Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Glad Day

Only one piece of news today. This:.

And this:

The rest will be found just about everywhere.

It is an extraordinary occasion, of course, all broad brush, all mixed palette (in every possible way), now Aretha Franklin, now Itzhak Perlman and Yo Yo Ma, now a poem by Elizabeth Alexander, with a reverend here and a reverend there, and vast crowds and big coats, and the whole parade in the freezing cold as far as the eye can see. Sometimes I wouldn't mind being American. This was one of those occasions.

Because being American - part of 'a young country', as President Obama reminded us - the bouquets of hope seem more luxuriant and yet more ordinary. Because, as again he reminded us, America is a compound of everything and everyone, without a real stake in atavistic score settling. Because, though its brief history is far from universally glorious, it really is possible for the son of a poor black African immigrant to become president. (In Britain Eton tends to come in useful.) And, more than anything, it is possible to believe that a whole society can renew itself. It is possible to believe it because here is the living proof. Here, look at us, we have voted in a black president!

And that is actually momentous. Wonderful. Dazzling. Quite brilliant. Don't give us 'the patsy'. Don't give us 'the military-industrial complex'. Here he is, full straight eloquence and gravitas.

Is he a symbol as much as a person? Yes. But symbols are not hollow. There are times when they are solid, electric, stuffed full of life, dizzying and dangerous. They are the broad-brush poetry of life, and whoever said poetry was always on the side of the angels? Leni Riefenstahl's work is beautiful and symbolic and poetic and deadly poisonous.

Obama is the opposite kind of symbol. He has not stepped over the border into myth. He remains fully human. He gives hope that he, and we, may remain that way.

The speech was masterful. Darkness, modulating into hope and encouragement, but never quite letting go of the dark. It was the US version of Churchill's blood, toil, tears and sweat set piece. Being the US version there remained a line of playful joy running through it. Interestingly, he told his audience they were in a war, a war against what you might call, though he didn't use the word, terror. He told them there would be really hard times ahead. He told them about unemployment and global warming and invited them to choose ideals over safety. Now there is a complex idea. And, to my mind, a very good one. You've got to draw on all that good neighbourliness, can-do, folksiness and join it with toughness without rancour.

The text of the speech is everywhere, including here. You get the whole thing.My clips may disappear because of copyright here or there, but it's all safe for posterity somewhere. And it's nice to have them here.

I stopped everything to watch the event on CNN video live. I am glad I did. Go, Obama!


This shouldn't really be a tail-piece, it's far too good, but this is the best thing I have read on Gaza since the whole thing began. It's by Peter Ryley, who occasionally comments here as The Plump and contributes to the DSTPFW website as Gadgie. thank you, Peter.


Poet in Residence said...

I stayed in to watch this, nearly missed the theatre but this time couldn't care less for this was far more important. It was a moment in history. It was "Ich bin ein Berliner, it was "Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country", it was "I have a dream" and it was all, like America can be when she shines from sea to sea, more than the sum of the parts. The only downside to the whole thing was the brief shot (watched it on CNN wanted to be right with the American dream) the brief shot of those two tricksters, the one in yellow scarf and the one with narrow eyes whispering together, or so it looked. It was wonderful to see Michelle holding bible for him to take the oath, to see those two lovely girls his daughters totally relaxed and at ease, to see the mile long million people crowd, and to know that this whole history changing moments was being shown live in 240 countries. And that I was in a small way part of it. It was a wonderful moment which had me reaching for my hanky with one hand and my glass of celebratory schnaps with the other. Unclench the fist, he said.
Let's hope they and do.

dana said...

I can now be proud of my country, for the first time in eight years. I actually cried and hugged my friend in the campus bookstore, as we watched. The shots that brought the tears? The people, not him, not celebrities, but the people, who traveled, who got out in the cold at 4 a.m., who brought their kids, who are still stunned with joy.

I think of the monumental tasks ahead, and I keep trying to think of him as human first, a symbol second.

Poet in Residence said...

George, Apropos your footnote the phrase that he used "unclench the fist" comes to my find. The Gaza War, it now seems to be reduced to the status of the Gaza Conflict, was a timely demonstration of fists that badly need to be unclenched at their violent work (both sides, just like David & Goliath; you think they'd all learn by now).
Dana you now can, and now should, be very proud of your country. This morning I far away feel I am there with you in your new dawn!

George S said...

Unclenching fists is always a good idea, Gwilym. Saying so is easier than doing so, of course, and doing so becomes his problem now that he is the president.

I am an Old European (and now, increasingly, an old European) not an American. Historically, psychologically, in most ways,for all kinds of reasons, I am therefore more sceptical about almost everything than an American might be.

But then I think, if America can elect its first black president then perhaps this too is possible and easier than it seems. After all, the Berlin Wall came down. Not that that solved everything, of course, but that too seemed impossible.

So I am grateful and moved that there should be hope. Obama is - why els is he there? - the symbol of that. Let's go with it and see.

PJ Nolan said...

Left work to see it in the company of two good friends, one of whom accompanied me to the Poetry Ireland Writers for Peace event later in the evening - a double whammy of instinctive, creative optimism, without any flinching from the harshest of realities.

Billy C. said...

I have lived a good long life. I've seen much in that time and am streetwise to politics and politicians. 'Off the cuff' are they, usually. But, Barack Obama's inauguration has stirred me within. Like an old sea dog, I've sniffed the air and can sense a change. Today, one of his first acts as President, his condemnation of lobbyists, only served to confirm my gut feeling that he is someone very special who is not afraid to act for the people he serves rather than those who have the most power. I also sense inclement weather and possible mutiny. Whether he is powerful enough to ride this sea change and rebellion remains to be seen. We have an interesting few years ahead of us. I wish him well on his journey. As should all good men.