Revolution is the effort to assert a voice or voices that previously went unheard.
Revolution is the continuous struggle towards a better situation, in which voices all voices are turned to equal volume. Revolutions are never-ending, because with each new progressive step the definition of “better” changes, morphs into a new goal. For instance, the movement in the United States for gender equality has morphed in a myriad of ways over time. In 1914, Margaret Sanger wrote a letter advocating for birth control because what women do with their bodies should not be dictated by male voices. Over time, birth control became widely available to American women, indicating a big step in the Revolution. However, as the gender equality movement progressed forward, women of color were left behind with their voices on low volume. Jo Carrillo’s poem “And When You Leave, Take Your Pictures With You” expresses the tokenization that women of color are subjected to by white women. The revolution had to morph into something new for women of color over time, as they not only had to assert their voices to men but also to white women. The revolutions for equal voices for women and equal voices between women change with each new step taken.
Revolution is like building a structure from a scattered mess, and then having to maintain and renovate that structure as time goes on. Page 125 in Lapham’s Quarterly depicts the crumbling construction of a sphinx in the desert, which started from sand and other scattered materials and became a magnificent sculpture. However, parts of it deteriorate as the weather wears it down – in order to keep it firm, people would have to constantly renovate it. Revolutions arise and live on in the same way as the Sphinx. In John Lewis’ graphic novel March 2, the timeline switches between the freedom rides during the American Civil Rights Movement and Obama’s presidential inauguration in 2009. The emphasized connection between these two eras illustrates the dynamic nature of revolution. The freedom rides in the 1960s helped make the inauguration of America’s first black president possible, and the inauguration itself was a sign that the fight for racial equality has not died.
Some revolutions effectively lift up voices even if they don’t result in immediate change in vocal power dynamics. In Professor Bory’s unit we watched a documentary on Bill T. Jones’s dance piece, Last Supper at Uncle Tom’s Cabin/The Promised Land. The last scene of the performance, titled The Promised Land, consists of around 60 performers standing completely nude on stage. The performers present a wide array of races, body types and ages, all standing with one another, no body more or less special than the one next to it. This image lives up to the title of the section, presenting a land that we have only dreamed of, one that we hope waits for us in the future. They present a world without social stereotypes and restrictions, where a body is just a body and a voice is just a voice. Obviously, this performance did not immediately turn this image into a reality – Jones performed the work in the 1990s, and in the 2020s we are still far away from this promised land. However, each person in the audience received the message of the kind of world we can and should look for, and hopefully with that in mind they paid more attention to which voices still struggle to be heard.
The most frustrating part of revolutions is that they will never be perfect. There will always be a more equal volume of voices to work towards. William James’ “Pragmatism” demonstrates this perpetual fight for the Next Best Thing, as he argues that we build our realities off of previous truths. A revolution keeps fighting for society to recognize new truths, and once that has been achieved as reality, it begins working towards acceptance of the next truth. There will never be one solid reality that holds every voice at equal volume, but there can always be a society that is more equal than the one in the present. Toni Morrison highlights this in her essay “Black Matters” with the examination of whiteness as an expected part of “American” identity. With something so deeply embedded in society, it seems like the total abolishment of white superiority will never be achieved. Despite this, revolutions of all sizes work towards that kind of future everyday. Though a perfect society will most likely never exist, revolutions will continue the struggle to make society better until every voice is heard.
Revolution does not always happen in large, daring movements. The smallest changes around us result from people trying to assert a voice or voices. In the film Never Look Away, German artist Kurt Barnert paints photos of an undetected Nazi criminal responsible for the extermination of “weak” members of German society. Barnert also paints his aunt, whom the Nazi met in-person and sent her to be exterminated. However, Barnert does not speak of the true meaning behind his paintings, lying to the press that the people depicted in his paintings had no significance. In reality, his paintings have great menaing behind them: they give a voice to the people with illnesses and disabilities whose voices were permanently cut off in the Holocaust. His revolution is under-the-radar, quiet, but a revolution nonetheless.
Dr Robb’s definition primer insists that definitions are not “just semantics,” for they exist in the world around us. Revolutions exist around us everywhere. The power dynamic of voices shifts constantly, with smaller quick shifts in small circles and slow shifts in society as a whole. Because of this shifting power dynamic, some voices are always pushing their way to a louder volume. Every effort to assert an unheard voice creates a revolution.
American Agora Foundation. “Lapham’s Quarterly.,” 2008. http://www.laphamsquarterly.org.
Borges, Jorge Luis. “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius.” Ficciones. Translated by Emecé Editores. Grove Press, Inc. 1956.
Carillo, Jo. “And When You Leave,Take Your Pictures With You.” In This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color (1980), 4th edition. Edited by Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa. Albany: SUNY Press, 2015): 63-64.\
James, William. “Pragmatism, Lecture VI.” Longmans, Green, and Co. (1908): 197-236.
Lewis, John, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell, and Chris Ross. March. Vol. Book Two /. March, Bk. 2. Marietta, GA: Top Shelf Productions, 2015.
Morrison, Toni. “Black Matter(s).” Grand Street 40 (1991): 204-225.
Never Look Away (dir. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, 2018; 3 hrs)
Plato. “The Allegory of the Cave.” Republic, VII. Translated by Thomas Sheehan.
Scorer, Mischa, Bill T. Jones, Arthur Aviles, Sean Curran, Leonard Cruz, Maya Saffrin, Gregg Hubbard, et al. 2004. Bill T. Jones: dancing to the Promised Land.