The President's Ghost: A Hauntology of Democracy. MLA 2011 (Los Angeles 1/6-9)

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A Special Session (subject to MLA approval)
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Presidents of the United States and presidential candidates have a long history of "writing" autobiographies which skillfully enact and construct a piece of political theater. The public's complicity in desiring a "war hero" president enables such posturing. However, the political performance ultimately becomes restrictive and the public becomes confused when the president or candidate betrays expectations. The politician's desire to manipulate inauthentic portrayals is itself subject to contradiction.

The ghostwriter is essential in this political theater: As national fabular, the President's ghostwriter must be the first to believe the public fable. This is the dialectic we wish to examine: the contradictory multiple realities between the political theater and the willful public self-deception. Further, what part does the speechwriter play in the creation of what Hobbes called the key component of a democracy: the "aristocracy of orators"?

As a means to this, we wish to closely read the presumably "non-fiction" literary works of the presidents. Such literature might consist of text, film or television. So long as the text itself is worthy of close-reading and is conspicuously inauthentic or hyper-real.

We are open to any theoretical approach.
We will consider important politicians from outside the United States, so long as the person is a well-known political figure in their country and their image is subject to the contradictions of public fabrication (for example, Sarkozy).

Topics might include:
- Twain's relationship with Ulysses S. Grant.
- Eisenhower's ghostwriter Edward Mead Earle and the book Crusade in Europe.
- Ted Sorenson's writing of Kennedy's Profiles in Courage
- The Nixon/Frost interviews.
- Barack Obama's Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech.
- Notable presidential speech writers such as Harry Hopkins (FDR), Richard Goodwin (JFK/LBJ), William Safire, Ben Stein, Pat Buchanan (Nixon), Peggy Noonan (Reagan/Bush), for example.
- Televised images of political speechmaking such as debates and press conferences.

This is for a special session at MLA 2011 in Los Angeles (subject to MLA approval).

Please send 300 word abstracts and a short bio to

Deadline: March 15th, 2010