Sunday, October 26, 2008

Obama and I

The following text does not fall under any particular Oulipian rubric; but as a permutation of another text’s structure, it partakes of the Oulipian spirit. In this case, the original text is Jorge Luis Borges’s classic meditation on the elusiveness of identity, “Borges and I,” altered to substitute Barack Obama—or rather, “Barack Obama,” whomever that may be—for Borges’s speaker. The problematic relationship between public and private identities detailed in the original, while certainly of great concern to Borges, is a subject with a thousand fold more relevance to the life of a politician and inspirational figure like Obama.

Obama and I

The other one, the one called Obama, is the one things happen to. I walk through the streets of Chicago and stop for a moment, perhaps mechanically now, to look at the arch of an entrance hall and the grillwork on the gate; I know of Obama from the news and see his name on a campaign ad or in a blog entry. I like basketball, writing, loafing with my kids, Christianity and the prose of Toni Morrison; he shares these preferences, but in a vain way that turns them into the attributes of an actor. It would be an exaggeration to say that ours is a hostile relationship; I live, let myself go on living, so that Obama may contrive his politics, and this politics justifies me. It is no effort for me to confess that he has outlined some valid policies, but those policies cannot save me, perhaps because what is good belongs to no one, not even to him, but rather to the public and to the future. Besides, I am destined to perish, definitively, and only some instant of myself can survive in him. Little by little, I am giving over everything to him, though I am quite aware of his perverse custom of falsifying and magnifying things.

Spinoza knew that all things long to persist in their being; the stone eternally wants to be a stone and the tiger a tiger. I shall remain in Obama, not in myself (if it is true that I am someone), but I recognize myself less in his orations than in many others or in the laborious blowing of a saxophone. Years ago I tried to free myself from him and went from the machine politics of Illinois to games with hope and change, but those games belong to Obama now and I shall have to imagine other things. Thus my life is a flight and I lose everything and everything belongs to oblivion, or to him.

I do not know which of us has written this page.