A few of you may have noticed that Barack Obama was sworn in yesterday as the 44th president of the United States. We will leave political commentary in the capable hands of other blogs and instead provide an aesthetic appraisal of the ceremony in all its aspects.
The swearing-in: Charmingly awkward. Obama seemed to trip over his lines, with considerable help from Chief Justice John Roberts. Reminded us of a groom stumbling over the wedding vows—and in much the same way, actually pointed up the significance of the moment. Foiled the news networks’ desire for a nice, tidy sound bite.
The inaugural quartet: Shaker folk music by way of Aaron Copland by way of Hollywood composer John Williams: no mistaking which country we’re in here. The arrangement was dignified and the performance as lovely as you’d expect from all-star quartet Gabriela Montero, Anthony McGill, Itzhak Perlman, and Yo-Yo Ma.
The inaugural poem: The less said about this, the better, although we realize it’s hard to write a good occasion poem on relatively short notice for an audience of several billion.
Aretha Franklin’s hat: Triumphant.
The speech: Quite successful, especially for the genre. Contained no instantly quotable rhetorical flourishes, but was well-delivered (obviously) and skillfully argued in the passage about rejecting false dichotomies (e.g. “we ask…not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works”). The subtlest touch was actually the Biblical quotation. Describing America as “a young nation” is a staple of almost all inaugural addresses, but Obama provided a highly original twist by citing Paul’s famous words in First Corinthians: “When I became a man, I put aside childish things.” Left unsaid, but surely meant to echo in the audience’s mind, was the rest of the passage, with its summons to faith, hope, and especially, charity. The poignancy of a fairly young president telling a nation in crisis to grow up may well be the best-remembered aspect of the speech.
Bush’s exit: More hasty than graceful.
A few weeks ago we invited our readers to don the mantle of Arbiter of Style by voting on their favorite—sorry, boldly decreeing their choice of the greatest—among five architects, each the subject of an Abbeville monograph: Antonio Gaudí, Frank Lloyd Wright, Bernard Maybeck, Julia Morgan, and Philip Johnson. The poll coincided with Election Day, and while in most pundits’ eyes that day belonged to Barack Obama, with the perspective of time it seems the real winner on Nov. 4 was Frank Lloyd Wright. Congratulations, Mr. Wright: Abbeville Manual of Style readers have anointed you the greatest architect of your century. You may now truly rest in peace.
Okay, the choice of Wright may not exactly have been a shocker, but the other final standings were more intriguing. Antonio Gaudí took first runner-up with 18% of the vote, while Julia Morgan finished third with 9%. Most surprisingly, neither Bernard Maybeck nor Philip Johnson received any votes at all. Maybeck we can understand, though we’re admirers of his work, but Johnson? The bespectacled elder statesman of late-twentieth-century architecture? Perhaps his fascist sympathies as a young fool in the 1930’s hurt his case, but then people still embrace T. S. Eliot despite his having been an old fool in the same way and in the same era. More likely our readers grew weary of the lavish encomia that greeted Johnson on his death three years ago and were happy to put him in his place, critically speaking. Or maybe (and this is a big maybe) polls about dead architects just don’t garner that many votes, period. Sigh…we’ll do one about adorable cats next time.
Poll results aren’t the only reader feedback we’ve been getting lately, however. On the “lavish encomia” end of the spectrum, both Janet Reid, Literary Agent and The Bookshop Blog have said some very kind things about us in recent weeks. We happily return their compliments and recommend the former site to anyone interested in a lighthearted take on the publishing industry, the latter to anyone interested in old and rare books (that is, anyone with a soul). On the critical side, we’ve just heard from a reader (actually, a friend) who has reminded us to disable the accursed SnapShots function that makes a preview bubble pop up every time you mouse over a link. Done and done. He also recommended that we embed fewer links in our posts to begin with, so from now on we’ll avoid linking to anything but the most essential reading and viewing. For example, this.