October 9, 2008

"Invisible Man: How Ralph Ellison explains Barack Obama."

David Samuels has a piece in TNR with that title. This is one of those things I decide to blog about before reading, or, to be more accurate, after reading 1 or 2 sentences. Here are the 2 sentences that grabbed me:
It is one of the more interesting facts about Obama the writer that the father he chooses to represent, and whose legacy he chooses to embrace, is a bona fide monster--a scary polygamist who abused his wives and children and drank away his intellectual promise and his career, then crippled himself in a car accident that left him with iron legs, and finally wrapped his car around a tree in a second accident that luckily proved fatal to no one other than himself. Dreams is a book about Obama coming to terms with this troubling monster and creating a workable self out of the ruins of his father's life.
Then I see the first comment over there:
What a load of branless bloviation!
Ha ha. Branless. Why not braless? As long as we're subtracting letters and creating new meanings...

Anyway, now I will try to read the article, or enough of it to determine whether it's brainless or -- ! -- flatulent.
While I don't know the candidate personally, I feel as if I do, in part because he was at Harvard Law School when I was at Harvard, and he lived a few blocks away from me in a "transitional neighborhood" in Manhattan where rich people brought their dogs to poop. I know where the candidate is coming from, I am thinking, as I watch the fluffy white clouds float by my airplane window in a sea of antidepressant Obama blue.
Oh my. Samuels does sound insane. If those dog owners are so rich why are they walking their own dogs? What sort of dog owner treks to another neighborhood to deposit shit? Who looks at blue sky as "antidepressant" rather than simply cheerful?
It is hard not to like the idea of a writer becoming president...
Oh, no. That's so wrong. The writerly mind is exactly what you want to watch out for. There's plenty of writerly mind on display in this long article, which you may or may not like. Let me know.

ADDED: Swampland calls the article "compelling and challenging." (Challenging ≈ branless?)
It is at once a book review, a comparative literature exercise, a rumination on race, a candidate profile, and a magazine feature. Its central idea is that Barack Obama has internalized the thesis of Ralph Ellison's classic novel, Invisible Man, which Samuels summarizes as the notion that "the symbolic and actual baggage of race makes it difficult if not impossible for a black man to ever realize his full humanity in the eyes of anyone."


George M. Spencer said...

Speaking of books, there's some brilliant detective work at "American Thinker" which asks the question "Who wrote Obama's books?"

Answer: Possibly Ayers.

Ghost written books are far, far, far more common than most people imagine. Celebrities, doctors, and politicians typically never "write" their books. (Even Churchill hired PdD students to do write "reports" for him.) Many of these books never indicate the ghost's name anywhere in the book. The only people who would know are the publisher, the agent or agents, and the authors and their circle of friends. There would also be a contract between the author and the ghost; it's possible that the ghost might be getting royalties from Obama's book or books.

One indication that Obama used a ghost is that he was unable to submit a draft of his first book after several years. See this article which gives more background. Original contract, possibly for $125,000, was cancelled. He absolutely would have had to return a portion of that which would have been given as an advance. Then he got a new deal and more money.

Somehow a man who had really never written or published anything somehow writes one of the most eloquent autobiographies of our time. Interesting.

Ernesto Ariel Suárez said...

RE: branless

Yes, they forgot the granola.

Ron said...

No doubt this person would like Phillip K. Dick to be President...

Chennaul said...

I have to go look up-

Chennaul said...

OK heh-I was getting hung up on the dung part of it.

German figures.

PatCA said...

If you want a MacArthur grant or a gallery showing or the office of president, be an eloquent victim.

Artists are a nice, marginal addition to society. No way should these people run it.

Henry said...

How wonderful and strange it would be if our creaky American empire were to be governed by poets!

Perhaps Ogden Nash. Not Ezra Pound.

Chennaul said...

It might be more accurate to say that the fantasy of an escape from history never ceases to pull at America even after we have learned how destructive this fantasy can be. The world didn't turn bad because George Bush made mistakes over the last eight years.

Well scapegoating it's always the path of least resistance...

That and the angermongering.

PatCA said...

Re poets and politics: I remember when Laura Bush had to cancel the annual poets' tea because they were planning a war protest. Can you imagine 400 poets shouting epithets in iambic pentameter and tossing petit-fours around the room?

bleeper said...

No fiber, no regularity!

Ok, not worthy of a Che picture, but that's all I've got.

Having a monster for a father, or someone you perceive as a monster, can be a challenge. Obama has chosen to deal with it by over-achieving. Soon he will be president, and won't daddy and mommy be proud of him then! Yes, yes they will!

Chennaul said...

Crazy right-wing charges that Obama shares the loonier opinions of Dr. Wright or that he is a secret Muslim blend seamlessly into reports of his calls for immediately beginning the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq or his promise to sit down with the leaders of Iran and North Korea without preconditions, or the fact that he began his political career at Bill Ayers's house in Chicago, or that his financial backer Tony Rezko was a scummy slumlord who paid for the Obamas to have a new backyard. None of it sticks, because Obama is not that kind of candidate. The campaign uses the Ellisonian condition of invisibility to its advantage while also exerting a powerful form of mental jujitsu on guilty white liberals, a species that Obama knows well: Attacks on the candidate are simply projections of the (racist) mentality of his accusers. As they erase the weirder and more specific points of his sensibility in a blizzard of superlatives, whites create an image of a black superman as a kind of photo-negative image of liberal guilt.

This is interesting but probably not true. Yes the campaign and by extension the media is using this -but that is still not the reason that the attacks don't stick.

The voter right now is thinking about the economy.

These attacks dont address that, they look manipulative. The campaign that treats the electorate like they are intelligent-should win.

The beef the electorate is having with Palin isn't that she is stupid-it's projection.

The McCain campaign is broadcasting that they think the electorate is stupid. Huge mistake.

Richard Dolan said...

Wait. It's a trend. The Styles section will pick it up any day now. In the 10/23 issue of the NYRB, Colm Toibin has a long essay titled "James Baldwin & Barack Obama." It seems that the ever-so-protean candidate can be made to fit more than one literary model. Is Sojourner Truth next on the list of comparables?

In Samuels' piece, this caught my eye: "Obama believes in the old-fashioned, unabashedly romantic, and, in the end, quite weird idea of racial authenticity that Ellison rejected. He embraces his racial identity despite his mixed parentage through a kind of Kierkegaardian leap into blackness, through which he hopes to become a whole, untroubled person."

Well, we've never had a president who ever tried a "Kierkegaardian leap into ... becom[ing] a whole, untroubled person". But what if he fell short? Anyone out there want to sign on for a fractured, troubled president? Sounds like a lefty Nixon.

And Ann says she's 89% of the way there.

Roberto said...

Original George said..."Speaking of books, there's some brilliant detective work at "American Thinker" which asks the question 'Who wrote Obama's books?' Answer: Possibly Ayers."

Good lord...are you on drugs or just drunk?

You're actually implying that Bill Ayers was a ghost writer fr Obama?

And nobody in the MSM, even FOX...or Rush or Sean or Bill or Michael or Laura...heard about it or reported it??

Roberto said...

Original George, you also forgot to mention Jack Cashill writes for the renowned WorldNetDaily.

bleeper said...

By that standard, John Edwards is still a faithful husband.

rcocean said...


I read Ralph Ellison, Ralph Ellison was a friend of mine, and Samuals you are no Ralph Ellison.

Honesty, I thought this TNR was satire.

John said...

What strikes me about Obama is how incredibly un African American Obama is. There is such a thing as black American culture. Obama is really not a product of it. Most African Americans are only a few generations removed from the rural south. There is certain gentility to black Americans. I would much rather need help in a black neighborhood than a white one. Black people will stop and help you. White people will hit the accelerator as they drive by.

Black people are in general more open and expressive and funnier than white people. Not always but in the mean. Black people a more likely to be distrustful of authority and for obvious good reasons.

Obama is none of that. That is because he is not a product of African American culture. His father was a Kenyon and he grew up in a white neighborhood in a white family. He went to white schools and has been thoroughly indoctrinated in white elite thinking. It is impossible to imagine someone who grew up in African American culture coming accross as earnest, humorless, and professorial as Obama. Compare Obama to Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton or even Bill Clinton, who in his rural Arkansas poor background is really much more "black" than Obama. There is no comparison. Bill Clinton is a Rhodes Scholar and about 10 times smarter than Obama but would never come across as professorial as Obama. It is just not in his culture.

If Obama wins, everyone will say we elected a black man. But really we won't have. We will have elected an elite white man who happens to have a father from Kenya.

Bruce Hayden said...

While I don't know the candidate personally, I feel as if I do, in part because he was at Harvard Law School when I was at Harvard, and he lived a few blocks away from me in a "transitional neighborhood" in Manhattan where rich people brought their dogs to poop. I know where the candidate is coming from, I am thinking, as I watch the fluffy white clouds float by my airplane window in a sea of antidepressant Obama blue."

What scares me is that there are a lot of people of divergent backgrounds who seem to think that they know who Obama is and that they understand him. The problem is that their understandings are often diametrically opposed to what others think they know about him.

So, this guy is projecting what he wants to see onto the blank slate of Barack Obama because they were at Harvard at the same time and then lived in similar neighborhoods in NYC. At least that is something. Many doing the sort of projection he is doing have much less support.

George M. Spencer said...


I'm on Maxwell House coffee.

I know a little bit about the book publishing business.

USA Today's Life section this morning has big stories about new books "written by" Mickey Spillane and Richard Belzer.

The Spillane book is based on "a rough draft" that he supposedly wrote. Must be like all those Tolkien "rough drafts" that keep popping up.

Belzer tells USA Today that his "co-author helped mostly with the structure and technical details of crime solving."

Hmm...structure. Is that like designing and building a house and then Martha Stewart paints one room and calls it hers? Is that like Britney Spears creating a new perfume?

Busy young politician Obama apparently had several years to write a book. That would be much longer than the typical contract. He turns in nothing, supposedly. He gets a new deal, maybe theoretically because someone convinced him he needed a ghost. Happens all the time...If the ghost was a journalist (or even a Ted Sorensen-type figure), that person would have come out of the woodwork by now. It's interesting.

Trooper York said...

I really think it is unfair to term Barack Obama the Invisible Man.

He always showed up and voted Present.

John said...

I don't think Obama believes in anything other than it is good to be Obama. Michelle in contrast is a first class whackjob. But Obama is an empty set. He is Bill Clinton without the charm or intelligence.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

That was one of Spiro Agnew's, IIRC: "Bratless, branless breads".

bearbee said...

I read Ralph Ellison's book many years ago and found it powerful and one of my favorite works of fiction (I should reread it), but most people are invisible to most other people.

In school teachers want to squash kids into conformity. At work your boss doesn't celebrate your singularity or recognize your potential. Walking down a street most people don't see other people. Life for most of us is not like walking into Cheers 'where everyone knows your name.'

This invisibility should not be assumed exclusive.

If O feels this invisibility then it seems to me he would embrace Ayn Rand rather than Karl Marx.

Anonymous said...

Theo Boehm: If there were ever two terms I don't want to see on the same page, they're "Kierkegaard" and "President of the United States."

Could be worse. Could be "Nietzsche" and "President of the United States." As it is, it looks like we're shaping up to get the rough equivalent of "Chavez" and "President of the United States."

bleeper said...

Nice generalizations and stereotypes, but you need to get back to reality.

And, it's "Kenyan", not "Kenyon", unless that's where he went to school.

John said...

Yes, bleeper if you have nothing else to say, always point to spelling. Obama is whiter than I am. That is why liberals like him so much. He is the perfect, well spoken pet black man. He went to all the right schools, says all the right things and fits in with them perfectly. He is a black man they can feel comfortable with because he is not black in any real sense. They never would vote for Jessee Jackson, who is a better speaker than Obama, just as reliably liberal and unlike Obama really has accomplished things in life. But they sure will vote for Obama. Obama is a nice non-threatening black man for them. They used to have a term for that back in the day. I think it started with House.

Asante Samuel said...

John at 11:47; you perfectly capture my thinking about Obama. I don't know if that is a compliment, however.

My new hobby is remote psychoanalysis. I learned about it at the same place where the NYT journalists studied their trade, with about the same degree of proficiency.

Imagine living the life a young Obama lived. It is impossible not to pity his first eighteen years. He is very strong mentally to not have cracked under the weight of a crazy mother named Stanley, a drunken African father, an Indonesian step-father and a socialist bank -president grandmother. I would admire any kid who made it out of this alive.

Remote psychoanalysis tells me Obama's circumstance required no personality, not a blank, but a mirror instead.. He would have been killed by the other kids, or his step-dad any other way. He learned quickly to get along. Even now, his supporters do more projecting issues than Obama does supporting them.

He had to be Black to be elected, but his personality is White. The Left and Black America will both be disappointed with his presidency. Ask the kids about the war, the bail-out, and his other flip-flops. He will prove to be a much different type of president than people think.

He has used all those Chicago hacks, including his wife's family, the priest and the Rev, the terrorists and the Mayor, in the meanest way. They think they are using him, I think otherwise.

The real Obama is unknown, perhaps even to himself. He has been too busy running for one office after another to think too long about what he believes.

John said...

Dr, Kill,

I think you are right that Obama used the lefties to get ahead, but I don't think they will be disapointed in him. They were not in Clinton even though Clinton governed from the center right on most issues. Politics is becoming like sports where we root for laundry. The Dems are the Red Sox and the Republicans are the Yankees. The lefties won't care if Obama sells them out on issue after issue anymore than Red Sox fans would care if the Red Sox signed Derrick Jeter. All that will matter is their laundry won. It is really unhealthy. People care about ideas less and more about their personal identity and pride they get from their side winning. That is why political arguments are so nasty now. It is like a sports argument; all emotion and identity and no substance.

TMink said...

"the symbolic and actual baggage of race makes it difficult if not impossible for a black man to ever realize his full humanity in the eyes of anyone."


I would have loved to hear someone try to sell that crap to Bill Russell, W.E.B. Dubois, Dr. King, Goerge Carver, Booker T. Washington, Charles Barkley, Russell Simmons, Mary McLeod Bethune, or any of the other hardworking and succesful Blacks.

Those accomplished people (And millions we have never heard of)were too busy making things and teaching people and succeeding to read any advanced victimology textbooks. And we are all the better for it.

One of my pastors was a Black man. He was a wonderful family man, funny with a joke, raised wonderful, succesful kids, and had worked at Black and white churches. I asked him about that and he said "Everyone is just a child of God. The wrapping is immaterial."

Succesful people think that way. This other stuff is just poison.


William said...

I read the article. I cannot see any reason to vote for Obama after reading the article and do not understand why the author supports him so fervently.

Richard Fagin said...

Hahahaha, America run by poets, says he.

"Who's sand this is,
I think I know.
He blew up all my buildings, though.
He will be glad my troops go home, while he sends his cutthroats to and fro."

Apologies to Robert Frost, who undoubtely was not a mliquetoast New York pansy, notwithstanding that he was a poet.

Trooper York said...

Hey dude, Derek Jeter would never play for the Red Sox. It only works the other way where Red Sox heros sign with the Yankees. The next one to do that will be Manny Rameriez. No "True Yankee" would ever sign with the Red Sox.

bleeper said...

John - his name is spelled Jesse Jackson.

As for his ability to speak - you have got to be kidding - he is an unintelligible mush mouth. His syntax is disjointed. His logic - well, there isn't any in his thought or his speech.

Obama "talk like a white boy" seems to be your point. Whatever, dude. I don't vote for Marxists regardless of how they speak or what color they are.

bill sherman said...

What do you mean "the writerly mind is exactly what you want to watch out for..."!?