Shane Avery's Reviews > Inventing the French Revolution: Essays on French Political Culture in the Eighteenth Century

Inventing the French Revolution by Keith Michael Baker
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's review
Aug 08, 2010

did not like it
bookshelves: non-fiction

In a nutshell:

"there can be little doubt that the competing representations of the French past considered in the present essay were highly charged political actions, mobilizing the resources of a more or less common set of documentary materials for the explicit purposes of ideological struggle. Taken together, they suggest -- and indeed they respond to -- a process of political contestation much more intense and complex than many historians interested in the ideological origins of the French Revolution have been willing to acknowledge. Each ... addressed the fundamental political question: that of the nature and conditions of existence of the body politic." (57)

Herein, Baker does an impressive job looking at competing discourses and the attempts by his subjects to control working-definitions of meaning in pre- Revolutionary France. Also herein, he does a horrific job trying to sketch a jargon-laced theory that reduces the experience of human beings to "symbolic fields of discourse," an idea so patently absurd it need not be engaged. In attempting to overthrow vulgar Marxist historiography, Baker creates something equally, if not more, vulgar. It's ironic that he owes his understanding of ideology to the Marxist lexicon.

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