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!