I want to be clear about the contradictions that lie in the task to “define revolution”. Revolution is the idea, the execution, the factual, the emotional, the failure, the success, the theoretical, the practical, and the human all at once. I’m not sure I could think of many words in the English language that span the distance of naming a world power’s independence moment and a toilet bowl flushing technology (I wouldn’t believe me without the link, either). That being said, the following is an attempt at this impossible task of discerning the themes of revolution.
- Revolution is not revolution in the moment, but rather applied only in a reflective sense. One can hope or imagine a moment as holding the qualities of revolution, but in that moment of impact and change.
In my Unit One in Fall 2018, Dr. Randy Ingram explored revolution through the Civil Rights movement. Interestingly enough, the movement is not defined as a revolution, though individual moments have independently gained the status of “revolutionary”. Why was this incredible empowerment of African Americans deemed to be not worthy of a revolution?One example that stuck with me was Rosa Parks. She, while an incredible leader, was not the first nor the last to protest through a seemingly passive act.The act of remaining, of using the body to convey a message deeper than words was a common tactic throughout the Civil Rights movement; I came to understand the power of the body through Unit 5, which also explores themes of inequity and usage of black bodies to resist. Through this unit I began to really understand and explore the tension around the term of revolution as it relates to something’s qualifications (or lack thereof) to be a revolution. The question that I posit is this: if we are unsure or unclear about who or what is deemed revolutionary, who decides what is or isn’t?
- Part of revolution’s core is change, which often formats itself as having a necessary minimum impact for something to qualify. Personal changes can be hugely influential and have an outsized impact, but in most cases their influence’s span is limited.
One quote that circled my mind through my Unit Two did not come from a traditional mode of intellectual inquiry, but I think I’ve become more comfortable with that throughout the duration of this class. Angelica Schuyler’s character (as crafted by Lin-Manuel Miranda) said, “You want a revolution, I want a revelation”. This notion embodies the ideas around size and scale, which is befitting for a unit built almost exclusively on theoretical notions with minimal application. This forced me to sit in my discomfort as I work to reframe revolution with a lens that considers solidarity, erasures, objectivity, and Truth. Is revolution by nature a progression towards an objective (capital T) Truth, or rather is revolution the creation of change through the examination of relationships between groups of humans with potential for solidarity and connections, as well as exclusion and erasures.
- If revolution is found to be a societal shift in thinking, then even the most atrocious events can be claimed as “revolutionary”. Building on Unit Two is the thought of an objective Truth; if this is found to exist, then perhaps revolution could be found to only go towards this ideal. If not, then how can we deny the title of revolution to the worst moments of humanity that changed the world forever?
This unit, perhaps more than any other, challenged my notion of revolution to its core. While my ideas around revolution had begun to expand, I still idealized revolution as synonymous with progression. Even though I was aware of who was left out of America’s call for “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”, I still saw the move as one towards independence and the opportunity for more; that example still guided me as I went through Humanities. Except, that all crashed quickly after Dr. Tamura showed our small group heartbreaking photos of shoes, the amalgamation of lives and stories being decimated with each shoe removed, each sense of self stripped. I’d seen the image before- I’d even seen the exhibit in the American Holocaust Museum, but that day it meant so much more to me than a pile of old shoes. Each sole held a story, one that was left behind to forge towards a better tomorrow, towards progress that values life by matters only concerning external appearance. I’m not sure the question was so explicitly posed (probably for fear of riots), but does the Holocaust (or perhaps more specifically Hitler’s rise to power) count as a revolution? What about the Rwandan Genocide, another tragedy brought up in this unit? These questions haunted me throughout the duration of this class, and impacted the lens I had when writing my research paper.
- Does revolution require an emotional shift, or is it required to only invoke societal/political change? I would agree that most changes are brought about from a place of passion, but our history often emphasizes passion relative to action, rather than allowing emotional weight to stand on its own. Revolution requires emotions to be an intrinsic part of the story, even when the emotion is exclusion instead of empathy.
Unit four, in many ways, forced me to re-evaluate the lens that I used to evaluate value, particularly as it relates to history. So often our histories are taught through facts and timelines, rather than stories and feelings. We relegate texts that do not confine themselves to the cold “objectiveness” history seems to require. This unit, through reading Celan’s beautiful and raw and heartbreaking and awkward and confusing poems and prose, conveys a deeper message about the value we give to the emotionally raw works that shape our stories. If we allow ourselves to be open about revolution and its power to change society without a government overthrown, then perhaps we can be exposed to a new revolution that’s inclusive of everything that lives beyond the political.