Once Upon a Memoir

Oct 28 2012, 01:35 IST
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Mendelsohn asks how reliable a guide is memory Mendelsohn asks how reliable a guide is memory
SummaryBefore this fortnight is over, the United States will know their next president — though given the recent history of legally challenged results in that country, it may be wise not to hedge any bets on this.

Before this fortnight is over, the United States will know their next president — though given the recent history of legally challenged results in that country, it may be wise not to hedge any bets on this.

Before this fortnight is over, the United States will know their next president — though given the recent history of legally challenged results in that country, it may be wise not to hedge any bets on this. Perhaps, what can be counted upon with more confidence is that no matter which way the election goes, whether Barack Obama wins the elections or not, his will be the profile that most people will reassess with greater gusto, not Mitt Romney’s. Not since Gandhiji used the personal to rally ever more people towards very public and politically transformative causes has anyone updated, in real time, his biographical detail as vividly as Obama has done in an exercise in persuasive politics and diplomacy.

It used to be joked during his contest of the primaries against Hillary Clinton more than four years ago that he was making a bid for the most powerful office on earth just on the strength of two memoirs (Dreams From My Father, The Audacity of Hope), and not on an accumulation of experience to qualify for the job. So he may have, but by placing his life story at the heart of his policy prescriptions in such a way that every retelling of his story made the narrative yet more capacious to accommodate the arc of history, geography, race relations, generational shift and the welfare state. It was not, as Tea Party types would have it, a confidence trick – Obama’s has been an attempt to transform by articulation, and his story has been central in that endeavour even after he made it to the White House. Recently, he gave Michael Lewis unusually open access to his work and domestic spaces to allow a view from the inside, and a few lines from the resultant article for Vanity Fair spring out: “He (Obama) was especially alive to the power of a story to influence the American public. He believed he had been elected chiefly because he had told a story; he thought he had had problems in office because he, without quite realising it, had ceased to tell it.”

You could argue that Obama will need the power of his story to claw

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