From R.A.P. Music to Run the Jewels: Killer Mike and the Homonymity of the Idea

What follows is a first pass attempt to bring together the themes of sovereignty I have been exploring alongside Stephen Keating this semester with contemporary hip hop.

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What could be an anonymous homonymy that moves towards the name itself? A herald from Atlanta carries the answer. Read the rest of this entry »

On the commemoration of Martin Luther King

One should not let the public commemoration of Martin Luther King, Jr., pass unremarked. I assume that most readers here know what they are commemorating — a historic step forward for racial justice, along with a legacy of more radical hopes, including in the area of anti-imperialism and economic justice, that were tragically unfulfilled.

That is what we commemorate. Yet what do “they” commemorate, what is the social order or “big Other” commemorating when they enshrine Martin Luther King as a public hero? I would venture to say that they are commemorating above all his failures, defining them as the outer limit of possibility. To those who say, as Katie Grimes at Women in Theology reminds us, that racism continues to poison life in America — well, they say, you had Martin Luther King. To those who claim that war and capitalism are part of the same complex of injustice as racism, they say that over-extending his message is what discredited Martin Luther King and ultimately got him killed.

Above all, they say: we gave you formal equality and canonized the man who forced us to do so — now can we please not talk about this any more? Yet things are not quite so fargone as that. Despite their formidable power, despite all the efforts of domestication and neutralization they’ve devoted to it, they can’t fully control the meaning of such a powerful symbol. We should be glad that this date is on the calendar, not so that we can passively honor that symbol but so that we can continue to struggle over its meaning.

Being just is inhuman.”

We don’t do a lot of straight-up links to non-academic papers here at AUFS. But when we do, I like to think we have very special cause. For my money, Susie Linfield’s essay “Living with the Enemy” more than meets my definition of “special cause.”

As an essay, I think it kind of loses focus near the end. But as a whole, I find it nothing short of stunning. If nothing else, I’m hopeful that it gets more people (myself included) reading Jean Améry. The essay itself is positively riddled with heartbreaking poetry. E.g., quotes like:

“The tortured person never ceases to be amazed that all those things one may… call his soul, or his mind, or his consciousness, or his identity, are destroyed when there is that cracking and splintering in the shoulder joints… Only through torture did he learn that a living person can be transformed so thoroughly into flesh.” (Jean Améry)

Revenge and reconciliation are often posited as opposites, with justice as the mediator between the two. But the Rwandan victims understand—far more wisely than either perpetrators or theorists—how inadequate all these purported solutions are; each fails to address, to heal, to unmake, or even to lessen the crime of genocide and the unending pain it causes. For the so-called survivors, genocide is the crime with no sentence, the problem with no solution, the crime with no end. “What’s the use of looking for mitigating circumstances… ?” asks Berthe Mwanankabandi, whose parents and eleven siblings were murdered. “What can you mitigate? The number of victims? The methods of hacking? The killers’ laughter? Delivering justice would mean killing the killers. But that would be like another genocide… Killing or punishing the guilty in some suitable way: impossible. Pardoning them: unthinkable. Being just is inhuman.”

That last sentence, especially, just stands out to me in such a stark, haunting way. I do wish, though, that Linfield had dwelt on that thought longer, esp. as so much of what precedes it is read through Améry, who seems absolutely consumed by the fundamental injustice of forgiveness & reconciliation. This, to me, is something worth thinking much more about.

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