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Revolution is also a language

Organizing Committee:

Radicalism, the guillotine, a new and sweeping fresh start, abolition of monarchy, modern citizenship, old versus new regime—what else at this time could equal it? This sparing use of the term revolution is not merely academic or theoretical. It produces its rareness and superiority over other forms of being- together that could be perceived as similar to it—revolt, rebellion, uprising, coup, solidarity, movement, partnership, participation or protest.

The forms of speech into which the concept of revolution is woven lie in wait of revolutionaries and of those who observe reality, think with and through it. Such forms induce them to minimize the events of the day, knowing in advance that what is happening in front of their very eyes does not suffice to merit the name ‘revolution’. This is a form of discursive practice, a model of producing knowledge and a regime practice, one of whose typical expressions is reading reality in comparison to the concept ‘revolution’, and judging historical events by their conforming to this concept.

Ariella Azoulay, "Revolution", Political Concepts, issue 2, 2012

I recently stumbled upon a talk by Ariella Azoulay "Revolution is a language" (available as video here and in a very similar version as text here). Starting from an investigation into the use of the term revolution from the 18th century onwards (what is considered a revolution and what is not considered a revolution), Azoulay goes on to research revolution as a "collection of civil statements and formations" with a focus on the role of photographs in the development and circulation of this language ("Since it is a language of gestures, photographs are its writing paper", she claims elsewhere). 

In this class I propose to talk about talking about revolution, as well as study the language of revolution itself, or revolution as a language, and try to read between the lines of signs and slogans, gestures, images and hashtags, as they circulate and get translated across different times, places and media.

We could start by reading Azoulay's text (link above) and the first chapter of Hannah Arendt's On Revolution. What other relevant texts or references can be brought in? 

Interested (13)
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here's the link to the podcast with Paul Mason:

also: there's this lecture by Toni Negri soon:


Hi people,

I wanted to ask whether you know of any events in Berlin on the days October 8-14 that would be along the similar lines that you are discussing here in your class. I am coming to Berlin on these days and would like to check out what's up. I am involved in Free University organizing in Lithuania. But it doesn't have to be only that. Any links to search for events would be appreciated. So far I've only checked stress factor calendar. Academic events would also be of interest. thanks. ninja

fotini's picture

hi everyone——
for the next meeting and in keeping with the unplanned nature of this, let's look through the readings suggested in the comments below by patricia (on poetry and revolution), caleb (article from mute) and fiona (grant kester essays). in case this sounds like a lot i suggest we prioritize the poetry and revolution readings, since we agreed to do so at the end of the previous class. other ideas? please share below. see you on saturday.


TPS's picture

Published today:

POPULOUS FRONT by Howard Slater in Mute.


Hope you all have a great meeting today - and thanks for sending on all
of this materials Manuela, Fiona and Fotini - all super interesting! I'm
afraid I have to be at home for a call this afternoon at 3 so I can't
come down to Archive :( Hope the momentum keeps going though for the
following Saturday!

That said - to follow up on some thoughts from last week on Poetry and
Politics (I guess we have no stable definition of 'revolution!'), there
was a lot of poetry deployed during the Arab Spring which I thought was
really fascinating. Here are a few links to articles (a lot of them with
even further links):

In particular this (Tunisian) poet, Abu al-Qasim al-Shabbi, has been
frequently mentioned
The Poem 'Life's Will' (there are other translations of this title),
could be interesting to link back to Arendt's late work on political
'willing' (via Kant - /Man muss wollen koennen/, for example - you
cannot translate this back into English!).

It could be interesting to look at how (deeply polarized) thinkers still
at least come to a consensus on the heightened role of poetry and
politics (i.e. Bifo: Semio-capitalism / poetry and finance; Ranciere:
Literarity of language; Badiou's adoration of
Mallarme/Pasolini/Beckett). Perhaps there is something worth discussing
here - the threat of poetic lanaguge, even going back to Plato's Utopian
city of Kallipolis...where poets should be banished, not necessarily
because of their 'mere' words, but the incorporation of those words by
the very readers who consume them and repeat their lines...

fiona geuss's picture

this might be interesting for the reading list of future meetings: I came along this 2-part essay about artistic work and revolutionary political discourse by grant kester called The Sound of Breaking Glass. as opposed to the Leninist tradition of guiding he discusses the concept of spontaneity through Voline's The Unkown Revolution

also, tonight is a launch by ...ment journal at Archive dedicated to protest and language starting at 7.30 pm!

fotini's picture

thanks for the links, manuela. would actually be great if we all listen to the podcast you shared ( for the next meeting, and perhaps also look at the second chapter of Gerald Raunig's book ("The Three Components of the Revolutionary Machine", p.25-66). You can find the whole book here:

i'd like to throw in another short article by Ariella Azoulay, which revolves around the same issues as the text we read last week but maybe makes her concept of 'civil revolution' a bit more clear and can allow us to keep that reference as we move on:

if there's other suggestions for texts (e.g. in the directions of poetry/literature written in times of revolution or transcendence, as discussed at the end of the last meeting), please share here! 

also, I found this here:

here is one of the texts from Gerald Raunig which Patricia mentioned. Might be interesting to have a look at for the next meeting.

fiona geuss's picture

it could also be interesting to look at how art institutions recently gather and present what they understand as visual language of protests. for example this exhibition called "demonstrations". looking forward to saturday! fiona



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