Stanley Fish on the prosaic power of the Inaugural Address

Stanely Fish of NYT takes a second look at Obama’s Inaugural Address and makes a case for it being far more powerful when read than when heard.  In a generally positive review, he argues that the speech was packed with contemplative nuggets that beg closer examination:

Of course, as something heard rather than viewed, the speech provides no spaces for contemplation. We have barely taken in a small rhetorical flourish like “All this we can do. All this we will do” before it disappears in the rear-view mirror. But if we regard the text as an object rather than as a performance in time, it becomes possible (and rewarding) to do what the pundits are doing: linger over each alliteration, parse each emphasis, tease out each implication.

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2 Responses to “Stanley Fish on the prosaic power of the Inaugural Address”

  1. Jebediah Says:

    It’s kind of obvious that this would be the case…look at FDR’s first inaugural address. Maligned by contemporary critics (oh noez, a new deal?!?), but now one of the most studied–and revered–pieces of rhetorical awesomosity in the English language. I guess the efficacy of an inaugural address is often judged by history, though. FDR braced people for the massive change in the government that he had planned, the New Deal then worked, and his address went down as one of the finest speeches ever delivered.

    See Dr. Halford Ross Ryan’s book on American Presidential Rhetoric for a really interesting read about inaugural (and other) addresses. Full text of speeches plus his essays about them. He’s also crazy as a loon and partly responsible for my political awakening at about the age of 20 or so (though GWB stealing it in 2000 was responsible for the rest of it).

  2. thing'llscoot Says:

    As I review your blog for feedback, I am stunned by this sentence:

    “Maligned by contemporary critics (oh noez, a new deal?!?), but now one of the most studied–and revered–pieces of rhetorical awesomosity in the English language.”

    awesomosity. wow.

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