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Revolution is also a language

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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? 

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fotini's picture

hi everyone,

we're planning to get started on this class next saturday, september 14, in the afternoon. hope that works with most of you?

suggestions for things to read and roads to take are still very welcome. i'll add a couple more texts to the reading list over the weekend and send out a note about readings for the first meeting soon. 

in the meantime, please jump in with any ideas or suggestions~~




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