Since leaving office, Barack Obama has channeled his energy into an unexpected endeavor: building an infotainment empire. He has started a production company, made playlists for his followers and recently released Renegades, a coffee-table book with a series of his conversations with Bruce Springsteen. In it, the two argue that art can exercise political power, but also reveal the tensions of that idea. Instead of arguing that content can save America, the book sheds light on the former president’s almost illogically optimistic belief in the power of art.
When politicians make art, the resulting works tend to reveal more about their creators than they do about our government. As former Georgia State House of Representatives minority leader and voting rights activist Stacey Abrams has said, she writes novels to create a “storage place for the parts” of her that she “cannot release” as a public figure. (One of the main characters in her book While justice sleeps going to beat an evil, Trump-like character.) In the thriller The president has disappeared, which Bill Clinton co-wrote with author James Patterson, gives Clinton a fantasy in which he was a much tougher and more heroic leader. Newt Gingrich’s 2011 Civil War Novel, The battle of the crater (released as his failed presidential election was on the rise) had no clear impact on the election results, but it certainly revealed the former spokesman for the House’s racist outlook as he downplayed the Confederates’ violence.
A work is never a perfect reflection of its creator. Pablo Neruda was a Chilean senator, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature and self-confessed rapist – but his all-consuming, transcendent love poem bears no evidence of such violence.
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What we read
Carlos Bernate / Bloomberg / Getty; Atlantic Ocean
The dangers of the Springsteen-Obama echo chamber
“Obama seems almost tragically fixated on the idea that poetry, podcasting or television programs can heal our national wounds – even though the stories he himself continues to tell show that it is not that simple.”
The story behind Stacey Abram’s fictional career
“The narrative skills that Abrams uses to write fiction are also essential to her political life; through narration, she makes difficult, at times frightening, political concepts compelling. “
Kevin Lamarque / Retuers / The Atlantic
Bill Clinton’s novel is not a thriller – it’s a fantasy
“Clinton and Patterson are far from the first people to imagine the president as an action hero who avoids bullets and explosions … But it’s always been a creepy trope, and seeing it approved by an actual ex-president only makes it more so. “This is because the qualities of the hero of action – determination, fighting spirit, the ability to solve all problems and defeat all enemies on his own – are much closer to the ideals of fascism than to liberal democracy.”
Joe Raedle / Getty
How Newt’s new novel plays politics with the past
“[The] narrative… grossly distorts our understanding of the war and the important role played by black Union soldiers. ”
📚 The battle of the crater, by Newt Gingrich, William R. Forstchen and Albert S. Hanser
“Today, any close reader of Neruda will face the irony of an activist for the oppressed who also exercised his power to harm – and the mystery of how a beautiful poem about love could come from a man capable of such cruelty. . “
About us: This week’s newsletter is written by Kate Cray. The book she recently finished is Flavors, by Mayukh Sen.
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