Stefan Jonsson uses three monumental works of art to build a provocative history of popular revolt: Jacques-Louis David's The Tennis Court Oath (1791), James Ensor's Christ's Entry into Brussels in 1889 (1888), and Alfredo Jaar's They Loved It So Much, the Revolution (1989). Addressing, respectively, the French Revolution of 1789, Belgium's proletarian messianism in the 1880s, and the worldwide rebellions and revolutions of 1968, these canonical images not only depict an alternative view of history but offer a new understanding of the relationship between art and politics and the revolutionary nature of true democracy. Drawing on examples from literature, politics, philosophy, and other works of art, Jonsson carefully constructs his portrait, revealing surprising parallels between the political representation of "the people" in government and their aesthetic representation in painting. Both essentially "frame" the people, Jonsson argues, defining them as elites or masses, responsible citizens or angry mobs.
Yet in the aesthetic fantasies of David, Ensor, and Jaar, Jonsson finds a different understanding of democracy-one in which human collectives break the frame and enter the picture. Connecting the achievements and failures of past revolutions to current political issues, Jonsson then situates our present moment in a long historical drama of popular unrest, making his book both a cultural history and a contemporary discussion about the fate of democracy in our globalized world.
Stefan Jonsson is a writer and critic based in Stockholm, Sweden. He is associate professor of ethnic studies at the University of Linkoping and has been a fellow at the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles and visiting professor at the University of Michigan. He is the author of Subject Without Nation: Robert Musil and the History of Modern Identity.
List of Illustrations 1789: Jacques-Louis David, The Tennis Court Oath 1. Seizing the Floor 2. The Shadow of Democracy 3. The Number of People 4. The Swinish Multitude 5. Social Depths 6. The Hydra 7. Marianne 8. Les Miserables 9. The Barricade 10. Making Monkey 11. Smokescreens 12. Mass Grave 1889: James Ensor, Christ's Entry Into Brussels in 1889 13. The Crucified 14. The Belgian's Glory 15. Divorce 16. Hallucinations 17. Society Degree Zero 18. The Nigger 19. The Modern Breakthrough 20. Songs of the Fool 21. Homo Sacer 1989: Alfredo Jaar, They Loved It So Much, the Revolution 22. The Beloved 23. The Backside of the State 24. The Empty Throne 25. Political Violence 26. With Nails of Gold 27. Of Men and Beasts 28. Desperados 29. Autoimmunity 30. Saints 31. Complaints 32. The Baggage of the Barbarians 33. Departure Afterword Notes Index