From a Vanity Fair excerpt of David Maraniss’s new book about Barack Obama:
She remembered how on Sundays Obama would lounge around, drinking coffee and solving the New York Times crossword puzzle, bare-chested, wearing a blue and white sarong. His bedroom was closest to the front door, offering a sense of privacy and coziness. Genevieve described it in her journal this way: “I open the door, that Barack keeps closed, to his room, and enter into a warm, private space pervaded by a mixture of smells that so strongly speak of his presence, his liveliness, his habits—running sweat, Brut spray deodorant, smoking, eating raisins, sleeping, breathing.”
Please, God, never let me get so famous that I have to endure ex-girlfriends telling biographers what I smelled like when I was 22.
This, from a letter young Obama wrote to a different girlfriend is pretty interesting:
I haven’t read “The Waste Land” for a year, and I never did bother to check all the footnotes. But I will hazard these statements—Eliot contains the same ecstatic vision which runs from Münzer to Yeats. However, he retains a grounding in the social reality/order of his time. Facing what he perceives as a choice between ecstatic chaos and lifeless mechanistic order, he accedes to maintaining a separation of asexual purity and brutal sexual reality. And he wears a stoical face before this. Read his essay on Tradition and the Individual Talent, as well as Four Quartets, when he’s less concerned with depicting moribund Europe, to catch a sense of what I speak. Remember how I said there’s a certain kind of conservatism which I respect more than bourgeois liberalism—Eliot is of this type. Of course, the dichotomy he maintains is reactionary, but it’s due to a deep fatalism, not ignorance. (Counter him with Yeats or Pound, who, arising from the same milieu, opted to support Hitler and Mussolini.) And this fatalism is born out of the relation between fertility and death, which I touched on in my last letter—life feeds on itself. A fatalism I share with the western tradition at times. You seem surprised at Eliot’s irreconcilable ambivalence; don’t you share this ambivalence yourself, Alex?
I wonder what George W. Bush thought about Eliot, ecstatic chaos, and lifeless mechanistic order? Heh. No, seriously, it’s interesting to think about young Obama’s fascinating with Eliot’s ambivalence in light of this passage from another letter to that girlfriend, Alex:
Caught without a class, a structure, or tradition to support me, in a sense the choice to take a different path is made for me The only way to assuage my feelings of isolation are to absorb all the traditions [and] classes; make them mine, me theirs.