Category Archives: Blog

“How the Performance of a French Opera about a Neapolitan Revolt Sparked a Belgian Revolution”

The plot of the fiery libretto of the grand opera The Mute Girl of Portici by the French composer Daniel Auber revolves around the Neapolitan revolts of 1647.

Jackson Lears: “Aquarius Rising”

“Certain years acquire an almost numinous quality in collective memory—1789, 1861, 1914. One of the more recent additions to the list is 1968. Its fiftieth anniversary has brought a flood of attempts to recapture it—local, national, and transnational histories, anthologies, memoirs, even performance art and musical theater.”  Review essay on several books.

“The Failure of Egypt’s Revolution”

Steve Negus reviews Into the Hands of Soldiers: Freedom and Chaos in Egypt and the Middle East by David D. Kirkpatrick (2018)

“Love and revolution” (2018): A film by Yannis Youlountas

A documentary film-testimony of struggles for autonomy in Greece, letting those who are directly engaged in these struggles speak for themselves.

“Tyrant: Shakespeare on Politics” by Stephen Greenblatt (2018)

“We learn not simply what Trump tells us about Shakespeare but what Shakespeare tells us about Trump. Illuminating scene after scene, Greenblatt is especially fine on the mechanisms of tyranny.”

Wayne Price: “Some Lessons from Revolutionary History”

“A review of Loren Goldner’s Revolution, Defeat, and Theoretical Underdevelopment: Russia, Turkey, Spain, Bolivia (2017), a book by a libertarian Marxist sympathetic to anarchism who analyses four revolutions in the 20th century and discusses their lessons.”

“Revolutionary Crime Fiction”

21 crime novels set during rebellions.

Govand Khalid Azeez and Alejandra Gaitán-Barrera: “Power, Ideology, Politics and the Revolutionary Subject”

In this paper, we examine and revisit Louis Althussers dual mode of politico-ontological subjectivity: the Good-Subject and the bad-subject. … We argue that the bad-subject is a generic subjective-operator consisting of a set of critical procedures, radical ethos and praxical political steps that introduce a novel revolutionary-truth into the structured hierarchized capitalo-statist world.”

The tragedy of revolution is that liberation conspires with terror.

Watching the other day Nicholas Hytner’s promenade staging of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, I heard Cassius say:  “Men at some time were masters of their fates./The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars./But in ourselves, that we are underlings” (1.2.140-3).

The reference to fate reminded me of a recently published essay.  Since I have been following with special interest the progress during this decade of Simon Critchley’s book on the philosophy of tragedy (read: sophistry) as an alternative to the tragedy of philosophy, I was particularly glad to read “Tragedy’s Philosophy,” a “rough torso” of his project, in Fisher & Katsouraki, eds.: Performing Antagonism: Theatre, Performance & Radical Democracy (2017). Regarding the understanding of tragedy as misfortune the philosopher brings up fate: “Tragedy requires some degree of complicity on our part in the disaster that destroys us. It is not simply a question of the malevolent activity of fate … Tragedy requires our collusion with that fate. In other words, it requires no small measure of freedom. … Our moral of tragedy, then, is that we conspire with our fate. That is, fate requires our freedom in order to bring our destiny down upon us” (31). Therefore he suggests that we see “the bloody events of the contemporary world in a tragic light,” and reiterates: “To see political events tragically is always to accept our complicity in the disaster that is unfolding” (36). The question of tragedy today should not be limited to a particular dramatic genre. “A tragic sensibility obliges us to see our implication within the struggles of the present and our responsibility for them. If the present is defined by disaster, then tragedy shows us our complicity with it” (40-1).

This ethical argument reminds me of Critchley’s political point in an interview where he recalls that Raymond Williams in his book Modern Tragedy (1966) “makes a link between tragedy and revolution and it’s a kind of melancholic link. He says, for example, something like: ‘We need to understand revolution tragically’. If we see revolution as a throwing off of repression and the experience of liberation that’s all very nice but we see just half of the picture. Revolution is always a dialectical process where revolution undergoes inversion in counter-revolution. So a tragic understanding of revolution would show the experience of liberation as always risking flipping over into a new experience of oppression and terror and the two things are intrinsically linked. Liberation and terror are intricated, are dialectically interdependent and that’s what a properly tragic understanding would lead us to. If we want to maintain something like revolution or rebellion then we have to see it tragically in terms of the inversions to which it is subject.”

A tragic understanding admits that revolution is subject to counter-revolution, that liberation is risking oppression. Drawing on Williams, Critchley makes the melancholic point that, when terror destroys revolution, instead of blaming destiny, we must accept the complicity of liberation, keeping in mind that freedom conspires with fate.

May 12, 2018

The Marxist Long Goodbye to the Revolution

Bruce Robbins on Perry Anderson’s Gramscian hegemony between Thucydidean realism and Stoic melancholy.