Honestly Kid

by Daniel Damkoehler


2nd thoughts

Peregrinations #1: My French Revolution

The following post is taken from notes I made January 2, 2007 (ho-hum is duly omitted):

“Poles, who first sang the Marseillaise in 1794 as they resisted the carve-up of their country, sang it again in 1956 in revolt against Soviet tyranny. In 1989, as France commemorated the Revolution’s 200th anniversary, the same anthem of defiance was heard in Beijing, among the doomed student protesters in Tiananmen Square.”
— William Doyle, The French Revolution – A Very Short Introduction

And here I thought it was just a catchy tune for the French. I mean, who doesn’t love the scene in Casablanca when the French nationals fleeing the Nazis use it to drown out the German officers singing their hearts out for the fatherland. And, of course, the girl who leads the musical resistance is a bit of French tart (to put it kindly). One who has, in fact, been running around with some of these same Germans in order to win her passage out of Casablanca.

The cultural and political residue of the French Revolution is rich fodder, though reading about it is as much a flashback to abandoned personal projects as it is inspiration for something new. My advantage now: I’m a bit more comfortable with my ignorance and so, steadier in my approach to the material – more open to it.

Why was I originally interested in the French Revolution all those years ago (I bought a couple of books about it back in ’94 or ’95 when buying books meant skimping on food (no joke))? I think I was planning to write my graduate thesis on the revolution or Napoleon or something.

Why? What was I thinking? Napoleon?

What was that impulse? Where did it go and why? [Instead I wrote something about mud. It required far less research.]

My interest now has more to do with gaining a broader understanding of politics and history and the characters which shape and alter those things. It is more genuine and less random. In the mid-90s, I think I wanted to be writing about something important. Now, I want to understand the world around me – to know why I care about the way it works.

And there’s something more too. It has to do with slowly gaining consciousness through 2001-2003, the aftermath of my marriage and divorce, 9/11 and facing up to my fading faith, making discoveries through reflection on my personal history, predicting and then watching the invasion of Iraq, and maybe through all that, the beginning of a deeper understanding of the complexities of a world I simply dismissed back in college/grad school as too aesthetically displeasing/uninteresting to give a shit about.

Somehow, without God or a Revolutionary outlook of some other breed, it is all the more important to understand and articulate what is actually going on in the world.

And this brings me to Tolstoy, War and Peace, Wittgenstein, and reflections on the impossibility of accurately saying anything having to do with everything…

One Response to “Peregrinations #1: My French Revolution”

  1. Laura » September 3rd, 2009

    viva la revolucion!