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A Portrait of Barack Obama as a Literary Young Man

Vanity Fair has published a long excerpt from David Maraniss‘ upcoming biography, Barack Obama: The Story. The article features excerpts from letters Barack Obama wrote to an old girlfriend and passages from another girlfriend’s diary.

UPDATE: The essay caused a minor controversy this week as reporters debated character compression in Obama’s memoir. Former Kodansha America editorial executive Philip Turner cleared up all the controversy at Talking Points Memo.

In one letter from 1982, the future President shared a long analysis of T. S. Eliot‘s epic poem, “The Waste Land.” You can test your own analysis skills against the President by reading this free digital book copy of Eliot’s most famous poem. Check it out below…

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.

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