dissertation fragment

by zunguzungu

…My emphasis here is not on the black box of Theodore Roosevelt’s psyche in any real sense. Which is to say, while biographers and historians often attempt to distinguish what “really” happened to a person from the account that a person or his contemporaries make of their life, doing so with Roosevelt would be to remove what is most interesting and important about him. For one thing, his still prodigious presence in American culture is a function of how he’s been mythologized, and to demystify his life story would only strip away those elements of the American psyche which he so powerfully brought to life. At the same time, Roosevelt’s “real” life was also, itself, a function of the mythologies which he held so dear and strove to embody. In writing that “[n]ever did a president before so reflect the quality of his time,” H.G. Wells was right to make Roosevelt the “reflection” of the image cast by “his time”; Roosevelt’s determination to live up to the ideals of “his time” is one of the reasons so many biographers and historians fall under his spell. An important part of what he represents now is a nostalgia for the kind of unapologetic, non-ironic, and total belief that seems much less available to us today. Whether or not Roosevelt was “really” the man he made himself out to be in the textual record he left behind (and which he carefully edited for posterity) is simply not a question that can be answered usefully. What he “really” was, in other words, was a man very determined to become the man he was “really” supposed to have been.