[Marxism] Cornel West on the MLK statue

John Cox johncox519 at hotmail.com
Sat Aug 27 05:43:46 MDT 2011


...Militarism is an imperial catastrophe that has produced a
military-industrial complex and national security state and warped the
country’s priorities and stature (as with the immoral drones, dropping
bombs on innocent civilians). Materialism is a spiritual catastrophe,
promoted by a corporate media multiplex and a culture industry that
have hardened the hearts of hard-core consumers and coarsened the
consciences of would-be citizens. Clever gimmicks of mass distraction
yield a cheap soulcraft of addicted and self-medicated narcissists. 

Racism is a moral catastrophe, most graphically seen in the prison
industrial complex and targeted police surveillance in black and brown
ghettos rendered invisible in public discourse. Arbitrary uses of the
law — in the name of the “war” on drugs — have produced, in the legal
scholar Michelle Alexander’s apt phrase, a new Jim Crow
of mass incarceration. And poverty is an economic catastrophe,
inseparable from the power of greedy oligarchs and avaricious
plutocrats indifferent to the misery of poor children, elderly citizens
and working people.... 
...King weeps from his grave. He never confused substance with symbolism.
He never conflated a flesh and blood sacrifice with a stone and mortar
edifice. We rightly celebrate his substance and sacrifice because he
loved us all so deeply. Let us not remain satisfied with symbolism
because we too often fear the challenge he embraced. Our greatest
writer, Herman Melville, who spent his life in love with America even
as he was our most fierce critic of the myth of American
exceptionalism, noted, “Truth uncompromisingly told will always have
its ragged edges; hence the conclusion of such a narration is apt to be
less finished than an architectural finial.”  King’s response to our crisis can be put in one word: revolution. A
revolution in our priorities, a re-evaluation of our values, a
reinvigoration of our public life and a fundamental transformation of
our way of thinking and living that promotes a transfer of power from
oligarchs and plutocrats to everyday people and ordinary citizens... 
And the NYT also had an insightful critique of the statue by cultural critique Edward Rothstein:


It is a momentous occasion. Into an honored array of presidents and
soldiers — the founders and protectors of the nation — has come a
minister, a man without epaulets or civilian authority, who was not a
creator of laws, but someone who, for a time, was a deliberate violator
of them; not a wager of war but someone who, throughout his short life,
was pretty much a pacifist; not an associate of the nation’s ruling
elite but someone who, in many cases, would have been prevented from
joining it....

Perhaps, though, it was the expectation of such consecrated company
that led to the kind of memorial that now exists. There is always an
element of kitsch in monumental memorials, a built-in grandiosity that
exaggerates the physical and spiritual statures of their human

So it should be no surprise that something similar happens to Dr. King.
But his statue, by the Chinese sculptor Lei Yixin, goes even further....

Originally, ROMA called for water as a major element of the design,
glistening sheets flowing over the arc of carved words as fountains
murmur, creating a pastoral, meditative atmosphere. The water would
also have been a direct allusion to Dr. King’s “Dream” speech and his
frequent invocation of the prophet Amos (“let justice run down like
waters ...”). For budgetary reasons, though, the foundation abandoned
almost all these plans, leaving just two small fountains near the
entrance, but there was something profound and touching in the original
That initial idea is now also pushed aside by a far less subtle conceit that takes center stage. ...

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