A presidential inauguration

A presidential inauguration

What is a presidential inauguration address, in epistolary terms? Listening yesterday to Joe Biden making his presidential address following inauguration as President of the United States, and also reading the written text of it later, two things are striking. The first is that it involved one person, an author (at least in the sense of being the person who has authorised, no matter how many advisors and script-writers might have been involved) engaging in the activity of directly addressing and communicating with the recipients of his words, and who at various points in what he said were directly addressed. The second is that a response both was and was not expected. No, no direct response was expected from the people present (or indeed absent), not least no response in any kind of violent form, given the rise of the radical right in the US. Yes, a response is expected, in the form of citizenry signing up to the task of producing something better than the US has been. Trigger-happy police officers, massive structural and interpersonal discrimination on grounds of race, huge numbers of unnecessary infections and deaths from coronavirus, astronomical levels of poverty, rampant violence and gun crime, decades-long deleterious interference in the dealings of the rest of the world, the list goes on. In these two respects, direct address to named others and the expectation of some kind of response, Biden’s inaugural address had epistolary aspects. It wasn’t a letter, but it played on many of the strength of such. It is always a matter of deeds as well as words, of course, so the hope is that the words he uttered will be performative ones which will be put into practice, and that internal political machinations won’t prevent this.

Last updated:  21 January 2021


ESRC_50th-ANNIVERSARY-LOGO-RGB-blue-white-gold