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Wednesday, January 19, 2005

 

the postmodern protagonist


it always surprises me that dr king's holiday isn't a bigger deal in the united states. his story and position are so powerful in the postmodern west that he seems to me no less a figure in his time than voltaire in his. in a place where race mattered less than it does in america, king would be revered in the same way, i suspect -- and perhaps we can look forward to a day when his importance is unobstructed by senseless prejudice.

what elevates great men to greatness? luck, mostly, i think -- but also requisite is a confluence of many contemporary influences, brilliantly articulated in complexity of words and deeds. when king wrote,

"Consciously or unconsciously, he has been caught up by the Zeitgeist, and with his black brothers of Africa and his brown and yellow brothers of Asia, South America and the Caribbean, the United States Negro is moving with a sense of great urgency toward the promised land of racial justice"
-- his use of "zeitgeist" cannot be overestimated in its importance. king is great because his philosophical person closely represented the zeitgeist.

king was eligible to be a great man when fortuna came calling in 1955 precisely because his vision is one of clearest individual emancipation -- each of us to be recognized for who we see ourselves to be, not for what others believe us born to be -- and, though viewed critically by some, his socialism, marital infidelity and abortive parenting in the context of the 1960s are perfectly consistent with his vision of individual relief from the oppression of birthright in all its forms. this consistently complements his primary advocacy, of course, which was wholly democratic. and yet more, his narrative and the narrative of his cause -- that of greatness imprisoned, betrayed and aborted -- is so stunning an ironic tragedy that it might have been penned by kafka.

dr king is wonderfully placed to be the archetype of the twentieth century man in the west.


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