Saturday, November 22, 2014

Waiting for Ferguson

We continue awaiting the decision of a grand jury on whether or not to indict Darren Wilson, a white police officer, who shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, exactly 15 weeks ago today on a suburban street in Ferguson, Missouri. News reporters from across the globe have been camped out in Ferguson for months, their expectation of an announcement teased and disappointed several times in the last week alone.  On Monday, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency and activated the National Guard in advance of the grand jury's decision. Yesterday, President Barack Obama, in what can only be judged to be an anticipation of Wilson's non-indictment, preemptively urged protesters not to use Ferguson as an "excuse for violence."  In the meantime, demonstrators of various ilk remain on standby, rallying their troops, refining their organizational strategies, painting their oppositional signs, standing vigilantly at the ready for whatever may come.

But what are we waiting for, really, as we wait for Ferguson?

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Missing: An Image of "The Worker" Today

This semester I have the very good fortune of teaching a graduate course in the History of Theory and Criticism at Memphis College of Art. (Check out my syllabus here and the class blog here.) For their final projects, my students are required to employ one of the theories we studied during the semester to present a thorough critical analysis of a single artwork.  In last night's seminar, one student presented a Marxist analysis of the 1897 etching to your left, March of the Weavers by K├Ąthe Kollwitz, This piece was one in an extended series of works by Kollwitz, inspired in part by Emile Zola's Germinal and depicting the uprising of Silesian weavers on the eve of the revolution of 1848. I was struck by the fact that, throughout our seminar discussion last night, we all consistently referred to the figures in Kollwitz's etching as "workers"-- this despite the fact that the title of Kollwitz's piece explicitly indicates that they are a particular ilk of workers, namely, "weavers."  We all clearly shared some implicit, generic recognition of what representatives of the category "workers" look like.  We knew who the workers were, what they represented, what they meant, what they stood for and what they opposed, how we were permitted and/or forbidden to talk about them.