Literature in real time

A few days ago, @ChrisLHayes tweeted a request for recommendations of folk tales with a theme of trusting ones own perceptions versus those of authority.   He wanted an alternative to the emperor who has no clothes narrative- and who knows maybe it has something to do with his book on authority.

I wonder if the simplicity of such narratives are more appealing to cognition, or whether we live by them due to our lack of sophistication.  Like the rigid archetypes of many strict Jungians, folk tales have this cartoonish caricature feel to them.  So I was thinking- why go to simple literature- why not the more complex. Instead of similar folk tales – why not the struggle of Hamlet to trust his own perceptions, and not buy into the collective truth projected by  his mother and step father the King?  There is something rotten in our Denmark and the analysis is not well served by narratives from two dimensional folk tales. Hamlet himself if in a position of authority and others around him are also in the position of questioning their perceptions of him, just as we question our perceptions of who we believed Obama to be in 2008. Drew Westen sees a Hamlet, and is not sure if Obama even knows who he is. Westen can be forgiven his myopia because he does not understand the challenge of a leader who is not just adept at acting within the literature of politics, but goes far beyond the actor role of Reagan. Reagan didn’t write his parts. Obama does- but this is not the ancient art of political deception using language to dress up the unpalatable.  The literature is not decoration added as a finishing touch, but instead is at the beginning- forming the very spirit of the political activity.

Obama’s impact  goes far beyond the historically inevitable event of a first nonwhite President.  Regardless of his race or his political positions,  Obama is historic because of this new quantum level in the literature of politics.  By  shear accident we have elected a young Shakespeare who both writes and plays his part acting and managing the stage for making real what we only imagined was possible. Obama states that establishing the national narrative is something only the president can do, and something he told Suskind that he lost sight of. I believe he was misdirected by some of his clever technocrats, and personally I cannot fault him for an inexperienced leader erring on the side of caution and going with the technocrats with the credentials and experience. In my political life I saw Bill Gates constantly misdirected by the clever Nathan Myrvold.

The challenge for Obama is literature in real time. It was a simple task for the Reagan character actor to stamp his black and white hat sort of folk narratives on every issue.  Can analysts keep up?  Will we progress to understand more nuanced narratives without plunging everyone into agnst about the kaleidoscopic nature of political reality? What overall national narrative will Obama settle on for the 2012 campaign? Will he go big, or will he be cautious about how ambitious a goal he sets for America. Personally, I think he should go for a mandate on going big. After 2012 Pelosi will have all the votes she needs for aggressive programs. Concerning the Senate, I think we need to push forward with rules reform regardless whether we win 60 votes there.

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About John JMesserly

Mostly harmless

Posted on 2011-10-28, in narratives, Obama governance. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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