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Festivals and the French Revolution / Edition 1

Festivals and the French Revolution / Edition 1

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Festivals and the French Revolution—the subject conjures up visions of goddesses of Liberty, strange celebrations of Reason, and the oddly pretentious cult of the Supreme Being. Every history of the period includes some mention of festivals, although most historians have been content either to ridicule them as ineffectual or to bemoan them as repugnant examples of a sterile, official culture. Mona Ozouf shows us that they were much more than bizarre marginalia to the revolutionary process. Festivals offer critical insights into the meaning of the French Revolution; they show a society in the process of creating itself anew.

Historians have recognized the importance of the revolutionary festival as a symbol of the Revolution. But they have differed widely in their interpretations of what that symbol meant and have considered the festivals as diverse as the rival political groups that conceived and organized them. Against this older vision, Ozouf argues for the fundamental coherence and profound unity of the festival as both event and register of reference and attitude. By comparing the most ideologically opposed festivals (those of Reason and the Supreme Being, for instance), she shows that they clearly share a common aim, which finds expression in a mutual ceremonial and symbolic vocabulary. Through a brilliant discussion of the construction, ordering, and conduct of the festival Ozouf demonstrates how the continuity of the images, allegories, ceremonials, and explicit functions can be seen as the Revolution's own commentary on itself.

A second and important aim of this book is to show that this system of festivals, often seen as destructive, was an immensely creative force. The festival was the mirror in which the Revolution chose to see itself and the pedagogical tool by which it hoped to educate future generations, Far from being a failure, it embodied, socialized, and made sacred a new set of values based on the family, the nation, and mankind—the values of a modern, secular, liberal world.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780674298842
Publisher: Harvard
Publication date: 10/01/1991
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 400
Product dimensions: 6.12(w) x 9.25(h) x (d)

About the Author

Mona Ozouf is Director of Research at the Centre Nationale de la Recherche Scientifique, Paris.

Lynn Hunt is Eugen Weber Professor of Modern European History, University of California, Los Angeles.

Alan Sheridan is the author of Michel Foucault: The Will to Truth. He has also translated over 50 books, including works by Sartre, Lacan, and Foucault.

Table of Contents

Foreword by Lynn Hunt

The Republican Calendar

Brief Chronology of the French Revolution


I. The History of the Revolutionary Festival

The Revolution as Festival

History of the Festivals, History of the Sects

Boredom and Disgust

II. The Festival of the Federation: Model and Reality

Riot and Festival: The "Wild" Federations

The Federative Festivals

The Paris Federation

A New Festival?

The Festival of All the French?

III. The Festival above the Parties: 1792

The Norm and the Exception

Two Antagonistic Festivals?

The Unity of Tragedy

IV. Mockery and Revolution: 1793-1794

The "Other" Festival

Where, When, with Whom?

Reasonable Reason

Violence and the Festival

V. Return to the Enlightenment: 1794-1799

The "Happy Nation"

The System of Brumaire, Year IV

VI. The Festival and Space

Space without Qualities

The Symbolic Mapping-Out

The Renovation of a Ceremonial Space: The Example of Caen

The Resistance of Paris

The Space-Time of the Revolution

VII. The Festival and Time


Dividing Up



VIII. The Future of the Festival: Festival and Pedagogy

"The Schools of the Mature Man"

The Power of Images

The Correct Use of Images

Nothing Goes without Saying

IX. Popular Life and the Revolutionary Festival

A Shameful Ethnology

History of a Failure

Revolutionary Symbolism and Peasant Tradition

The Mai sauvage

A Pedagogical Tree

From the Maypole to the Tree

A Break

X. The Revolutionary Festival: A Transfer of Sacrality

Horror vacui

The Meaning of a Few Borrowings

The Meaning of Purging





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