Building the perfect beast?
The charge of having one’s memoir molded into literary shape by an unrepentant domestic terrorist (now “education reformer” and “former radical,” if you believe the spin doctors and the media sycophants, many of whom likely fantasize about “hitting the streets,” fighting the “Pigs,” and plunging their peckers vicariously into an earthy, hairy-pitted Bernadine Dohrn, circa 1970) is a serious one — and I do not wish to present the accusation lightly.
Nevertheless, we already know that one member of the Obama/Biden ticket has a tendency toward plagiarism; so it would be no great leap to find out that the principal — in addition to having his political coming out launched by Bill Ayers, might have had help, also, shaping the narrative and story that has, since its publication in a pair of memoirs, created the public persona of “Barack Obama.”
Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, literary “detectives” recently discovered, was in fact a carefully constructed piece edited and labored over to give it the appearance of a free-flowing bit of extemporaneous observation and insight. And of course, such literary technique is hardly new — or even in any way disreputable: successful stream of consciousness fiction is perhaps the most carefully constructed of all imaginative fiction, relying for its power on giving the perception of the thought process rendered in words, without mimicking the thought process in any but the most conventional and superficial ways (compare its output to, eg., “free writing”). The genre is, in a sense, self-enclosed and self-fulfilling — a celebration of a particular technique that simulates a referent that is, when all is said and done, nothing more than itself.
Which is why when I talk of Obama’s memoirs, I place “Barack Obama” as literary construct in quotation marks: there is, in any verbal recounting, necessary recourse to narrative technique and tropes — so it is hardly controversial to separate Barack Obama from “Barack Obama” as he exists in words alone.
Where the interest lies is at the point of agency and authorship. For if Bill Ayers has indeed ghostwritten at least portions of Barack Obama’s memoirs, as some are alleging, then it is fair to say that the “Barack Obama” of those memoirs is more even than a construct: he is at least partially a fictional character, given that it is “his” words that ostensibly create “him” — making it follow that, if the words creating him are not his own, then “he” is really a kind of living literary portmanteau, a blend of influences, an ontological hybrid insofar as he exists publicly.
To be clear, there is a gradation of difference between the “narrativized” and slightly fictionalized version of “oneself” that is the inevitable product of writing in the genre of memoir or autobiography, and the narrativized and slightly fictionalized version that is the product of a ghostwritten piece. And that difference occurs on the level of the language used to create the “oneself” construct.
If the charges are true, and Obama’s memoirs were in fact written by Bill Ayers, at least in part, than it is clear that at least in part, Barack Obama is a creation of Bill Ayers, not with respect to the historical events of Obama’s life, but with respect to how those events are presented, and how the presentation itself speaks to the “person” doing the presenting.
On that meta level, “Obama,” as we’ve come to know him through his memoirs, is more Ayers than he is Obama. Because from the perspective of “literariness” (if such a thing can be said to exist), the presentation is equally as important as the presented.
Meaning that Obama’s ties to Ayers go even deeper than we’ve previously surmised. Because if true, these revelations over authorship strongly suggest that Ayers is, in a very real sense, “Obama’s” creator.
(h/t urthshu and SarahW)