see news and views about Obama now.

Mo5m said...

Why are you analyzing it as if Obama wrote it when he obviously didn't? I don't find him interesting because he is a fraud. I don't care what he's really like because he has lied to us so much it doesn't matter to me any more.

Mitch H. said...

Balfegor, that's exactly what I thought as soon as I saw the Professor make that Hawaii/Chinese author connection.

But Unknown's right, if this book was substantively ghostwritten, the deep reading isn't going to do you much good. Unless Ayers was working from raw material that already had a lot of chatter about ghosts and facelessness to begin with.

The problem from the get-go is there's no such thing as ghosts.

Poppycock! There are such things as ghosts, I've seen them. You may have meant to write that ghosts aren't real, but that's not at all what you just wrote. Ghosts are creatures of perception, the mind forcing the unexpected into expected shapes, seeing what you think to see. I once saw the recumbent white corpse of a girl lying by a fence on PSU's Hub Lawn in the dark, right where I knew a young woman to have died, murdered by another deranged young woman who was afterwards known as the Hub Lawn Sniper. It was disturbing, and distinct, and then the colony of rabbits burst apart, running away into the night, breaking that ghostly outline and dispelling the apparition from view.

Amartel said...

Hey you forgot the ninth ghost: The Ghost Writer. I think he's a horrible ghostly white person.

Steve Koch said...

Interesting post, interesting way to analyze Obama's book (inspired choice to focus on "ghost").

Did not realize that "ghost" is a name for whites in Africa and China.

Darrell said...

I can empathize with Obama over Ghost #2. I once kicked in a television screen when George Hamilton came on with an epic suntan. Then I cried for hours.

Aridog said...

A friend sent me this bit by email today, and I can't argue with it:

1) Only in America could politicians talk about the greed of the rich at a $35,000 a plate campaign fund raising event.

2) Only in America could people claim that the government still
discriminates against black Americans when we have a black President, a black Attorney General, and roughly 18% of the federal workforce is black. 12% of the population is black.

3) Only in America could we have had the two people most responsible
for our tax code ... both turn out to be tax cheats who are in favor of higher taxes.

4) Only in America can we have terrorists kill people in the name of Allah and have the media primarily react by fretting that Muslims might be harmed by the backlash.

5) Only in America would we make people who want to legally become
American citizens wait for years in their home countries and pay tens of thousands of dollars for the privilege while we discuss letting anyone who sneaks into the country illegally just become American citizens.

6) Only in America could the people who believe in balancing the
budget and sticking by the country's Constitution be thought of as "extremists."

7) Only in America could you need to present a driver's license to
cash a check or buy alcohol, but not to vote.

8) Only in America could people demand the government investigate
whether oil companies are gouging the public because the price of gas
went up when the return on equity invested in a major U.S. oil company (Marathon Oil) is less than half of a company making tennis shoes (Nike).

9) Only in America could the government collect more tax dollars from the people than any nation in recorded history, still spend a trillion dollars more than it has per year for total spending of $7 million PER MINUTE, and complain that it doesn't have nearly enough money.

10) Only in America could the rich people who pay 86% of all income
taxes be accused of not paying their "fair share" by people who don't pay any income taxes at all.

I will comment on #4 because I live in a very majority Muslim neighborhood. Our media doesn't really know the average Muslim immigrant or refugee, but they kow tow to the minority of them who form victim agenda organizations and foment strife and litigation. One of the ordinary ones said to me on 9/11/2001, with tears in their eyes, that:"... what they had fled had followed them here. Is no where safe?"

The media and Washington bureaucrats enable the terrorists among them, and those from afar, to terrorize them as well as us. We offer no safe haven...to them or the rest of us.

Aridog said...

Need to add that I enjoyed this post. It discusses things that have been on my mind for some time now regarding words and their meanings in context to this President.

Unfortunately, I am still left with the conclusion that the POTUS is a vacant space in the universe, a ghost even to himself.

Ralph L said...

Althouse should do a count on the number of "I"s in the book, and then divide by the number of pages, so the number will be small enough for us to get our minds around.

Jesus tapdancing Christ, Obama is one sensitive, emoting son of a bitch
Yet his speeches are cold and banal when they aren't divisive. Granted, all recent Presidents use speechwriters, but someone so brilliant would *have* to spice up the pablum they send him, if only with ad-libs. I felt the same way about Clinton--he was so smart but never managed an original thought or turn of phrase.

Penny said...

Remarkable memory Mr."Teleprompter" President!

Penny said...

Or do you suppose he's made "Dear Diary" entries for oh these many years?

Question Authority. said...

I wonder what would come up if you used Kindle search to look up key words/phrases from Bill Ayers' stuff.

Jonathan Silber said...

There's a ninth ghost haunting Obama's Dreams: the likely author of it, Bill Ayers.

walter said...

Are these ghosts composites or veneers?

wef said...

Not all references to ghosts are important. And some important ghosts are spectres.
In any event, the Ayers/Obama literary persona is a mushy version of Frantz Fanon. I would recommend
http://melodypanosian.info/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/Frantz-Fanon-Black-skin-White-masks.pdf

Ernst Stavro Blofeld said...

though I've read that there really was no such photograph in Life

This would be very interesting if true. I get a pretty strong whiff of bullshit when reading the excerpts; people's emotions and points of view and facts seem manipulated to support his own narrative.

Doug said...

Yeah, Obama is "interesting".
Romney's "only" done stuff.

Lawyer Mom said...

I keep going back to the imagined crowd of white children teasing the composite Coretta and Barry. It's hard to jibe with the facts, if this 2007 fawn piece by the NYT (linked by a commenter to your dreams post) is to be believed.

"'I had my own issues to worry about,' said Mr. [Dan] Hale, who is white — or ha’ole (pronounced HOW-ley) — the Hawaiian term for white outsider. 'Being a ha’ole from Punahou, now that was the worst,' he recalled."

Also noted in the article, "The curriculum at Punahou — where library clocks give the time in some developing nations — centered on multiculturalism."

So he's at a school focused on multiculturalism, where being white "is the worst"? Something is wrong with Barry's picture.

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/17/us/politics/17hawaii.html?pagewanted=2&_r=2

Penny said...

Um, Mr. President?

Isn't it time you throw your father's dreams "under the bus"?

CosmicConservative said...

If there is a real ghost story in Obama's book, it's the true author.

As far as why is Ann so obsessed with Obama? That's a pretty simply psychoanalysis. By doing all these posts "digging down" into Obama's past and his motivations, she can convince herself that she is atoning for her complete lack of intellectual curiosity about the man she voted into the most powerful and important job on the planet. If she and her like-minded "intellectuals" had wondered about this four years ago, we might not be on the verge of financial and social ruin.

But c'est la vie I suppose. Better late than never...

Lawler Walken said...

Meaning this respectfully, of course, but isn't this an analysis you should have done back in 2008? He's been President now for almost 4 years and only now we're supposed to wonder what makes the guy tick? Anyway, I guess Obama has never figured out that most white people aren't really that deep and it's probably safe to say that 99% of the white people he'd encountered by the time he wrote this book didn't have anywhere near this level of inner turmoil about his blackness or not blackness or whatever other apparition he conjures up here to justify this morbid level of self-obsession. How terribly bored he must get with himself.

Iapetus said...

"once he was back in Hawaii I'm kind of dubious that it was a particularly big deal. There was a large hapa population in Hawaii, after all, and while I have heard from some that hapa used to be derogatory, it doesn't seem particularly so, even in early references (earliest I can find easily in Google Books is 1937)"

Obama and his mother moved back to Hawaii in 1970 at the height of the University of Hawaii's "Fabulous Five" era, when the school's basketball team of 5 black kids recruited from the mainland was having enormous success. Hawaii likes nothing better than a champion. This team was putting Hawaii on the map. It had star quality. Team members were considered part of the Hawaii ohana (family). They became part of Hawaii folklore. I imagine in those heady days some of that aura would have rubbed off on a hapa kid like Obama. Not only that, at the prestigious Punahou School, Obama would not have been the only student of mixed ethnicity or nationality. Many of his classmates would have been of much more mixed heritage, although he was likely the only white-African student in the school. It is not uncommon for someone in Hawaii to describe themselves proudly as poi dogs, by which they mean they are a mixture of Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese, Filipino, and Hawaiian blood all rolled into one.

Penny said...

I know you were only two, but another "father", the Reverend Martin Luther King, was having dreams that no *thoughtful* American has ever forgotten.

Nor should they.

Penny said...

When the leader of the free world spends more energy pondering his own navel lint than naval capability, I'd say we have a problem WELL beyond Houston.

Until that's resolved, it's a very good thing that NASA's grounded.

Penny said...

This isn't the sixties!

"Where have all the flowers gone?"

Hell, they're EVERYWHERE!

Penny said...

Where the hell have all the LEADERS gone?

Ernst Stavro Blofeld said...

it's probably safe to say that 99% of the white people he'd encountered by the time he wrote this book didn't have anywhere near this level of inner turmoil about his blackness

I like Ann Coulter's take on this, in fact referring to Obama's book:

"He says the reason black people keep to themselves is that it's 'easier than spending all your time mad or trying to guess whatever it was that white folks were thinking about you.' Here's a little inside scoop about white people: We're not thinking about you. Especially WASPs. We think everybody is inferior, and we are perfectly charming about it."

Bryan said...

Wanna talk about me, wanna talk about I, wanna talk about number one, oh me oh my...blah blah me me Me Me MEEE MEEEEEE! Ok, enough about me, let's talk about you. What do you think of me?

-President Obama, 44th president of the United States of America because of dumb people who thought it'd be cool to have a black president SOLELY BECAUSE HE'S (partially) BLACK, perhaps hoping he'd be like President Palmer.

deborah said...

Balfegor, I don't know enough to talk about 'hapa,' but I seem to recall him saying something about a high school coach making disparaging remarks about him(and some friends?) related to his race.

Penny said...

Deborah, you may be too young to remember, but word has it that when you were a toddler, your mother stopped running to you every time you cried.

Something tells me that you STILL have the scar, so no denyin' the tale, sister.

wildswan said...

I agree with all the comments saying that the writing is phony and the ninth ghost _ Bill Ayers_ is the one to consider. Now that I read it, the writing seems like a person trying to imagine the consciousness of another person, not recollecting their own. You know, Obama is a very poised guy and its hard to believe that all this Oprah stuff is really his own consciousness.
And I find the level of drug use pretty shocking. I don't believe good marks of the kind to get you into Harvard Law are compatible with that level.

Scott M said...

Longest scroll to get past this post to older posts...evah.

GT_Charlie said...

OMG! What kind of person would remember this early age inner-conflict crap in such detail, and then cluelessly relate it to the strangers in a biography?

If BO actually wrote this tripe (there seems to be in some doubt) he has problems beyond the purview of modern psychotherapy.

Charlie

rasqual said...

Good grief.

No doubt progressives find profound what the rest of us are free to loathe as profoundly pathological.

People voted for this guy? I mean, after reading such rot?

GOOD. GRIEF.

No, we're doomed. Seriously. The Idiocracy approacheth.

People SWOONED at this stuff!

William said...

The most spectral presence in the book is his mother....That incidentally could be considered evidence that he wrote the book himself. A competent ghostwriter would have included more stuff about the mother.....I have the book but I never got past the first chapter. The Althouse excerpts don't provide a compelling reason to pick up the book....Part of my antipathy is that he really doesn't seem to, as Hemingway would say, work close to the horns. There's such a thing as racism, and I suppose Obama got bruised on occasion. There's also such a thing as sexism, and that's where he got gored. Does he examine his father's sexism and put it in the context of African sexism? My guess is no. That's not on the official list of wrongs that a sensitive black man seeks to explore. Anyone he fulfilled his father's dreams by thus abandoning his mother.

deborah said...

William, I think it depends on the timeframes. I think she left him with her parents quite a bit, and seem to remember he was in Indonesia with her from about 6 yrs. till 10 yrs. old, when he requested to stay with his grandparents in Hawaii. I would give him some leeway for ambivalence toward his mother, depending on the amount of time and at which ages they were apart.

Dan said...

I had a college professor back in the late 80s who forced us to read "Ecotopia". Indicative of her expertise both on her field and on her course's subject matter is the fact that I can't for the life of me remember what class she taught me except for that awful book. It told us how we should live our lives, that the environmental movement is good and holy, that a combination of California, Oregon and Washington would win a civil war against the rest of the nation, that permanent press shirts are a symbol of all that is evil and unholy, that nothing is needed beyond hospitals with nurses that provide free sex and 20-hour work weeks to make us all better humans.

This professor NEVER wore makeup and her armpits were of the free-range variety. She was palpably suspicious of any males in her class, particularly if they were white.

I am put in mind of that professor every time I see an Obama speech, read an excerpt of one of his self-worhipping memiors, or otherwise am exposed to the extreme Left in this country.

Unlike some colleges at that time, her type was not (at least yet) endemic. But she taught me a lot. Not so much the things she intended to teach me, but she did give me a clear and compelling description of the face of my future political enemies. And for that, I thank her.

RC said...

Writer Jack Cashill lays out the case that Bill Ayres wrote the book in a talk available at C-SPAN:
http://booktv.org/Program/12215/Deconstructing+Obama+The+Life+Loves+and+Letters+of+the+First+Postmodern+President.aspx

Ralph L said...

Before his book, Cashill made a pretty convincing case in several articles at americanthinker.com, for those who want to see it in writing.

Bob Ellison said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Phil B said...

You missed the ninth, and most ghostly, ghost that haunts "Dreams from My Father": it was ghost-written!

Rose said...

Yes. Bill Ayers is a very conflicted man. With not just a chip on his shoulder, but a boulder.

Obama, the POThead POTus was just another punk, and is in fact a terrible role model for all of our kids.

The media is a disgrace.