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As he put it himself decades later during an interview in the Oval Office, “I was leading a very ascetic existence, way too serious for my own good.” In most outward ways, compared with what had come before, his life in New York was a minimalist one, without the sprawling cast of characters that had surrounded him at Oxy and in Hawaii and Indonesia.
He felt no attachment to Columbia or to the first jobs he landed after graduation. He was conducting an intense debate with himself over his past, present, and future, an internal struggle that he shared with only a few close friends, including his girlfriends, Alex Mc Near and Genevieve Cook, who kept a lasting record, one in letters, the other in her journal.
BREAKING AWAY Obama in New York’s Central Park while a student at Columbia University, to which he transferred as a junior in 1981. Barack Obama transferred from Occidental College to Columbia University in 1981, his junior year.
Six months after graduation he began a long romantic relationship with Genevieve, who, like him, kept a journal., From A. Although he left Los Angeles with enough ambitious propulsion to carry him into a more active period, he instead receded into the most existentialist stretch of his life.
In one letter she told Obama that she was writing a paper in her modern-poetry class at Occidental about T. Eliot’s “The Waste Land.” His reply wove its way through literature, politics, and personal philosophy: I haven’t read “The Waste Land” for a year, and I never did bother to check all the footnotes.
But I will hazard these statements—Eliot contains the same ecstatic vision which runs from Münzer to Yeats.
However, he retains a grounding in the social reality/order of his time.
Facing what he perceives as a choice between ecstatic chaos and lifeless mechanistic order, he accedes to maintaining a separation of asexual purity and brutal sexual reality. Read his essay on Tradition and the Individual Talent, as well as Four Quartets, when he’s less concerned with depicting moribund Europe, to catch a sense of what I speak.
After that we started spending much more time together.”Alex remembered it as a summer of walking miles through the city, lingering over meals at restaurants, hanging out at their apartments, visiting art museums, and talking about life.
He could not be of one place, rooted and provincial.
From his years living in Indonesia, where he was fully immersed in Javanese schools and culture; from his adolescence in Hawaii, where he was in the polyglot sea of hapa and haole, Asians and islanders; from his mother’s long-term commitment to development work overseas; from his friendship with Pakistani students at Occidental and his extended visit to their country—from all of these he had experienced far more global diversity than the average college junior.
’ ”The long-distance relationship with Alex Mc Near after that summer—they would drift apart as time wore on—was conducted mostly through a series of passionate letters sent between his apartment (he was then living at 339 East 94th, in Manhattan) and hers, at 2210 Ridgeview Avenue, in Eagle Rock, California.
By her account, the passion was as much about ideas and words as about their romance—what she later called “that dance of closeness through language.” Alex was interested in postmodern literary criticism, and her arguments brimmed with the deconstructionist ideas of Jacques Derrida, the French philosopher.