Category Archives: Pièce d’occasion

Street Smarts

Martin Luther King, Jr. taught a senior seminar in social and political philosophy at Morehouse circa 1962. Below is an exam from his course:

Martin Luther King, Jr-Social and Political Philosophy

“Be regular and orderly in your life like a bourgeois, so that you may be violent and original in your work,” Gustave Flaubert is reputed to have said. It appears Martin Luther King, Jr. was regular and orderly in his teaching like a bourgeois, so that he could be nonviolent and original on the streets.

Compulsory Heterofestivity

Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick:

What’s “queer”? Here’s one train of thought about it. The depressing thing about the Christmas season–isn’t it?–is that it’s the time when all the institutions are speaking with one voice. The Church says what the Church says. But the State says the same thing: maybe not (in some ways it hardly matters) in the language of theology, but in the language the State talks: legal holidays, long school hiatus, special postage stamps and all. And the language of commerce more than chimes in, as consumer purchasing is organized ever more narrowly around the final weeks of the calendar year, the Dow Jones aquiver over Americans’ “holiday mood.” The media, in turn, fall in triumphally behind the Christmas phalanx: ad-swollen magazines have oozing turkeys on the cover, while for the news industry every question turns into the Christmas question–Will hostages be free for Christmas? What did that flash flood or mass murder (umpty-ump people killed and maimed) do to those families’ Christmas? And meanwhile the pairing “families/Christmas” becomes increasingly tautological, as families more and more constitute themselves according to the schedule, and in the endlessly iterated image, of the holiday itself constituted in the image of “the” family.

The thing hasn’t, finally, so much to do with propaganda for Christianity as with propaganda for Christmas itself. They all–religion, state, capital, ideology, domesticity, the discourses of power and legitimacy–line up with each other so neatly once a year, and the monolith so created is a thing one can come to view with unhappy eyes. What if instead there were a practice of valuing the ways in which meanings and institutions can be at loose ends with each other? What if the richest junctures weren’t the ones where everything means the same thing?