August 30, 2009
An odd coincidence?
Is it possible that Michiko Kakutani, the New York Times Pulitzer Prize-winning literary critic, purloined a critical sentence from yours truly in her gushing review of Barack Obama's 1995 memoir, Dreams From My Father.
You be the judge.
On December 28, 2008 I published an article in the American Thinker titled "The Improvised Odyssey of Barack Obama." In the article, I argued that terrorist emeritus Bill Ayers not only wrote the better parts of Dreams, but that he also used Homer's Odyssey as the framework for describing Obama's "personal interior journey."
Ayers knows his Homer. In his 2001 memoir, Fugitive Days, for instance, he specifically identified the Odyssey's "Cyclops" as a metaphor for the "doomed and helpless" United States. "Picture an oversized, somewhat dim-witted monster, greedy and capricious," Ayers wrote in his uniquely patriotic way, "its eyes put out by fiery stakes and now flailing in a blind rage, smashing its way through villages and over mountains."
In Dreams, Obama confronts his own menacing one-eyed bald man, a Savak-loving Iranian. Before he completes his heroic cycle, he also confronts many of the other distractions that Odysseus faced on his journey home: green-eyed seductresses, blind seers, lotus-eaters, the "ghosts" of the underworld, whirlpools, and about a half dozen sundry "demons."
And yet, as I contended, the parallel between Dreams and the Odyssey has a wrinkle. On his journey, I wrote, Obama "assumes the role of both Telemachus and Odysseus, the son seeking the father, and the father seeking home."
Three weeks later, on January 18, 2009, Kakutani wrote her fawning piece on Obama as literary giant with special attention focused on Dreams. Intriguingly, she describes the structure of Dreams as "a quest in which [Obama] cast himself as both a Telemachus in search of his father and an Odysseus in search of a home."
Unless this is pure coincidence, Kakutani seems to have changed my concise "seeking" to the more unwieldy "in search of," but otherwise the phrases are the same. I could find no prior reference to this specific Homeric interpretation.
If she did plumb my article, Kakutani ignored all my conclusions given that she described Dreams as "the most evocative, lyrical and candid autobiography written by a future president," and Ayers, unless I missed something, does not inhabit the White House, at least not yet.