Brian Fuller's blog on the media, marketing and content creation

Language, Hope and Obama’s Muse

Posted on | November 15, 2008 | 7 Comments

In an extraordinary piece in today’s Wall Street Journal, Lee Siegel pulls quote from an older Time magazine piece. In it, President-elect Obama reflects on a portait of Lincoln he had hanging in his office:

“In it, Lincoln’s face is as finely lined as a pressed flower. He appears frail, almost broken; his eyes, averted from the camera’s lens, seem to contain a heartbreaking melancholy, as if he sees before him what the nation had so recently endured. It would be a sorrowful picture except for the fact that Lincoln’s mouth is turned ever so slightly into a smile. The smile doesn’t negate the sorrow. But it alters tragedy into grace. It’s as if this rough-faced, aging man has cast his gaze toward eternity and yet still cherishes his memories — of an imperfect world and its fleeting, sometimes terrible beauty. On trying days, the portrait, a reproduction of which hangs in my office, soothes me; it always asks me questions.”

His language and oratory are breathtaking in the age of the Internet and IM and email, of thumb-nail thinking of “red” and “blue,” “left” and “right.” He understands innately that our complex world can’t be boiled down into sound bytes, Tweets, and IM slang but it can (and must) be articulated, eloquently.
Here’s hoping we as a culture take a breath and take the time to read and listen to the thoughtful articulations that could serve as the map-tracings of our path out of the wilderness.

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7 Responses to “Language, Hope and Obama’s Muse”

  1. Loring Wirbel
    November 17th, 2008 @ 9:20 am

    Check out the reviews for complex new books like 2666 or Against the Day. Even if a writer tried to emulate Dickens, he/she would be shot down by snipers saying, “Ewww, too complicated, that sentence is over 15 words long!” It’s not just that no one writes like they did in the Victorian era, readers don’t want to read like they did back then.

  2. Greeley's Ghost
    November 18th, 2008 @ 4:05 pm

    That doesn’t surprise you in the Twitter Era, does it? I’m working on strategies to make social media news releases even shorter and simpler.
    Eventually our culture will complete the circle: we’ll be back to grunts and images to communicate.

  3. Cary
    November 19th, 2008 @ 9:36 am

    Digital words are now the most common form of widely distributed expression.
    As a such this form of expression could easily take on 100’s of possible meanings, depending on the language of the reader, situation, and context. The technology used today means our everyday words can go just about anywhere, including leaving ‘our world’ as we know it with the use of the Internet in space and unintended signal transmissions.

    A single word is technically a well bounded expression. But we can use the English language as a good example of how even a single word twit takes on unintended expressive complexity. This is particularly relevant given the medium we use, and possibility a reader might translate our written words or use different types of robotic speakers.

    For example the words Black or white have many different noun groups, adjectives, types of verbs and context. The possible number and type of computerized “digital word” translators in common use means our online words and sentences, even short ones, can end up having unbounded complexity.

    A conclusion could be made that there is a clear and growing need for crisp annunciation with eloquent articulation. Unless of course your audience is “just” the abbreviated “give me only the jest” type, or a computer program capable of parsing Dickens.

    Here is a link to YouTube that provides quick example of robotic translation technology.

    As social media junkies we may need to consider all possibilities. Would you agree?

  4. wretch
    November 19th, 2008 @ 10:20 am

    I think somebody’s devised a phrase-generating machine that stitches together pseudo-random phrases successfully enough to get past spambots, but not successfully enough to make sense.

  5. wretch
    November 19th, 2008 @ 10:21 am

    I meant to say “spam filters”, not “spambots”

  6. Loring Wirbel
    November 19th, 2008 @ 11:27 am

    Sounds like the best guess to me, Brian. If not, the person seriously needs to stop twittering and start living.

  7. Anonymous
    December 23rd, 2008 @ 8:43 pm

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