Flumen Orationis (From the Principalities)

Flumen Orationis (From the Principalities)

Rationalizations and the incessant search for scapegoats are the psychological cataracts that blind us to our sins. But the day has passed for superficial patriotism. He who lives with untruth lives in spiritual slavery. Freedom is still the bonus we receive for knowing the truth. “Ye shall know the truth,” says Jesus, “and the truth shall set you free.” Now, I’ve chosen to preach about the war in Vietnam because I agree with Dante, that the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in a period of moral crisis maintain their neutrality. There comes a time when silence becomes betrayal.

-Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Flumen Orationis (From the Principalities) (flumen=river; orationis=speech) is a 2012 work that the late Terry Adkins made for Salon 94 and was featured in the “The Unfinished Conversation: Encoding/Decoding” show at The Power Plant in Toronto. This work pairs a recording of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s sermon “Why I am Opposed to the War in Vietnam” which King delivered at Riverside Church, New York City on April 30th, 1967. King’s words are paired with Jimi Hendrix’s “Machine Gun” from the Band of Gypsy’s live record among other versions of this song recorded live. This 41 minute video is a montage of black and white photographs of hot air balloons and dirigibles that were used for transport and military operations.

Adkins’ work loops “Machine Gun” several times so that it plays over for the entire 41 minute sermon and the montage is looped for that duration as well. Watching the entire 41 minute video at first appears to be like watching a supplementary package for King’s famous sermon on the moral failures of America’s mission in Vietnam. One of the more radical aspects of King’s speech is his reinterpretation of the Good Samaritan parable. Idealist-liberal interpretations tell us that what we must focus on as a species is personal ethics, becoming better people, making better discussions. King Jr. the materialist reinterprets this passage to declare that we must focus on social conditions of our existence to make the world better. This reinterpretation includes a radical change of personal ethics along with changing the social structures that condition our existence. The radical politics of King’s speech and Hendrix’s anti-war 12 minute guitar solo are the ideological intertexts for Adkins’ pulsating, vibrant video.