Tuesday, March 04, 2008


Resisting cliché..

Hitchens' most recent piece in Slate excited some thoughts. He talks about the uninspiring tedium of the presidential hopefuls' discursive attempts to motivate. Seems like a competition between who can say the least in the most clichoid manner in as few words as possible as to "fit on a label or on a bumper sticker". Keep it simple so that everyone can chant it and no one will know what it fact they are chanting for.
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Hitchens puts his finger on something which I noted but could not quite articulate:
It's more that the prevailing drivel assumes that every adult in the country is a completely illiterate jerk who would rather feel than think and who must furthermore be assumed, for a special season every four years, to imagine that everyone else "in America" or in "this country" is unemployed or starving or sleeping under a bridge.
How true that Americans are encouraged to think of themselves as poor, neglected, thrown aside, uncared for, unloved... I've read these self-pitying accounts, in blogs, in message boards, in emails, in newspapers. Self-pity comes automatically with a sense of entitlement. So candidates appeal to that vacuum, promising to fill it with all that it needs to feel whole again.
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TS Eliot explained how poetry works to evoke a certain emotion " The only way of expressing emotion in the form of art is by finding an "objective correlative"; in other words, a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events which shall be the formula of that particular emotion; such that when the external facts, which must terminate in sensory experience, are given, the emotion is immediately evoked.
The most motivational and exciting emotion that prospective voters are encouraged to feel is hope, a JFK moment. And Obama is the architect of this particular "objective correlative". Therefore it is doubly ironic that as he tries to deck himself with JFK's ethos, his message goes in the very opposite direction. Far from the empowering call to individual responsibility "Ask what you can do for your country", the collection of grandiloquent cliches of Obama's campaign encourage apathy, non-action, self-pity. Hope is enough.
At least Clinton talks about actual actions she will take, to improve the lot of this or that segment of the population she wants to serve.
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As I was reading this part of the article:
As for "We Are the People We Have Been Waiting For" (in which case, one can only suppose that now that we have arrived, we can all go home), I didn't think much of it when Rep. Dennis Kucinich used it at an anti-war rally in 2004 ("We Are the People We Are Waiting For" being his version) or when Thomas Friedman came across it at an MIT student event last December. He wrote, by the way, that just hearing it gave him—well, you guess what it gave him. Hope? That's exactly right.

I got to wondering whether this inanity "We Are the People We Have Been Waiting For" is not a canny reversal of the famous quote: ""We Have Met The Enemy and He Is Us".

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