Today, Vanity Fair published several excerpts from the romantic correspondence of a young Barack Obama, displaying a penetrating mind and an impressive command of language on the part of the future president, who had just transferred from Occidental College to Columbia. His letters, as biographer David Maraniss writes, "wove [their] way though literature, politics, and personal philosophy"; our own Maureen O'Connor notes that they "reference T.S. Eliot, 'bourgeois liberalism,' and Jacques Derrida."
But Obama was not the only young man to have passed through Occidental College with an imposing body of epistolary work. I, too, was a student at Occidental (though more recently), and I've saved nearly all of my own correspondence with my girlfriend from my time at "the Princeton of the West."
There are some remarkable similarities. Like Obama's letters, my emails are attempts to "find [my] place in the whirl of humanity." In 1981, Obama wrote to his paramour Alex McNear "Remember how I said there's a certain kind of conservatism which I respect more than bourgeois liberalism — Eliot is of this type"; some 25 years later, animated by the same spirit, I wrote "come online" to my own girlfriend. The parallels are sometimes eerie: "And this fatalism is born out of the relation between fertility and death, which I touched on in my last letter-life feeds on itself. A fatalism I share with the western tradition at times. You seem surprised at Eliot's irreconcilable ambivalence; don't you share this ambivalence yourself, Alex?" writes Obama. It's hard not to see that question contained in a question of mine: "are you in the library????????"
In the spirit of transparency, and to celebrate the continuing tradition of vigorous intellectual engagement supported by my alma mater, I've reproduced more of my correspondence below.
Date: April 23, 2006 2:25:44 PM EDT
Date: October 26, 2006 5:12:28 PM EST
are you in the library????????
Date: December 26, 2006 5:12:28 PM EST
Date: July 16, 2007 2:09:01 PM EDT
ugh where did u go i was trying ot im you but nothing was going thru
Date: June 8, 2007 11:01:33 AM EDT
ill call you when i get off of work
Date: March 20, 2008 2:04:05 PM EDT
i just called you.
Subject: where u go?
Date: April 14, 2008 5:48:27 PM EDT
Subject: Fwd: Circulation Notices
Date: April 23, 2008 12:29:06 PM EDT
Begin forwarded message:
From: Circ Email Notices
Date: April 23, 2008 8:31:30 AM PDT
Subject: Circulation Notices
Occidental College Library
Circulation Desk, 323 259-2640
1600 Campus Rd
Los Angeles, CA 90041-3314
Malcolm B Read
The item(s) listed below are now overdue. Please return promptly.
You may renew your items at
Design in Scandinavia; an exhibition
CALL NO: NK979 .D47
Clapp Library Room 363 DUE: 04-22-08
DATE CHECKED OUT: 04-01-08 12:45PM
Date: May 15, 2008 9:41:58 AM EDT
aim isnt working for some reason, can you come on google chat