Jan 23, 2009

Of split infinitives and simulacra

From the moment slave owners declared all men to be created equal, American politics has fostered an interesting relationship between truth and representation. Successful politicians seem to find ways to reconcile the schism in the minds of the electorate. They speak in metaphor and yet we call it plain speaking. They use symbolism and yet we call it authenticity.

For those inclined to think about such things, Tuesday's inauguration provided a few hiccups that might at first be dismissed as "things not going smoothly," but really offer us a glimpse between the seams.

First, there was the live quartet that didn't play live. Would it have been better had we been told the musicians would be simulating an earlier performance? Would we rather have heard the recording without all the false gestures? Should the performance have been scrapped if the musicians couldn't play live? If you enjoyed the performance of the performance, does it really matter?

Then there was the fumbled oath of office - Which has more meaning to us, word order or speaker's intent? Does speaking a word out of order do more damage to the oath's authenticity than adding words that aren't in the text? Does a second oath lack potency if it wasn't broadcast on television the way the first oath was? What if Obama had taken the second (or even the first) oath in private - the Constitution makes no demand that the oath be taken publicly?

1 comment:

Jay said...

Both instances become pivot points for the offended and the defensive. On one side, the day's events represent a suspicion of the inauthentic, a nagging doubt that things are not as promised. On the other side, the two instances are matters of expedience lacking real importance. The pageantry of the day has been falsely assumed to be the day. It is not the moment of the day that is important but the day as a creative instance that promises evolutionary enlightenment. Idealistic? You bet. But there's nothing wrong with it. Static fear has been the order of the day for far too long. Let us now praise famous men and see within ourselves the urge to create anew the promise of transparency, change and the rule of law. Fear strangles the soul and hardens the heart, demanding a heartless conservation of ideals that are meant to evolve. I marked the day as a new agreement, a fresh compact, with the notion that we are better than we see ourselves. We are greater than our fears. A friend remarked after the reporting on the new president's directives regarding torture that he felt less safe. Utter nonsense. Violence and violations of ideals do not make us safe.