From a very smart lady

by michelle on May 17, 2008 · 0 comments

A friend of mine wrote this. She’s such a brilliant mind.

There is a text, originally written in Euskera, by Basque author Bernardo Atxaga called Obabakoak. B&N gives us a synopsis:

“Obabakoak means ‘the people and things of Obaba (a Basque village),’ and the narrator weaves a tale reminiscent of Scheherazade’s. The village is peopled with rascals, innocents, intellectuals, shepherds, hunters, idiots, and creatures of superstition, and the interconnection of their private worlds is brilliantly evoked. Parody, riddles, texts within texts abound in a book that is playful yet always tinged with melancholy. Possessed of the timelessness of the fairy tale and informed by the lore of the oral tradition – and offering a good-humored spin through metaliterature and intertextuality – Obabakoak is a multi-faceted and rousing celebration of the art of storytelling.”

Obaba is the name of town in which the collection of stories take place. The Basque word Obabakoak means loosely “things of Obaba,” which we could also understand to means more specifically stories of Obaba. Hence the book is a collection of short stories all centered around this town. Nevertheless, a key element to understanding the book is the knowledge that while these stories are extremely localized, they could have taken place in any town, in any country, and indeed on any planet (as these stories themselves tell). Thus the book is simultaneously local and universal.

Due to its resemblance in name, my colleagues loosely came up with the idea of “Obamakoak,” and idea which I actually think has a great deal of validity and meaning. Humor me while I elaborate.

I was thinking more about the Obamakoak based on something that comes up in the field of Folklore Studies: that specific public display events, like festivals, often have intentionally ambiguous meanings so that individual members of that society can project their own personal meaning onto the representations. So while you have one singular event, you have multiple understanding of that event (which we like to call postmodern hermeneutics).

This is so Obama. He is criticized for being vague and lacking substance in his speeches, but that’s precisely the genius of him as a public figure (not a public festival, but still a public figure that operates by using discourse in the public sphere). By remaining somewhat ambiguous, he allows many different people to project their own meaning onto him. That’s how he can reach across party, racial, and gender divides: he means something different for everyone. This is also why I consider him to be an important figure as a politician: through his presence in the public sphere as a politician, he has the ability to change our national imaginary.

And thus we arrive at Obaba and the Obabakoak. If the Obabakoak are the things of Obaba, or more specifically the stories of Obaba – a small, local Basque town – then the Obamakoak are the individual narratives that we create about Barack Obama. The Obamakoak are the narratives that we project onto him. And, just like the Obabakoak, these Obamakoak are simultaneously personal and universal. Not merely a personal narrative, the Obamakoak are also universal narratives that can be – and are – shared by millions of other people.

from her Obamablog

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: