requiem for certainty

Posts Tagged ‘obama

Obama: Pragmatism: etc.

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A few items of interest, re: Obama and Pragmatism.

Pragmatist scholar John Capps and a colleague at Rochester Inst of Tchlgy are teaching a course on Obama as Pragmatist this quarter entitled “Reading Obama”.  The course syllabus looks great (not only b/c of what’s on it but also as a model for how to put together a course on pragmatism and some theme or person of contemporary interest).

Another scholar of pragmatism, Michael Eldridge at UNCC, has put together a page that offers a nice selection of resources on Obama and pragmatism.  This is very helpful and should prove even more helpful going forward.

(Btw, if I haven’t posted much lately, here or elsewhere, it’s because I’m in Foucault-land this quarter.  I’m doing  a senior seminar on Foucault at UCSC right now with a bunch of really incredibly talented students.  Whoever doesn’t simply love teaching must have never had an opportunity like this.)

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Written by Colin Koopman

April 13, 2009 at 8:00 am

Posted in obama, pragmatism

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Pragmatism in Obama’s Inaugural

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We saw more pragmatism this week in Obama’s inaugural address (following up on earlier posts).  It was not quite the masterful literary piece that one might have expected given all that we have been hearing about how Obama wishes to position himself as the next Lincoln.  Lincoln was not only a president but also a poet: recall his “mystic chords of memory”.  Obama is not quite a poet, at least not yet.  But then again, I find the comparisons to Lincoln somewhat overstrained.  Obama is a pragmatist.  Lincoln was not (but perhaps the persident could not have been a pragmatist in those tumultuous years.)

In Obama’s inaugural address this Tuesday we heard his pragmatism once again.  It was forceful and proud, yet also humble and friendly.  This is as pragmatism should be: at once confident and inviting.

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Written by Colin Koopman

January 24, 2009 at 8:58 pm

“There is no understanding of Obama without an understanding of Pragmatism”

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Check out Aboulafia on Obama’s pragmatism over at TPM (or over at Aboulafia’s blog).

Aboulafia’s point: Obama the experimentalist, Obama the fallibilist, Obama the pluralist.  All that is missing here: Obama the meliorist (a fancy word for ‘hope-ism’).  And that is where he might really make a difference in reinvigorating a pragmatist, an American, a democratic politics of self-governance.

Written by Colin Koopman

December 20, 2008 at 10:10 pm

Obama Meliorism and Obama Criticism

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Well what an exciting time!

Obama’s acceptance speech last night offered a true occasion for pause, reflection, and consideration.  I would like to do a much fuller analysis and thanks to some of my students this morning my wheels are really turning about this just now.  But until such time as I can find time to write more let me flag two themes:

“Unyielding hope” – Obama is a meliorist (even if he, knowledgeable as he is, may have to look that word up).  The meliorist is the one who holds dear the conviction that we can, through our own efforts, make better lives for our selves.  The meliorist is neither the pessimist who sees gloom nor the optimist who sees brightness as automatically given.  Betterment is our doing, our energy, our achievement: so says the meliorist.  That Obama is a meliorist makes him a pragmatist and an American of the best variety our history has to offer.  (If you want to see something like a scholarly argument for this last point see my article “Pragmatism as a Philosophy of Hope“, which is a shorter and earlier version of Chapter One of my forthcoming book.)

“This is your election” – Obama is pushing participatory democracy which is much welcome after the eight long dark years of elitist democracy as foisted on us by Bush et. al..  I keep coming back to something Cornel West said in, I believe, his appearance on Bill Maher with Mos Def (but it may have been elsewhere).  He said that he would celebrate all night when Obama was elected but the next day he would wake up and become his biggest critic.  This seems so valuable to me just now because one finally has the sense that the President will welcome that criticism.  Of course one should not expect that Obama himself would actively respond to all of his critics, though it is plausible that he may have some dialogue with West at some point.  What one should expect rather would be that Obama would welcome as vitally important for democracy the process of that criticism and its more extreme forms, such as civil disobedience.  This is in many ways an emphatic inspiration for amateur cultural critics like myself.

If there was one bit of rhetoric in the speech which I did not care for it was the worn-out gesture for something called “national unity” all wrapped up with the bow of a pretty reference to Lincoln.  That much unity is apolitical.  Politics requires a healthy exchange between consensus and dissent.  Let us not pretend that division and difference ever stands in the way of our better unyielding hopes.

Here is what I would like to learn to take away from this moment: For our democracy to work we all must contribute what we can.  For some of us this contribution will be a work that is simultaneously meliorative and critical, hopeful and unsettling, progressive and destabilizing.

Written by Colin Koopman

November 6, 2008 at 7:18 am