I chose to start my search for a definition of revolution with the three diagrams depicted in Lapham’s Quarterly Literary Magazine: Revolutions. With my love for design as well as for beautiful and effective depictions of information, I was drawn to the diagrams at the front of Lapham because of the way each of these pages depicts change. The first diagram illustrates political revolutions and rebellions across history all over the world in which people wanted to make a change in political structures. The second image shows shifts in paradigms where scientists, through their findings have challenged accepted beliefs and made progress in scientific theory. The last image explores where and when technology has changed in different disciplines to make life easier for people.
Across the images, I observed at the bottom of the diagrams. When change occurs, it occurs in waves, with ebbs and flows. For instance, political revolutions in Diagram A, the number of revolutions occurring were few and interspersed at the beginning; as time progressed, the wave of revolutions grew, happening all over the world as people wanted to change the politics of their country. The same could be said in Diagram B in which experts in their fields, from Biology to Mathematics, made findings that challenged old beliefs that dominated their current level of worldly understanding. Through these findings, they enacted a paradigm shift, in an attempt to search for a truer, knowledgeable understanding of the world. Lastly, in Diagram C, we can see how technology has changed, facilitating the lives of people in all aspects, from Agriculture to Entertainment. These diagrams gave me a sense of direction in my quest for a material definition for Revolution
During the first unit, we explored how people look back to philosophers in the past to catch a glimpse of their perspective on the world and specific topics. We saw how people living in the present can gain a more profound perspective on the world around us and the human experience. Through the texts we observed in this unit, I saw that a revolution is an inspired radical change in thoughts and beliefs born out of a commitment to a certain set of values.
Thinking about these trends, I was reminded of the second unit in which we explored how a revolution is a change of conceptual schemes during the scientific revolution. A shift in paradigms occurs: a new paradigm is challenging the old. This all clicked for me when we explored this concept through the Allegory of the Cave, in which there is a struggle of introducing new knowledge to the public, in hopes that it will be well received. By educating others and spreading accrued knowledge, a greater understanding of the world around us is cultivated.
In the third unit, I understood how a revolution can be a sudden, violent transformation of society. After such a violent transformation, it is the recovery, the rising from the ashes, in which a group people can grow from the past. This was the case we analyzed the effects of the Rwandan Genocide had on the people, as well as the country as a whole, as well as understanding the implications it had on the world. Through this unit, we searched for the roots of what caused the “age-old conflict” between the Hutus and the Tutsis––finding that it was never “age-old”––and questioned how language has been used to incite the Hutus to kill the Tutsis.
We analyzed the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s in which leaders including Ida B Wells, Martin Luther King, and John Lewis took part and risked their lives in racist America to fight for racial equality. They used religion and its teachings as the backbone for the movement. In this unit, I defined revolution as a form of change, a shift to make societal progress. Although through this movement we see that change can be done peacefully, it can also potentially become violent. There are various tactics and methods someone can use to enact a societal change.
This unit was initially the most conceptually challenging for me to understand. In essence, I came to understand that movement can be revolutionary. Movement can powerfully send a message without using words. The magic about a performance, dance as our case study, is that performance is ephemeral; it happens in one moment, and in the next, it is gone. The powerful aspect about performance is the intrinsic message one can receive from it, we saw this with the messages behind the Camille A. Brown & Dancers, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, or with the origins of the dances enslaved people have as a form of resistance. Through performance, one gives a powerful medium by which one can deliver a message. By giving a revolution a physical presence, one gives power to a revolution’s message.
We approached revolution from a different perspective by analyzing revolutions in art, pushing the boundaries of what defines art. This unit shows that there was a shift in artistic expression towards abstractionism. This abstract approach attempted to create imagery that portrayed messages and emotions using science and psychology to give power for abstraction to have a deeper meaning. Through my work on Jackson Pollock and his art, I observed how abstraction challenged the canon, leading a revolution in art. In this unit, I saw that revolution is a metamorphosis of an entity, redefining itself as society continues to evolve
By way of movies such as Burnt by the Sun and pieces like Sofia Petrovna, I understood the role power plays following a revolution through Stalin’s Terror. I saw what happens once a revolutionary group comes into power and has vanquished all of their enemies. At that point. they start looking inwards and attacking their people who may not seem completely loyal to the revolutionary cause. As a result 681,692–1,200,000 Russians lost their lives under Stalin. Unit seven showed me that Revolutions are major changes that last a finite amount of time, capable of enacting violence as a consequence arising from change.
Unit eight led us to investigate 1970’s Germany by way of understanding the media, artistic expression (works by Gerhard Richter), and cinematography (Germany in Autumn). In this investigation, we studied the Red Army Faction (RAF), also known as the Baader–Meinhof Group, a West German far-left militant organization that attempted to start a revolution and eventually collapsing. Through Germany’s student youth, the RAF mustered significant public support for a revolution to promote their aim of creating socialist states in Germany and throughout Europe, while fighting imperialism and Nazism. While the RAF’s message was initially supported by many Germans, the violent means of terrorism the RAF employed killing people with guns and bombs, the support for the RAF weakened. Eventually, the RAF leaders were captured and RAF failed in their attempt for a revolution. Although their efforts failed, the RAF challenged German people to question what Germany represented and popularly led to reform. Unit eight showed me that a revolution is a major change capable of being fueled by violence; however, violence can take a revolution too far, and become an act of terror rather than a push for change. This demonstrated to me that a revolution can fail; however, those impacts produced by the revolution will affect a community’s way of thinking.
Throughout all of these units, I have noticed a common trend when it comes to defining revolutions. Each unit refers to a change in ideas or structures. Every revolution is unique in its way: some are fast, some are slow; some face lots of resistance, while others face none; some are considered a step forward, while others may be a step back. Revolution comes in all shapes and sizes; they can be violent but that is not particularly the answer; and, some may go too far in achieving their goals. To me, revolution cannot be limited to one category or another. A revolution can be a mix of all these definitions, but it can also be none of them. At its core, revolution is a change, it is the molting from an old shell into a new one.