Obama’s Postmodern Moment

Last week, as the country was staring down the sequester deadline, the president made a reference to not being able to “Jedi Mind Meld” with his opponents. The interwebs went crazy, with people jumping over themselves to criticize the president for such an obvious slip up. This means a whole lot of people missed two really simple points: 1) the president doesn’t have super powers and 2) he’s a nerd. These things are true, regardless of the reference.

Despite the likelihood that the president did mix two metaphors, the metaphor he did make was better than the one he intended. As Chris Peterson wrote in this blog post, the Jedi Meld involves a metaphysical meeting of the minds, a concept in the extended Star Wars canon that suited the president’s purpose better than either the Jedi Mind Trick or the Vulcan Mind Meld.

What fascinates me about this crazy geek fight is how modernist the response has been, particularly in response to Peterson’s post.

In literary theory, we long ago threw away the single-minded preocupation with what the author’s intention was, particularly in judging both the value and the power of the work. It seems as if politics and religion (and apparently nerd fights) are the only places in which some experts still pretend that the intention supercedes the actual work. From a Supreme Court justice whose chosen reading of the constitution is to restrict the document to its author’s intention to Biblical fundamentalism, the idea that intention is more important than what was actually communicated is beyond obsolete. It is dangerous.

What we communicate goes well beyond our words and our intentions. It is received and processed outside of us. Even a nerd reference by the president to why he can’t get on the same page with Republicans transmits more than what was in his head. And isn’t that what he was talking about after all? Now, if only the president actually could Jedi Meld with those that disagree with him…even the nerds.

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