Kamikaze literary critic assesses Obama’s eulogy at Mother Emanuel

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Those of you who don’t live in New York or read The New York Times regularly might not know the name of Pulitzer Prize-winning literary critic Michiko Kakutani. The literati of Gotham either bow low at her name or spit at it. I am in the first category, and have been for many years. I revere her, in fact. I depend on her quite a bit when deciding whether to read something or not.  She is the American-born, Yale-trained only child of Yale mathematician Shizuo Kakutani (1911-2004), who was born and educated in Japan.

I hang around on the edges of literary circles in New York, so I had hoped to meet her, but I gave up that idea when I learned, some years ago, that she is famously reclusive and does not go out much. She is hated by some, for the wrong reasons in my opinion. Her Wikipedia entry is a disgrace; it lists many of the vicious criticisms leveled at her while saying virtually nothing about her analytical mind, penetrating assessments, and widely admired, secure place on the New York literary scene.

All this is by way of introducing her account of President Obama’s “eulogy” (hate that word and concept, but that’s what everyone is calling it) at the funeral for Pastor Clementa C. Pinckney at “Mother Emanuel” church in Charleston last week. A lot has been written and said about it already, but for my money this is one of the best assessments we are likely to see. I don’t think the sermon/speech really approached Lincoln’s Shakespearean Second Inaugural, but even so, she–the daughter of a Japanese–has caught something deeply American, deeply biblical, deeply humane, about Obama’s effort. Here is the link:

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