Obama and the Ghost of Faulkner
The ghost of William Faulkner has appeared in the oddest of places ever since Barack Obama entered the public consciousness. The president's speech writers and others have purposely summoned Faulkner to aid them in developing Obama as a transcendent racial figure.
The 2008 election was all about race, so who better to invoke the nation's legacy of slavery than a guilt-ridden white southern Nobel-prize winning author. The president's handlers, who still surround him, hammered away at the racism meme knocking Hillary Clinton out of the competition.
They plunged the accusation of 'racist' into the heart of white America; and catapulted a "creepy" narcissistic collectivist into the White House.
Faulkner's presence in the campaign may sound elitist to Middle America but it played to the white professionals and moderate-minded, middle-class liberals. No doubt the literary aficionados Bill Ayers and David Axelrod had a hand in the resurrection.
Now it's 2012 and once again the race-baiters are hoping to conjure up long dead slaves and zero in on Holder's "people" from the civil rights era.
A few weeks ago Virginia State Senator L. Louise Lucas proudly told a radio host she has convinced her children the past is not dead and racism is alive and well.
Chris Matthews loaded up and used the same ammo from 2008 this past week telling his MSNBC viewers the right-wing attacks can be linked to Obama's ethnicity.
Online bloggers, some in the know, seem to think Obama's campaign advisers intend to ratchet it up even more in the next couple of months.
Light in August
I must state right off the bat I am no fan of William Faulkner and did not go looking for him. He popped up by accident in 2010 when I was looking for a line from The Audacity of Hope for a NewsRealBlog article; the one where Obama describes himself as a "blank screen."
In the 2006 prologue of The Audacity of Hope Obama wrote "I serve as a blank screen on which people of vastly different political stripes project their own views. As such, I am bound to disappoint some, if not all, of them."
As I searched for the quote, one link led to another until I clicked on a 2005 SparkNotes analysis of Faulkner's 1932 novel Light in August. The description of one of the main characters, Joe Christmas, came eerily close to various journalists' post-2008 election accounts of Obama's weird personality traits.
The SparkNotes writer, whom I later discovered came from a pool of Harvard students, used the phrase "blank slate" as a metaphor for Joe Christmas.
The following is a description of the inverted, biracial and "foreign" Christ figure, Joe Christmas from SparkNotes:
An angry man, he is a shadow figure who walks the fringes, treading neither lightly nor comfortably in both the black and white worlds. When Joe first appears, he provokes a healthy amount of curiosity on the part of the mill workers, accompanied by contempt for his smug aloofness and other disarming qualities.
Though Faulkner provides many details of Joe's life and character over the course of his tale, Christmas still remains a distant, inscrutable figure, closed and elusive. At the mill he is a cipher, a blank slate onto which others project their own biased and subjective notions of who they think the mysterious man truly is.
The similarities prompted me to look up the origins of the 1932 novel.
Faulkner changed the title from Dark House to Light in August at the last minute when his wife noticed a peculiar feature of the sunlight in August. Faulkner called it a "foretaste of fall a lambence...as though it came not from just today but from back in the old classic times...-from Greece, from Olympus in it somewhere."
Spooky. Obama was born on August 4. And who can forget the Greek columns rising behind him as he accepted the Democratic nomination in Denver. Did Faulkner's genius extend into prophesying the future election of a biracial and virtually unknown Chicago radical?
One day after Obama won in 2008 Newsweek's Evan Thomas and Jon Meacham sat down with Charlie Rose to discuss the first black president. Meacham referred to the blank screen metaphor and used the SparkNotes word "elusive" to describe Obama.
Meacham: he is very elusive -- It's fascinating. He says, 'I am a screen on which people project their visions, their hopes,' and he could be a redemptive figure as long as race was implicit and not explicit
Thomas: He would spend a lot of time searching for himself, and deciding that he was a black man -
Thomas: There is a slightly creepy cult of personality about all of this
In a 2001 book review of Bill Ayers' Fugitive Days: A Memoir, Mark Webster mentioned Ayers and Faulkner's Light in August in the same sentence. Webster references Ayers' "poetic jabbering" about memory similar to a technique "William Faulkner used more effectively in Light in August."
Webster's observations prompted me to look for more Faulkner references relating to Obama.
Oprah Winfrey promoted Light in August for members of her famous Book Club in June 2005 -- six months after Obama appeared on her show and his own book Dreams from my Father hit the bestseller list.
In the 2004 edition of Dreams Obama rephrases a quote from another Faulkner novel, Requiem for a Nun. "The past is never dead and buried it isn't even past."
Obama repeated the quote again in his famous Race speech of March 2008 after the Jeremiah Wright scandal hit the mainstream. Faulkner's actual words are, "The past is never dead; it's not even past." Changing the words of a man some consider one of the greatest American writers of the 20th century was an audacious move on Obama's part.
A December, 2008 Los Angeles Times headline on Obama's Department of Energy nominee, Steven Chu, reads, "Obama man Steven Chu quotes Faulkner." In accepting the nomination Chu chose to read Faulkner's closing paragraph from the writer's 1950 Nobel speech with special emphasis on the oft-repeated, "I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail.."
The LA Times even went so far as to place side by side photographs of Obama, Faulkner and Chu below the headline. A month later Obama would use the same quote in his inauguration speech.
In Dreams, which Obama told an interviewer in 1995 was not an autobiography but rather "a family history. I think it's an oral history, a narrative of a family trying to understand itself," Obama combines Faulkner's oral tradition with supernatural imagery to cobble together his fictitious family. [Note: the same sentiment Obama's pal Ayers expressed about his own Fugitive Days which Ayers didn't see as an autobiography; he called it a "memory book rather than a transcript."]
The words 'ghost' and 'ghostly' are scattered about in Dreams. He even refers to himself as "the ghostly image of the tragic mulatto trapped between two worlds." This is faux Falkner but it's close enough for Obama.
One of the Southern writer's signature techniques was to obliterate standard notions of past, present and future. Faulkner relegates reality to the subjective memories of his characters who routinely dredge up childhood phantoms.
In yet another weird coincidence, this past week a genealogist tracing Obama's slave roots found a man named John Bunch. There is a character in Light in August named Byron Bunch.
Faulkner uses the word "parchment" many times in Light in August associating it with death, skin color and the writing material used in ancient Greece. Joe Christmas' flesh, he writes, is "as level dead parchment color."
Coincidentally, "parchment-colored" turns up in Dreams also, but more interesting is Obama's use of the word "parchment" in reference to the U.S Constitution in his 2008 "A More Perfect Union" race speech. It sounds out of place. Could he have purposely used it to indicate the Constitution was a dying document: outdated, old and ready for the trash heap?
...a Constitution that promised its people liberty, and justice, and a union that could be and should be perfected over time.
And yet words on a parchment would not be enough to deliver slaves from bondage.
An online blog essay entitled, "Obama, Faulkner and Race" showed up soon after the Race speech. Besides lauding Obama for his "eloquence and erudition," the author explains the significance of Faulkner as the "prototypical Southern White Man" whose works are "devoted precisely to the agonized sense that the racial past is inescapable."
For Faulkner slavery was not only America's original sin, it was the country's defining essence. In this sense, the writer was an indispensable source for white guys like Axelrod and Ayers who launched Obama's political career based on the color of his skin.
Newsweek's Jon Meacham would go on in December 2009 to copy DOE Secretary Chu's earlier reference to Faulkner's "endure-prevail" line in Obama's Nobel speech.
In an article praising Obama's 2009 Oslo acceptance speech, Meacham titled his piece "Obama, Faulkner and the Uses of Tragedy."
Listening to the president in Oslo, I thought of another Nobel speech in another field from another era: William Faulkner's remarks on accepting the prize in literature in December 1950...After noting that the great question of the nuclear age was "When will I be blown up?" Faulkner said: "I decline to accept the end of man. I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail.
The Faulkner connection helped position Obama as the moral authority on America's past. 52% of Americans bought his take on the United States of America -- a country founded not on sound economic and spiritual principles but on racism, oppression and exploitation of the poor. That's how Obama the political sociopath sees the country.
Like Joe Christmas, Obama's psychopathic fictional counterpart in Light in August, the lives of others depend upon his actions.
In the 1995 interview Obama said his fate was not only tied to the fate of African-Americans but that his own "individual salvation is not going to come about without a collective salvation for the country."
Truly the Southern writer's genius helped fictionalize Obama's life.
Faulkner would have been proud of his 21st century creation.
Read more M. Catharine Evans at Potter Williams Report