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Painting in the Year Two

Author(s): T. J. Clark
Source: Representations, No. 47, Special Issue: National Cultures before Nationalism (Summer,
1994), pp. 13-63
Published by: University of California Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2928785 .
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T.J.

CLARK

Painting in the Year Two


parmilesquelleson
lesactionsque desbetesfiroces,
n'a tropsouventracontg
L'histoire
que nouscommenpons
de loinen loindesheros;ii nousestpermisd'espgrer
distingue
deshommes.
l'histoire
-Mirabeaul

1. BOOKS ABOUT MODERNISM-what followswilleventuallybe the


firstchapter of one-tend to go in for inaugural dates. It all began in the 1820s,
they say, or with Courbet setting up his booth outside the Expositionuniverselle,or
the year Madame Bovary and Les Fleurs du mal were put on trial, or in Room M of
the Salon des refuses."An important component in historical sequences of artistic
events," according to George Kubler,
is an abrupt change of contentand expression at intervalswhen an entire language of
formsuddenlyfallsintodisuse,being replaced bya new language of differentcomponents
and an unfamiliargrammar.An example is the sudden transformationof occidental art
and architectureabout 1910. The fabricof societymanifestedno rupture,and the texture
of usefulinventionscontinuedstepbystepin closelylinkedorder,but the systemof artistic
inventionwas abruptlytransformed,as iflarge numbersof men [sic]had suddenlybecome
aware thatthe inheritedrepertoryof formsno longercorresponded to the actual meaning
was as if instantaneous,withthe totalconfiguof existence.... In art the transformation
rationof whatwe now recognizeas modern artcomingall at once intobeing withoutmany
firmlinksto the preceding systemof expression.2

An Deux (16
My candidate forthe beginningof modernismis 25 vendemiaire
October 1793,.as it came to be known). That was the day a hastilycompleted
painting by Jacques-Louis David, of Marat, the martyredhero of the Revolution-Marat a son derniersoupir, David called it early on-was

released into the

public realm (plate 1).3


2. A fewminutesaftermiddayon 25 vendemiaire,Marie Antoinettewas guillotined. Michelet tells us that her death, so long demanded by Hebert and the
sections,in the event went offquietly.4People's minds were elsewhere-on the
scandal of Precy'sescape fromLyon, and the news, mostlybad, fromthe Army
of the North.They knewa greatbattlewas brewing.The cartcarryingthe queen
to the scaffoldmaywell have passed directlyunder the windowsof David's apartment in the Palais du Louvre; in any case we have a pen-and-inkdrawing in
David's hand of the queen in her finalregalia, seeminglydone on the spot (fig.
1). "Sinistrepochade," itsfirstowner called it.5The queen died bravely.Her last
REPRESENTATIONS

47

Summer1994? T.J.Clark

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13

Jacques-Louis
David, Marie-Antoinette
au supplice,1793.
conduite
4t; :t~t S ;6
c <<tofttt
wi*^2
Brown ink on paper.
/
du Louvre, Paris.
7,
/Musee
st~ ofl>i;wv.
2
2Photo:
Giraudon/Art
v'
/
Resource, New York.
FIGURE 1.

Ito-<-*M:

,.
/-s

',.

-r'

<?-

>/-

/J

/Z'J

IfIT

''

fear was that her dead body would be tornlimb fromlimb by the crowd. It did
not happen.
A fewhours latertherewas a second ceremonyin the streets-some of them
the same streetsMarie Antoinettehad been wheeled along on her way fromthe
Conciergerieto the place de la Revolution.The printedOrdrede la marcheforthe
afternoon'sevents survives,and we have one or two other reminiscencesof the
parifinalset piece in the cour du Louvre. AlbertSoboul, in his Les Sans-Culottes
siensen l'AnII, put togetherthe followingdescriptionof what happened:
du 16 octobre,le cortegede la sectiondu Museumparcourtle quai de
Dans l'apres-midi
s'arreteplacede la Reunion
Saint-Nicaise,
l'Ecole,les ruesde la Monnaie,Saint-Honore,
l'acted'accusation
contreMarat,continuesa marchepar le quai du Louvre
pour bruiler
jusqu'a'la ruedes Poulies,pourentrerdansla courdu Louvre,par la colonnade.En tete,
de la force
des tambourset des cannonierssurdix rangsde front,
puisun detachement
les sections"precedeesde leurs
armee;ensuiteles societespopulairesavecleursenseignes,
un detachement
armeles suit,drapeauet tamboursen
les corpsconstitues;
bannieres,"
tete,puisla sectiondu Museumpasseen masse;un "corpsde musique"precedeunedepuunebranche
requisition,
tationde la Convention
lesjeunesgensde la premiere
que suivent
lesbustesde Maratet Lepeletier;leursuccedentles citoyde chenea la main,entourant
ennesde la sectionvetuesde blanc,tenantleursenfantspar la mainet portantdes fleurs
de la force
pouren couvrirla tombede Marat;la marcheestfermeeparun detachement
armeede la section.Dans la cour du Louvre,des sarcophagesavaientete dressesque
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PLATE

1.

Jacques-LouisDavid, La Mortde Marat,1793.


Oil on canvas. Musees royauxdes beaux-arts,
Brussels. Photo: Giraudon/ArtResource.

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surmontaientles tableaux, peints par David, des deux martyrsde la libert6;un service
funebrey futcelebr6avec hymneset discours.Comme dans les ceremoniesdu cultecatholique, tous les artscontribuaientpar leur prestigea l'exaltationdes fiddles;les sans-culottes
communiaientdans le souvenirde leurs martyrs.
[On the afternoonof 16 October, the Museum section marches in procession along the
quai de l'Ecole, the rues de la Monnaie, Saint-Honore, and Saint-Nicaise,pauses in the
place de la Reunion to burn the act of indictmentagainst Marat {that is, a copy of the
formalindictmentdrawn up by the Girondinsas part of theirwar on Marat the previous
April},continuesalong the quai du Louvre as faras the rue des Poulies, and goes into the
courtyardof the Louvre through the grand colonnade. At their head are ten ranks of
drums and riflemenmarchingline abreast,then a detachmentof the armed forces;after
them the popular societieswiththeirstandards,the sections"preceded bytheirbanners,"
the corporatebodies; a detachmentof troopscomes next,flagand drumsin the lead; then
the Museum sectionpasses byen masse; thena "corps of musicians"ahead of a deputation
fromthe Convention,followedby young conscripts{a mass conscriptionof Frenchmen.
had been ordered nine monthsbefore} carryingbranches of oak, and in theirmidstthe
of the sectiondressed in white,
bustsof Marat and Lepeletier; behind themthe citoyennes
holding theirchildrenby the hand and carryingflowersto deck Marat's tomb; bringing
up the rear of the march,a detachmentof the section'sarmed forces.In the courtyardof
the Louvre, sarcophagi had been set up, and on top of them pictures,painted by David,
of the twomartyrsof liberty{the otherpicture,of the regicideMichel Le Peletierde SaintFargeau, killed by a Royaliston the morningof the king'sexecution,no longer exists}; a
funeral service was solemnized with hymnsand speeches. As in the ceremonies of the
Catholic religion,all the artsadministeredbytheirmagic to the exaltationof the faithful;
the sans-culottescommuned togetherin the memoryof theirmartyrs.]6
3. It is not often that we know so much about the circumstances in which a
painting was firstshown to the public. But then, it is not often that the circumstances are so carefully stage-managed. No one can be sure that it was David
himself who decided who went where that day carrying what. The Ordre de la
marchehas no specific author. But it would not be surprising if David were responsible. He was the Republic's great expert on matters of mass choreography. He
was one of the Museum section's most important Jacobins. And two days previously he had gone before the Convention to announce that the picture of Marat
was completed, and to ask his colleagues, "avant de vous l'offrir,de me permettre
de le preter a mes concitoyens de la section du Museum, ainsi que celui de
Lepelletier, afin qu'ils puissent etre l'un et l'autre pr6sents en quelque sorte aux
honneurs civiques qu'ils recoivent de leurs concitoyens."7 Naturally the Conventionnels were not to be excluded from this special event. They could come see
their pictures if they wanted to. Even march in the procession. "Je vous y invite
les premiers a les venir voir chez moi au Louvre, a commencer de Samedi
prochain."
The Convention seems to have agreed to David's proposal without much discussion. Among other things, it would probably have struck them as no bad thing
for the afternoon of Marie Antoinette's execution-she was appearing before the
Paintingin the Year Two

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15

RevolutionaryTribunal on the day David made his request-to have one or two
rivalattractionson offer.
I did say,"among other things."By whichI mean other possible purposesothermeaningsand messageswhichmayhave been in the organizers'minds,and
maybeeven in the participants',as theylet out theirpicturesintothe public realm
or made their way toward the sarcophagi. I believe that David's procession
belongs to itsmoment-to the days and weeks surrounding25 vendemiaire-in
ways not necessarilywrittenon the surface of things.And that the picture of
Marat only trulymakes sense if itsbelonging to the same moment is taken seriously,even at the riskof settingthe empiricist'steethterminallyon edge. For of
course the Marat was not done withthe procession in view.The procession was
throwntogetherin October. It was part of that month's specificpolitics. The
Marat had been under waysinceJuly.It had been ordered bythe Convention,to
be seen in situby Conventionnels.And so it would be in due course-for a while
behind the tribune in the Salle des s6ances, and later,when Marat's fortunes
waned, somewherein an outer office.
But it is never the case that we interestourselves in the circumstancesof a
picture'sfirstshowingbecause we believe the picturewas done forthatshowing.
That showing could only have been imagined, or perhaps fantasized,by the
painteras he or she was at workin the firstplace. And alwaysinaccurately.David,
I hazard the guess, never had the idea while he did the paintingthateventually
his Marat and Le Peletier would be "presents en quelque sorte aux honneurs
civiques qu'ils recoiventde leurs concitoyens."But the factthat theywere, and
thatin the end he went to such lengthsto dictatethe termsof theirinclusionin
the event, tells us somethingabout the nature of David's presuppositions-his
activeimaginingof what he was doing paintingMarat at all. Somethingdecisive:
that is my hunch. For my feeling is that what marks this moment of picturemakingofffromothers(whatmakes itinaugural) is preciselythe factthatcontingencyrules. Contingencyentersthe process of picturing.It invades it. There is
no other entityout of whichpaintingscan now be made-no givens,no matters
and subject matters,no forms,no usable pasts. Or none thatanybodyagrees on
any longer.And in painting-in art in general-disagreement means desuetude.
Modernism is the art of these new circumstances.It can revel in the contingencyor mourn the desuetude. Sometimesit does both. But only thatart can be
called modernistwhich takes the one or the other factas determinant.(And I
suppose I should say,pace post'sand neo's, as atrocious.)

4. So whatcontingency,precisely?And enteringthe picturehow?


Let me go back to the procession on 25 vendemiaire.The firstthingto say
about it is thatit was, at least at one level,profoundlyordinary.Events much like
it had happened elsewherein Paris in the preceding days,and many more were
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to come all throughfrimaireand nivose. The sectionsde la Halle-au-Bled et de


Guillaume Tell, RWunies,forexample, had gathered on 6 October Pourl'Inauguetla
de la Liberte',
etPaul Marat,Martyrs
rationdesBustesde Brutus,MichelLepelletier
surunepierrede la Bastille.8They published
grave'e
DeclarationdesDroitsde l'Homme,
extractsfrom the speeches made that day. The section de Piques was equally
... aux manesde Marat et de Le
proud of the address Prononce'a la Fe^tede'cerne'e
de la Socite'populaire.They
Pelletier,
par Sade, Citoyende cetteSection,et membre
broughtit out in pamphlet formon 29 September.Citizen Sade, unsurprisingly,
had thingsto say about CharlotteCorday.
Sexe timideet doux,commentse peut-ilque vos mainsdelicatesayentsaisile poignard
a venirjetterdes fleurssur le
que la seductionaiguisoit?. .. Ah! votreempressement
trouverun bras
amidu peuple,nousfaitoublierque le crimepcut
tombeaude ce veritable
a cesetresmixtesauxquelson ne peut
parmivous.Le barbareassassinde Marat,semblable
assigneraucun sexe,vomipar les enferspour le desespoirde tous deux, n'appartient
a aucun.I1fautqu'unevoilefunebreenveloppea jamais sa memoire;qu'on
directement
sousl'emblemeenchancommeon ose le faire,soneffigie
de nouspresenter,
cessesurtout
teurde la beaute. Artistestropcredules,brisez,renversez,defigurezles traitsde ce
ou ne l'offrez
a nosyeuxindignesqu'au milieudes furiesdu Tartare.
monstre,
[Softand timidsex,howcan itbe thatdelicatehandslikeyourshaveseizedthedagger
on thetombof this
whettedbysedition?... Ah! youreagernessto comethrowflowers
amongyou.
truefriendof thepeople makesus forgetthatCrimefounda perpetrator
Marat'sbarbarouskiller,likeone of thosehybridcreaturesto whomthetermsmaleand
femaleare not applicable,vomitedfromthejaws of Hell to thedespairof bothsexes,
shroudedindarkness;and above
Her memory
mustbe forever
toneither.
belongsdirectly
as somedareto do, in theenchanting
guiseofbeauty.0
all letno one offerus hereffigy,
thismonster's
features,
breaktopieces,trampleunderfoot,
disfigure
toocredulousartists,
eyespursuedbyFuriesfromtheunderworld.]9
or onlyofferhertoourrevolted
Presumablythe speeches at the ceremonya week before,on 23 September,Dans
etMarat,
Pour l'Inauguration
desBustesde Lepelletier
la Sectiondes Gardes-Francoises,
had had less of a personal subtext.On 22 September the section du Panth6on
gatheredto hear one Gavard-he seems to have no otherclaim to fame-deliver
a funeral oration to Marat alone. And so on. These are only the occasions that
lefta writtenrecord behind them.'0
The show put on by the Museum sectionwas ordinary,then,in the sense of
being one of a continuingseries. (I am not denyingthatindividual itemsin the
seriesare about as farout of the ordinaryas one could dream up. They look like
figmentsof de Maistre'sor Baudelaire's imagination.But thisis the Year 2.) And
ordinaryin itslanguage, in itsorganization.If the processionof 25 vendemiaire
reallyfollowedthe instructionsset out in the Ordrede la marche-and any militant
worthhis or her saltknewthingswere likelyto be a bitragged on the afternoonthen even an unsympatheticspectatorwould have been impressed,at least by a
certainimageryof Power.The People marchedthroughthe streetsto theLouvre.
At the heartof the procession,and bythelook of thingsitssinglebiggestelement,
Paintingin theYearTwo

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17

was the rank and fileof the Museum section,passing by en masse. But the mass
of all sorts:delegationsfromPiques
was padded and sandwichedbycorpsconstitues
and Pantheon and Guillaume Tell, clubs and popular societieslined up beneath
theirinsignia,representativesof the courtsand officesof the RevolutionaryGovernment,those Conventionnelswho had accepted David's invitationof two days
before,women in whiteleading theirchildrenby the hand, conscriptscarrying
the busts of the martyrs"withthe respectinspired by Virtue in those who have
vowed to vanquish forthe fatherlandor die,"" marchingbands, drumsand more
drums, and everywhere-at the head of the column, in the middle, making up
de laforcearmee.Nothingis accidental here. Everythingis
the rear-detachements
in its proper politicaland Natural place. When the column stopped in the place
de la Reunion to set fireto the Girondins'old act of accusationagainst Marat, the
crowdswere meant to rememberthe Girondindeputies thenawaitingtrialin the
Conciergerie,and harden theirhearts.The trialbegan a week later.Brissot,Vergniaud, and the restwere executed the week following,on 10 brumaire.
It is a pity,giventhe amount of detail thatsurvives,thatmore was not said by
contemporariesabout how the Marat and Le Peletierwere set up at the end of
the route. On two sarcophagi,thatmuch is certain.Under some kind of temporarycovering.One witnessfromthe earlynineteenthcenturyrecalls it as a "chapelle ardente."'2 Another talksof the paintingsbeing put "dans une espece de
cryptefunebre,ouiils furentadmires pendant six semaines."'3Perhaps (here historiansstartextrapolatingfromother such floatsand festivalscenery,of which
there were many at the time) theywere put inside a half shell of branches and
tricolordrapery.That would agree withDavid's aesthetic.

5. I am stillleftwonderingwhat the occasion was meant to do. Whose occasion was it?Why did David and othersthinkit worthinvestingtheirenergies in,
when so much else demanded theirattention?What did theytake it to signify?
Soboul, who had his reasons forwantingto believe thata new actor,the menu
peupleof Paris, had stepped onto the world-historicalstage in Year 2, treatsthe
procession we have been looking at as one of the year's great momentsof class
"Les sans-culottescommuniaentdans le souvenir de leurs marself-discovery.
tyrs."The body and blood theypartookof in the cour du Louvre, so he believes,
was essentiallytheir own. Come unto me all that travailand are heavy laden.
David's asking permissionto show offthe Marat and Le Peletier to his fellow
is interpretedin a similarlyexalted vein. "L'art n'6taitplus reserve 'a
sectionnaires
4
une minoriteprivilegiee."'
I suppose I am more inclinedthan mostto take Soboul's hypothesisseriously.
Something is being played out, in and around the strangecult of Marat in the
summerand fallof 1793, whichno one historicalactor was able to controlcompletely-not theJacobins,not the Hebertists,not the followersof poor Jacques
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Roux and Claire Lacombe, not the militantsin the Cordeliers or the sectionnaires
withtheirbanners,not David, not Robespierre,not CitizenSade. I shall speak to
this lack of controlin due course. But for the time being, let me just point out
thatSoboul himself,in hisbran tubof a book, givesus the clue whichI thinkcasts
doubt on his best-caseinterpretation.
The day after the procession, he reports, the Soci6t6 sectionnaire du
Museum-that is, the hard core of popular activistswho ran the sectionas a politto theJacobinClub. Their spokesman seemed
ical entity-solicitedforaffiliation
to know what metaphors would do the trick: "Les r6publicains composant la
societe populaire de la sectiondu Mus6um viennentreclamerde leur mere l'aliment necessaire au developpement de leur patriotisme; une mere tendre
pourrait-ellerepousser un enfantvertueux?Vous etes la societ6-merede toutes
celles de la Republique; augmentez votre familleen nous adoptant."'5 The section'swish was granted; though not, theJacobin newspaper assured its readers
the nextday,untilafterthe membershiphad undergone "l'examen leplus rigide."
For had not theJacobinsdecided, threeweeks before,thattheywould recognize
as true popular societies"que celles dont le comiterevolutionnaireaurait forme
le noyau apres s'etreepure lui-meme,que celles dont tous les membresauraient
passe par le scrutinepuratoire de ce meme comite?'6 Soboul may be rightin
sayingthat the very severityof this Partydictat produced a backlash from the
societiesthemselves.Certainlywe have instancesof some of themaskingforaffiliation, being declared not pure enough, and going their separate ways (for as
long as the Terror allowed them). But not the Museum section: thatis the point.
They were the purestof the pure. I have an idea, indeed, thatthe whole episode
of 26 vendemiaire,milkymetaphorsand all, was meant as a kind of templatefor
other such bindingsand purgingsto come.
So are we entitledto look back on the processionof 25 vendemiairewithwhat
happened the nextday in mind?Not necessarily.Sometimesin historystringsare
reallynot being pulled behind the scenes. Revolutionsare untidy.Coincidences
do happen. Politicianshave more importantthingsto worryabout than pictures
and hymns.
But David was a politician.My hunch is thatthe afternoon'seventshad been
conceived, and orchestrated,as a kind of proof of the Museum section'sorthodoxy.Popular festivity-thesans-culottes"communiantdans le souvenirde leurs
Especially
martyrs"-was under control.It had got itselfthe requisitestiffening.
of armed force.
Or maybe we should say thatthe processionwas a kind of reward,fromthe
Party,for a purge that had already taken place. "Rigid examinations,"afterall,
are not performedon the spur of the momentin the body of the hall. What the
Museum sectionwas, or had made itself,was no doubt knownto the partiesthat
matteredlong beforeanyone turnedup at the assemblypointon 25 vendemiaire.
Maybe thisis whythe Conventionnelsallowed theirpicturesout in the firstplace.
in theYearTwo
Painting

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19

6. Historiansagree thatSeptember 1793 was a turningpoint in theJacobins'


relationswiththe sans-culottes.Even Francois Furet,who is more skepticalthan
most of a picture of revolutionarypoliticsimpelled by class tension, sees September as "probably the crucial period in the formationof the Revolutionary
government."And his reasons have a Soboulian ring to them. "The Mountain
had needed the sans-culottesto defeat the Gironde in the Spring of 1793, and
wishedto keep themas alliesbut withoutgivingup anyimportantpowers."'7 That
A summerof agitationin the streetsand clubs culminated,on 5
proved difficult.
September, with the sections' armed forces surrounding the Convention,
foruse againstthe Republic's
re'volutionnaire
demanding the settingup of an arme'e
enemies at home, a purge of the Committeesof Public Safetyand General Security,and mass arrests.
Furet'sphrase is a triflebland: "The Convention gave ground but retained
controlover events."On 5 September it agreed thatTerror was now "the order
Two days later it
of the day."On 9 September it set up the arme'ere'volutionnaire.
fixed maximum prices for grain and flour.Another fortnightand the maximum
was extended, at least in theory,to wages and prices for all commodities.It put
the RevolutionaryTribunal on a war footingon the fourteenth,passed the Law
of Suspects on the seventeenth,told the local revolutionarycommitteesto draw
up listsof the Revolution'senemies. And immediatelyit turned its new weapons
against the most dangerous representativesof those who had asked for them in
the firstplace. Jacques Roux was finallyimprisonedthe veryday the armed secfollowed.Their newspapers sputtered
tionsringed the Tuileries.'8Other enrage's
intosilence.On 9 Septemberthe Conventionagreed to pay a smallwage to needy
but only if the sectionsgave
sectionales,
citizensfor attendance at theirassemble'es
up theirhabitof meetingdaily (and monitoringthe Convention'sdoings). Twice
It was the beginningof
a week,or betterstill,twicea decade,would be sufficient.'9
a whole series of movesbytheJacobinswhichhemmed in, and eventuallyput an
end to, the sections as an independent force. This is the contextin which the
eventsof 26 vendemiaireshould be understood.Septemberis the month,I think,
when David took the keydecisionsin his paintingof Marat.

7. I realize I have rubbed my reader's nose in the detail of politicsin 1793.


And that is as it should be. My claim, you will remember,is that the detail of
politicsis what David's Marat is made out of.
Politics,I should say, is the formpar excellenceof that contingencywhich
makes modernismwhat it is. That is whythose who wish modernismhad never
happened (and not a fewwho thinktheyare firmlyon itsside) resistto the death
the idea thatart,at manyof itshighestmomentsin the nineteenthand twentieth
centuries,took thestuffof politicsas itsmaterial,and did not transmuteit. I think
of Courbet in 1850 and Manet in 1869,
of Gericault'sRaftand Delacroix'sLiberty,
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of Morris and Ensor and Menzel, of Pressaand Guernica,of Rude's Marseillaise


totheThird
and Saint-Gaudens'sShaw Memorial,of MedalsforDishonor,Monument
International,
Berlin and Vitebsk,Cologne and Guadalajara. No one but a fool,of
course, would deny that politicsprovided the occasion for art in some or all of
thesecases. The disagreementturnson the words "occasion"and "material,"and
especiallythe claim thatin some strongsense modernistart not onlyis obliged to
make formoutof politics,but also to leave the accident and tendentiousnessof
politicsin the formit makes-not to transmuteit,in otherwords. (Otherwisethe
claim is harmless.For we knowverywell thatRubens and VelAzquezoperated as
a matterof course with materialsthat had "politics"grosslyinscribedin them.
at Breda,the Triumphs
ofMariedeMedici.Painterswere providersof
The Surrender
politicalservices.But of a special, dulyallottedkind: thereis the differencefrom
modernism.The servicetheyperformedwas to transmutethe political,to clean
it of the dross of contingency,to raise it up to the realm of allegory,or-subtler
performance for deeper sophisticates-to make its very everydaynessquietly
miraculous.Surrenderat Breda equals EntryintoJerusalem.)
simplyceased on
I am not sayingthatan effortat raisingand transfiguring
we shallsee, is palpable in David's Marat.
or about vend6miaireYear 2. The effort,
I dare sayall threeartistswould have been happy
And in theRaftand theLiberty.
withthe idea of themselvesas a new VelAzquez.But I am sayingthatin practice
theywere not able to be any such thing,and thattheirpictures'actual articulation
of that impossibilityis what makes them unprecedented in the historyof art.
of transcendence.This is a simple,and one
Modernismis about the impossibility
would have thoughta ratherobvious,idea, whichanyone interestedin the texture
of modernitywould findeasy to accept. But thatwould be to underestimatethe
doubleness of the term"modernism"in thesentence.Modernismis Art.And Art,
or a certaincult of Art,is exactlythe site (forsome) on whichthe impossibilityof
transcendencecan be denied. Perhaps it is the one site left.So defend it by any
means necessary.
Modernism'sbrokennessand ruthlessness,sayitsenemies,are willed,forced,
and ultimatelyfutile.We mayeven have escaped fromthemat last. Modernism's
extremity,
say itsfalse friends,isjust surfaceappearance, beneath whichthe real
matterof art-not just the delightsof manufacture,but whatthose delightshave
always given onto, momentsof vision, here-and-nowtotalities,a whole usable
past-is kept in being, no doubt against the odds. When I say false friendsit is
not thatI doubt the passion of theirdefense,or even thatitsrhetoriccorresponds
to much thatthe modernistssaid of themselves.But modernismis a process that
deeply misrecognizesitsown nature for much of the time. How could it not be?
It is Art.And for Art to abandon what Art most intenselywas, and yet stillto
proceed, stillto go on imaginingtheworldotherwise-otherwise,not epitomized
or complete-is not likelyto happen withoutall kinds of reaction formationon
the part of artists.
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21

8. The case remains to be proven,I know. (The case is particular.I am not


sayingthat"modernism-all or any modernism-is political,"or somehow idiotically tryingto demote the careers of, among others, Corot and Monet and
Matisse. I am sayingthatthe engagementof modernismwithpoliticsat certain
moments tells us somethingabout its coming to termswith the world's disenchantmentin general. Corot and Monet and Matisse had their own ways of
the world's disendealing with the same situation.I should say theyrecognized
them alongside
that
put
was
at
stake)
of
what
chantmentin terms(witha sense
Courbet and Manet and Malevich-as opposed to Rousseau and Renoir and
cases. The factthattheirart had nothing
Derain, forexample, to choose difficult
to say about the Dreyfusaffair,or that Madame Matisse decided not to disturb
her husband's dreamworldby tellinghim she was workingfor the Resistance,is
not a propos.There are dreamworldsand dreamworlds.Anyone not capable of
seeing that Matisse's tells us more than anyone else's in the last hundred years
about what dreaming has become had bettergive up on modernismrightaway.)
I have to showwhatI mean bysayingthatDavid's Marat "turnson the impossibilityof transcendence"and showsus politicsas the formof a world.
9. On 28 July1793, a Sunday,therewas a ceremonyhaving to do withMarat
in the Club des Cordeliers-at that moment the other great center of Jacobin
itself.A seriesof oratorsstood beforea small altar
politicsbesides thesociete-mWre
erected to Marat's sacred heart. Marat had used the Cordeliers as one center of
his politicaloperations,and the altar contained the veryrelic,extractedfromhis
bodyjust a fortnightbefore.The murderhad taken place on 13 July.
Later writersabout David's picturehave been fondof makingthecomparison
between it and a Piet&.Sometimes they have seemed to thinkthe comparison
disposes of thecase. And thereis nothingnew to thelinkage,or to the ideological
work the linkage is meant to do-the savingof Marat froma realm where what
he was, and what he meant,was (is) stillan open question. The main orator on
28 Julyhad thisto say (I have combinedtwoaccountsof theoccasion, fromrather
differentkindsof witnesses):

o toiJesus,6 toi Marat,6 Coeur Sacr6de Jesus,6 coeursacr6de Marat,vousavez les

memesdroitsa nos hommages.... Compareensuiteles travauxdu Filsde Marieavec


ceux de l'Amidu Peuple;les ap6tressonta [m]esyeuxlesJacobinset les Cordeliers,les
Jesus,enfin,etaitun
les pharisienssontles aristocrates.
Publicainssontles boutiquiers,
prophete,maisMaratestun dieu.
le peuple et n'aimeque lui; commeJesus,
CommeJesus,Marataime ardemment
Maratdetesteles nobles,les pretres,les riches,les fripons;commeJesus,il ne cesse de
ilmenauneviepauvreetfrugale;comme
cespestesde la societe;commeJesus,
combattre
sensibleet humain. . .
Jesus,Maratfutextremement
[O thouJesus,o thouMarat,o sacredheartofJesus,o sacredheartof Marat,youboth
haveequal titletoourhomage.... ComparetheworksoftheSon ofMarytothoseofthe

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Friend of the People; to my eyes the apostles are the Jacobins and the Cordeliers, the
Publicans are the shopkeepers, the pharisees are the aristocrats.Jesus, finally,was a
prophet,but Marat is a god.
Like Jesus,Marat loves the people passionatelyand loves onlythem; likeJesus,Marat
detestsnobles,priests,the rich,the swindlers;likeJesus,he neverstopsbattlingthese pests
of society;likeJesus,he lived a poor and frugallife{a point,we shall see, David's picture
goes to extraordinarylengths to emphasize}; like Jesus, Marat was extremelytenderhearted and humane {ditto}. . .]20
And more in the same vein. The orator seems immediately to have got the back
up of part of the audience, including some of Marat's most dedicated supporters.
A sans-culotte called Brochet for one, who had just reported to the Society on his
efforts to find a suitable container for the sacred heart (it was eventually hung
from the ceiling in a sort of vial), appears as follows in notes taken on the occasion:
Brochet,apres avoir rendu un hommage aux grands talentsde l'orateur,blame le parallele: Marat, dit-il,n'est pas faitpour etre compare a Jesus de Nazareth; cet homme, fait
Dieu par les pretres,jeta sur terre les semences de la superstition,il defendit les Rois.
Marat au contrairecombattitle fanatismeet declara la guerre au tr6ne. Qu'on ne nous
parlejamais, s'est6cri6Brochet,de ceJesus! [In anotheraccount,"Il ne fautjamais parler
de ce Jesus,ce sont des sottises.Des germesde fanatismeet toutesces fadaises ont mutik6
la Libert6des son berceau."] La philosophie,oui, la seule philosophie doit etre le guide du
leur seul Dieu doit etrela Libert6.
RWpublicain,
[Brochet,having paid homage to the orator'sgreat talents,findsfaultwiththe parallel:
Marat, he says,is not to be compared to Jesus of Nazareth; that man, made God by the
priests,sowed the seeds of superstitionon earth, he defended Kings. Marat on the contrarybattledagainst fanaticismand declared war on the throne. Let's hear no more talk
of thisJesus,Brochetshouted! {We mustneveragain talkabout thisJesus; it isjust foolishness. The seeds of fanaticismand suchlikefiddle-faddlehave disfiguredLibertyever since
it was born.} Philosophy,yes,philosophyalone shall be the Republicans' guide, and they
shall have no otherGod but Liberty.]2'
10. Supposing David had been in the audience on 28 July (which is not
improbable), whose side would he have been on? Or to put it less crudely, to what
extent did the disagreement between Brochet and the orator-that is, the possibility of such a disagreement, even among those who thought Marat a good
thing-inform the making of his picture in the weeks that followed? Given that
everybody agrees that some kind of analogy between Christ and Marat was
intended on 25 vendemiaire, then what kind? And could the picture actually
make the analogy-I mean make it stick, make it legible, make it plausible even
to viewers like Brochet?
But even to begin to answer these kinds of questions, we have to tryto reconstruct what the exchange in the Cordeliers was about. What was at stake in it? I
talked of David possibly ending up on Brochet's or the orator's side. What sides
were these? In what sort of battle?
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23

11. Verylittlein 1793 is simple.Brochet,forexample, is typicallyhard to pin


down. We know he was linked to FrancoisVincent,the leading lightof the Cordeliers at this moment,and perhaps later to Hebert and the Pere Duchesne.He
mayhave paid fortheassociation.RichardCobb sayshe was condemned to death
on 12 germinal,as part of theJacobins'settlingof accounts withthe Hebertists.
Soboul has him survivinginto the Year 3, only to be arrestedas a "terroriste"on
25 frimaire.22
However he ended up, it does not mean thatwe can assign him any cut-anddried political position-still less a class-politicalposition-in the chaos of
summerand fall.He seems to have been at timesa kindof honestbrokerbetween
the Cordeliers and the Jacobins.It was Brochet I quoted previouslyas insisting
in the Club des Jacobinson 23 Septemberthatthe popular societiespurge themselvesbeforebeing bound closer to the Party.Brochetwho acted as a moderating
influencewithinhis own section Marat, bringingin a betterclass of artisan and
re'volutionnaire.23 Brochet who was put up as
small shopkeeper to siton the comite
figureheadpresidentof the Cordeliers once the club had been marginalized.24
And so on.
Brochet'sis a representativevoice, in otherwords; representativein its very
uncertaintyabout where the Revolutionwas. His being sure in JulythatMaratthe figureand memoryof Marat-had to be at the centerof revolutionaryselfdefinitionis nothing special. Everyone from Saint-Justto Jacques Roux subscribedto that,at least fora time.Nor is his being so vehementabout the precise
had to be done-these terms,myterms(Marat's
termsin whichthe self-definition
terms),not yours. If Saint-Justand Jacques Roux had been in the same room,
theywould have fallento arguing in much the same way.

12. Marat was a martyrof Liberty.He was Friend of the People. "Dans l'etat
de guerre oui nous sommes, il n'y a que le peuple, le petit peuple, ce peuple si
meprise et si peu meprisable,qui puisse imposer [la liberte]aux ennemis de la
revolution,les contenirdans le devoir,les forcerau silence,les reduire 'a cet etat
de terreursalutaire et si indispensable pour consommer le grand oeuvre de la
constitution[et]organisersagementl'Etat..."25 Marat had been a constantenemy
the ouvriersde luxe(among whom he numbered
of the accapareurs,the agioteurs,
artists)."Tout manque au peuple contre les classes elevees qui l'oppriment."26
Ever since 1789 he had been arguing thatsooner or later the Revolutionwould
grounds
stand in need of violenceifitwas to survive.Almoston physical-scientific
(before the Revolutionhe had practicedmedicine in London and writtenbooks
against materialism):"II en est de notre Revolutioncomme d'une cristallisation
troublee par des secousses violentes,d'abord tous les cristauxdisseminesdans le
liquide s'agitent,se fuientet se melentsans ordre, puis ils se meuventavec moins
de vivacite,se rapprochentpar degres et ... finissentpar reprendre leur pre-

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Only a series of new shocks would preventthe social


miere combinaison. .
mixturefromhardeningonce and forall. "C'est par la violence qu'on doit 'tablir
la liberte,et le momentest venu"-this one (of many)is in April 1793-"d'organiser momentanementle despotisme de la liberte pour ecraser le despotisme
des rois."28
Of course thereis much here thatwould likelyappeal to theJacobinsas they
stood on the verge of Terror.Marat had oftenbeen of theirpartyin the disputes
of the previous months.When the Girondins had asked for his arrest in early
April,David himselfhad rushed to the tribuneshouting:"Jevous demande que
vous m'assassiniez,jesuis aussi un hommevertueux.... La libertetriomphera."29
By the timeof his death Marat was largelyreconciledwiththe emergingpowers.
Michelethas a sardonic subheading forJune 1793: "Robespierre et Marat gardiens de l'ordre."
But look again at the phrases fromL'Amidu Peuplequoted above. Their content,and above all theirrhetoricaltemperature,are typicalof Marat'sjournalism.
And theyare enough to suggestthat,reconciledor not,Marat promised to go on
being a mixed blessingforrevolutionarygovernment-certainlyforgovernorsof
Robespierre's vision and personal style. It was not simply Marat's habit of
adopting the wildestand bloodiest formof words, even when what he was recommendingwas a fairlyordinaryextensionof the State'smonopolyof force.(Let
us not call ita War Cabinet or an EmergencyPowersAct,let us call ita despotism
of liberty.)Nor that he stood in the minds of theJacobins'enemies in 1793 as a
symbolof everythingtheJacobinswere but did notdare declare themselves.(The
Girondinshad far fromgiven up on Marat afterthe failureof theirApril campaign. He was the monsterwho had given the signal for the September Massacres. Blood was stillon his head. CharlotteCorday was part of a Girondin circle
in Caen where such talkwas commonplace.) It was also that Marat's unswerving
identificationwith the petitpeupleof Paris-one-sided as the identificationmay
have been, since his linkswiththe popular clubs and societieswere tenuous-led
him timeand again to givevoice to positionson the "social question"thatall other
partiesagreed were beyond the pale.
In 1791, forexample, he had been more or less alone in opposing theLois Le
Chapelierwhich put an end to workers'associations; not that he disapproved of
removingobstacles to free trade-that would have been to reimagine his whole
inheritancefromthe ground up, which certainlyhe was incapable of
philosophe
doing-but that he thoughtpreventingworkersfromgatheringto discuss their
interestswas, in a timeof trouble,one more way of deprivingthe Revolutionof
support.30And thisis the typicaltrajectoryof Marat's politics.A terribledeterminationto forgeor preservethose weapons thatthe Revolutionmightneed (in
his opinion) combineswitha wishto speak forthe despised and rejected. No one
is claimingthatthe combinationled to a specificor consistentpolitics,or to one
which put him usually at odds withthe Jacobins.A lot of the time in 1793 it is
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25

more a question of him seemingto push theJacobinsto do whatwas necessaryto


annihilatetheirenemics. Even if-maybe in Marat'scase, especiallyif-the enemies also claimed to be speaking in thepetitpeuple'sname. Marat called early on
for an end to Jacques Roux and the enrag's.3' But evenherethelogicof Terror
led back to the same set of insoluble class paradoxes. The enrage'smust be
destroyedbecause theyare a faction.The Revolutionhas no room for factions
because it is one and indivisible.Because its great termsare Nation and People,
singularand sovereign.But ifthe People is singularand sovereign,thendoes that
mean that those who make up the majorityof its membersare the People-for
some reason as yetnot properly"represented"?But could there be such a "representation"without the whole current panoply of the State-the necessary
armor of the Revolutionin difficulties-beingthrowninto the meltingpot? No
answers to these questions emerged in Year 2. The questions themselveswere
But at least Marat'swritingseems to have impelled
raised onlydimlyand fitfully.
in
howevergarbled and pseudo-ferociousa form,
where,
the
toward
point
him
the questions came up.

13. Marat was close to the Jacobins,then. In my view he was distinctfrom


them-the image of politicshe stood forexceeded Robespierre'sand David's in
various crucialways-and it should not come as a surprisethatafterhis murder,
plentyof people thoughtthetimehad come to make the distinctionabsolute. The
enrages,for a start.Three days after Marat's assassination,on 16 July,Jacques
de la RepubliqueFranRoux published issue 243 of Marat'snewspaper,Le Publiciste
caisepar l'Ombrede Marat,l'Amidu Peuple.What gave him the rightto do so, he
claimed, was the hatred he had earned "of the royalists,the federalists,the egoists,the moderates,the hoarders,the monopolists,the speculators,the intriguers,
the traitorsand bloodsuckersof the people":32the more comprehensivethe list,
to those who had too
the betterhis claim to Marat's legacy.In contradistinction
Theophile
manyfriendsin high places: thatwas the implication.Anotherenrage',
in
summer
out
run
of
du
brought
L'Ami
Peuple
with
a
new
suit
followed
Leclerc,
and early fall. Hebert, in the PereDuchesne,rushed to assure his readers that no
name change was necessary:the mantleof Marat fellon him. And so forth.
These signs need not necessarilyhave amounted to much. They could have
been a versionof the usual jockeyingforpositionaftera leader dies, especiallyif
he or she dies in harness-part of the spume of politics,with no verydeep or
permanentinterestsin play.But I do notthinktheywere. Two thingsargue otherwise. First,the elaboratenessof theJacbobins'effortsto counter the enrage's'bid
for ownership,and draw Marat back into their fold. And second, the factthat
Marat's shadow kept spreading and transmutingin the monthsthatfollowed,in
wayswhichclearlyexceeded any one party'sor interest'sdoing. There was a cult
of Marat in Year 2. Soboul is not alone in thinkingit had, for a while, the first
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glimmeringsof true religiosityabout it. A cult in the strong sense, then-the


French or Durkheimian sense. People gatheringto give formto theircollective
will. And investingtheir fears and hopes in a single figure,like and unlike
themselves.
14. First,what the Jacobins did. Obviouslyno veryclear line can be drawn
betweenJacobin instigation(or effortat containment)and pressure frombelow.
I thinktheJacobinswere oftentryingto draw some such line,and failing.Maybe
theywere on 25 vendemiaire.Equally,the scene at the end ofJulyin the Cordeliers has some of the hallmarksof an officialoccasion. The orator may well have
thoughthe was speakingaJacobin script,or one theywould approve of. But that
does not mean we are entitledto take Brochetas speakingthe enrages'or Hebert's.
Maybe he was. More likelyhe thoughthe was rightat the Revolution'scenter.It
was one thing to go shopping for an urn for Marat's sacred heart, another to
gloryin the analogy betweenthe new cultsand those theywere supposed to displace. "La philosophie, oui, la seule philosophie doit etre le guide du Republicain." What would Robespierrefindto disagree within that?
The Jacobins found themselvesnegotiatingwith too many things calling
themselvesMarat. That is part of the tension which makes David's picture so
spellbinding.But thisis not to say thatanyone'sMarat was gristto the mill. Lines
got drawn, quickly and brutally.Robespierre brought Marat's widow, Simone
Evrard, before the bar of the Conventionon 8 August, and had her specifically
denounce Jacques Roux and Theophile Leclerc-"scoundrelly writers. .. who
claim to continue hisjournals and make his spiritspeak, in order to outrage his
"Now that he is dead, theyare tryingto
memoryand lead the people astray."33
perpetuatethe parricidalcalumnywhichrepresentedhim as an insensateapostle
On 22 AugustJacques Roux was arrestedforthe first
of disorderand anarchy."34
5
time.On Septemberhe wasjailed forgood. Leclerc disappears fromthe historical record as the fallwears on. He had seen the writingon the wall. Hebert was
soon fightingunsuccessfullyforhis life.
15. Marat was too important,and too volatile,a politicalsign to let one's enemies make use of; especiallythose who wanted his ghost to do littlemore than
repeat the question he had asked inJune,and byimplicationoftenbefore: "Qu'at-ilgagne 'a la Revolution?"-the ii being the People, naturally.35
But the question
would not be robbed of itsedge simplyby pretendingMarat had never asked it,
or exterminatingthose who said he had. Marat must go on asking the question,
withhis characteristicvehemence,but givingit a Jacobin answer. The category
be its sign. Among the signifyingpossibilitieson
People had to have something
offerin 1793, "Marat" seemed one of the best available. At least in him the categorywas personified.That mightmean thatthe welterof claims,identifications,
in theYearTwo
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27

and resentmentswrapped up in the word could at least be concentratedinto a


single figure-and thereforeshaped and contained. It would take some doing.
16. Of course I am not sayingthatRobespierreand his henchmen sat down
one day in August and worked all this out. ". . .Job for you, Citizen David."
Nobody knew what was going to happen next in the summer of 1793. Nobody
had a firmhold on events.But equally,I do thinkthatDavid's paintinga picture
of Marat in Augustand Septemberwas steeped in-informed by-the battleover
Marat'slegacy.OtherwiseI would not have botheredto describe it in such detail.
What marksmyaccount offfromconspiracytheoryis not so much a priorijudgment that Historydoes not work like that-too much of the time it does-as a
feelingthatin thiscase, withthese materials,no such calculus of advantage was
possible. I make a distinction,in other words,between the sortof manipulation
I thinkwas behind the organizationof the processionon 25 vendemiaire(and its
connectionwiththe purge of the sectionnextday) and the more extended, more
intuitiveJacobineffortto have Marat signifyin theirterms.David's effortin particular,but also the widerJacobin negotiationwiththe Marat cult. And most of
all, the implicationof David's paintingin the negotiation.Soboul is right.The
situationis out of control.Surelyneverbefore had the powers-that-bein a State
been obliged to improvisea signlanguage whose veryeffectiveness
depended on
its seemingto the People a language theyhad made up, whichrepresentedtheir
interests.No doubt itis easy to sayin retrospectthatitdid no such thing.But that
is not the point. What mattersto the historicalimagination,at least in the first
instance,is how the actorssaw it. I conceivethemas waveringhopelesslybetween
conspiracyand pure discursiveness,betweencalculus of effectsand beliefin their
own symbols.No one more hopelessly(thereforeproductively)than David.
17. The question I startedfromwas: Supposing David had been presentin
the Cordeliers,would he have been on Brochet'sor the orator'sside? And what
would he have taken the argumentbetween them to be about, essentially?Representingwhose interests?
At least bynow we knowwhat standsin the wayof a cut-and-driedanswer to
any of the above. But the David I imagine is not discouraged by his inabilityto
give an answer-more likelygalvanized by the fact.It is the uncertaintyof level
in the debate thatis itschieffascination,and makes him mostwanttojoin in. He
knew that picturingMarat was a politicalmatter,part of a process of "freezing"
the Revolution (Saint-Just'sunforgettablemetaphor) or maybe tryingto do the
opposite. He would be on the lookout fordanger signals.But of course he took
the evening'srhetoricat face value. He believed thata new worldwas under construction.No doubt he saw in the cult of Marat the firstformsof a liturgyand
ritualin whichthe truthsof the Revolutionitselfwould be made flesh-People,
28

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A 6oe;

//i

le "W
2
J@/t/
a(2nbw,7/oIn
Ws.n&.,i''/a7/fb/t/
c-/XtI^2tav

FIGURE

t f0-2'/'
e

,*W
A

Z//
z~emel.

r/.7re

jj
ZPtl2e

se.

2. Anonymous,Roberspierre
[sic] entrant
dans
deMarat,1793. Engraving.
l'appartement
Musee du Louvre. Photo: Photographie
Bulloz, Paris.

Nation, Virtue,Reason, Liberty.How could he not have thrilled,as the summer


and fallwenton, to the glamorousdetailsof Marat'sdeification?News of twentynine townsand villagescalling themselvesafterthe martyredsaint.36Of Marat
becoming a favoriteanti-Christianname for newborn babies. Of church after
church, in brumaire and frimaireespecially,takingdown the crucifixand the
Virginand puttingup Marat and Le Peletierin theirplace-one historiancounts
such ceremoniesin Parisalone.37"Que le batimentservantci-devantd'eglise
fifty
devienne le lieu des seances de la societe populaire, et en consequence que les
bustesde Marat et Lepelletierremplacentles statuesde saintPierreet saintDenis,
leurs anciens patrons,et que la commune de Mennecy-Villeroysoit dorenavant
nommee commune de Mennecy-Marat."38Of processions and speeches and
apotheoses, many of them-particularly in August-with much less of a stagemanaged look than the one David would be involvedin. Of women going in for
"coiffures'a la Marat."39Of Montmaratreplacing Montmartre.Of dechristianisateursperfectinga suitablymodernizedsignof thecross,to be accompanied bythe
impeccable murmur,"Le Peletier,Marat,la Liberteou la Mort."40Of printsand
broadsides and terracottashrinesfor the sans-culottes'mantelpiece (figs.2 and
3). Of militantson 11 Octoberjust fivedaysbeforethe Museum procession,dragging the portraitsof kingsand princes out of the Palais du Fontainebleau and
in theYearTwo
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29

burningthem in frontof Marat's image (figs.4 and 5). Smoke fromthe portrait
of Louis XIII by Philippe de Champaigne, it was said, "was waftedtowardsthe
bust. It was the mostagreeable incense we could offer."'4'
18. These details,as I say,are glamorous; and perhaps for thatreason misleading. There is a qualityof farceor factitiousnessto many of them,and time
and again one is on the verge of dismissingthe lot (as Richard Cobb does, for
instance)as a seriesof ludicrousor vengefulstunts,whichcut no ice withordinary
men and women. And then one comes across the report of a ceremony,or a
speech, which is
petitionfroma village,or a phrase or two froma sectionnaire's
suddenly free of the standard formsor the activist'soverkill,and in which one
thinksone overhears the struggles-maybe the ludicrous struggles-of a new

FIGURE

FIGURE

30

3 (left).Anonymous,obeliskwithcameos of Le Pelletierand
Marat, 1793. Wood and gilt.Privatecollection.Reproduced
fromJean-Claude Bonnet,ed., La MortdeMarat(Paris,
1986), plate 12, by permissionof Flammarion.
4 (right).Anonymous,bust of Marat, 1793. Muse'e Carnavalet,
Paris. Photo: PhotographieBulloz.

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_9' vlaa, le~itrae~rej.


Cal& DeMarat.

~c

wijeLeur
Qveuykrr~/zt
c~nonjtrcEdwin
o@@eux,
,tw
tear aveu
tnorvtr
ezeit atce

FIGURE 5. Anonymous,
Plais de l'Egipteou Etat de
la Francedepuis1789 [sic],
detail, 1794. Engraving.
Bibliotheque nationale,
Paris. Reproduced from
Ian Germani,Jean-Paul
Marat:Heroand Anti-Hero
oftheFrenchRevolution
(Lampeter,U.K., 1992),
plate 49, by permissionof
Mellen Press.

t .
queIon r&eJotxbu Deaz)
lJr'entAent/cacens

religionbeing born. There are many other Brochets takingpart in the process.
Even the crowd outside the Palais du Fontainebleau deserves to figurein the
record as more than a mob of peasant dupes egged on by a handful of vandal/
professionals.Who are we to say whatit musthave been like to see the pompous
encampmentin the forestat last gettingitscome-uppance? What group of men
and women had more of a rightto pre-echoWalterBenjamin's"There is no document of civilizationwhich is not at the same time a document of barbarism."
Barbarismhad been theirdailybread. Maybeittooka burningPhilippe de Champaigne to convincethemthatit need not be any longer.
The more one looks at the cult of Marat,the less clear it becomes what kind
of phenomenon one is studying.Which historyis it part of? Of popular religion
or Stateformation?Of improvisationbythemenupeupleor manipulationbyelites?
The question applies to the episode of de-Christianizationas a whole. And the
answerobviouslyis both.The cultof Maratexistsat theintersectionbetweenshorttermpoliticalcontingencyand long-termdisenchantmentof the world. Maybe in
itslatterguise itoftenlooks like a rear-guardactionagainstthe loss of the sacred.
But here too itsformswere unstableand ambivalent.We knowof oratorsstaging
theJesus-Maratcomparisonin order to prove thatthe priestshad captured and
neutralized"Jesusle sans-culotte"bypretendinghe was anythingbut a man.42Or
others(besides Brochet) makingthe comparisontoJesus Christ'sdisadvantage.
We know thateven in the best-managedsection-even in August-things could
Painting in the Year Two

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31

happen that reminded all concerned that the cult'sbasic premise was far from
secure:
generalede la sectionde la ButteI1n'estque tropvraiqu'il s'esttrouv6dansl'assemblke
de l'inpourapplaudira l'assassinat
assezscdlerats
assezpervers,
des citoyens
des-Moulins
en a &6 penetr~e
Amidu Peuple,Marat.La tr6sgrandepartiede l'assemblee
corruptible
et,pouren fairejustice,ellea decideque ce faitatroceseraitconsignedans
d'indignation
pour
et. .. denoncea l'accusateur
publicdu Tribunalrevolutionnaire
son proces-verbal,
de
egarespar des intrigues,
en decouvriret punirles auteurs.... Beaucoupde citoyens
ilsrendent
aujourd'huileurserreurs,
commevousle dites,reconnaissent
vraisanarchistes,
justicea la puretede nosintentions.
{thevoice
generalassembly
[It is onlytoo truethattherewere,in theButte-des-Moulins
respondingto a challengefromtheirneighborsat
themselves,
is thatof thesectionnaires
Arcis},citizensso perverseand villainousas to applaudthemurderof Marat,theincorwasseizedwithindigruptibleFriendofthePeople.Muchthegreaterpartoftheassembly
and to giveititsdue,decidedthattheappallingfactshouldbe
nationat theoccurrence,
triof theRevolutionary
and reportedto thepublicprosecutor
recordedin theminutes,
bunal,forhimto uncoverand punishtheperpetrators....Manycitizensled astrayby
to the
theirerrors;thattestifies
as yousay-now acknowledge
intrigues-realanarchists,
ofourintentions.]44
purity
Is it any wonder that Robespierre finallydrew back from the spectacle with a
shiver of disgust? Was not tryingto make a saint out of Marat, of all people,
ultimatelyplayinginto one's enemies' hands? Had not the process led-I mean
the whole mad, exalted search fora religionof the Revolution-to the bishop of
Paris, no less, being broughtto the bar of the Conventionon 17 brumaire and
solemnlyabjuring his faith?And three days later to the scandalous (marvelous)
Fete de la Raison in Notre-Dame? News was coming in of the armees revolutionnaires in thecountryside,makingbonfiresof statuesand ridingpriestsout of town
on a rail. Enough, enough.
dansla carrierede la Revolution
viendraientDe quel droitdeshommesinconnusjusqu'ici
les patriotes
les moyens... d'entrainer
ils chercherau milieude tousces evenements
memea de faussesmesures,etdejeterparminousle troubleetla discorde?De quel droit
et attaquerle fanatisme
troubler
la libertedes cultes,au nomde la liberte,
viendraient-ils
nouveau!De quel droitferaient-ils
degenererles hommagessolennels
par un fanatisme
et ridicules!Pourquoileurpermettrait-on
rendusa la veritepureen des farceseternelles
les grelotsde la folieau sceptre
de se jouer ainside la dignitedu peuple,et d'attacher
memede la philosophie?
[Bywhatrightdid menwhotillnowhad countedfornothingin thecourseof theRevointofalsemeasures,and
lutionlookaboutforwaystouse theseeventstolureevenpatriots
sow confusionand discordin our ranks?By whatrightdid theythreatenfreedomof
withfanaticism
ofa newkind!What
and battlefanaticism
worshipin thenameofliberty,
thesolemnhomagepaid toTruthin itspurityand makeit
gavethemtherightto pervert
an everlasting
Whyweretheyallowedtodallythuswiththepeople'sdignity,
laughingstock!
and tiejester'sbellsontotheveryscepterofphilosophy?]45

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says Robespierre. Even thatargumentwas not enough to


Atheismis aristocratic,
put an end to de-Christianizationstraightaway.Stillless to the cult of Marat. As
late as 25 floreal(14 May 1794, two monthsor so before Robespierre'sfall) the
section Marat can be found askingthe Committeesof Public Safetyand General
Security'spermission to march through Paris in honor of its patron, drums
playing,choirssinging,threeof itsdaughtersdressed as Liberty,Equality,Fraternity.The committeesdid not like the idea verymuch. "Ils sont loin de regarder
ce projet comme digne d'un si grand objet et propre a la remplird'une mani&re
satisfaisante.Ils regardentl'id&edes troisdivinitesrepresent~espar troisfemmes
comme contrairesaux principesque le peuple fran~aisvient de proclamer par
et a toutes
l'organe de la Convention[thatis, Robespierre'sCultede l'EtreSupre^me]
les notions du bon sens." An order banning the procession was issued on 3
prairial.46A monthor so beforea police spyhad picked up thewhisper:"Si Marat
existaitencore en ce moment,il eu'tet inculpe et peut-etreguillotine.
19. But this is to leap ahead of events. For the purpose of understanding
David's picture,what mattersis August and September,and the relationof the
Jacobins in those monthsto the popular movementtheyhad helped bring into
being. Outrightsuppressionof the cult of Marat-and of many other demands
and images dear to the militantsand the menupeuple-was not possible, and
doubtlessnot wanted (yet)byRobespierreand Co. They thoughttheycould ride
the whirlwind.And partof the ridingwould be to take the demands and images,
even those(particularlythose)mostopen to day-to-daypoliticaldeformation,and
for example,
give themJacobin form.If thatcould be done withthe maximum,
then certainlyit could be done withMarat. For Marat was theirs,essentially.He
needed onlybe rid of the veilsand shadows cast on him by the Revolution'senemies. "Redonne-nous Marat tout entier,"as Audouin put it to David in the
Convention.48

20. I thinkthatAudouin and David would have understood thatrequest on


one level quite literally.We know thatDavid had originallyplanned, in the days
followingMarat's assassination,to stage a kind of tableau vivantusing Marat's
embalmed body,showinghimin theattitudestruckat the momentof death. What
had stood in the wayof thatwas the body.It was not entirein the firstplace.
La veillede la mortde Marat,la Societedes Jacobinsnous envoya,Maureet moi,nous
informer
de ses nouvelles.Je le trouvaidans une attitudequi me frappa.I1avaitaupres
de lui un billoten boissurlequeletaientplacesde lencreet du papier,et sa main,sortie
sesdernierespenseespourle salutdu peuple.Hier,le chirurgien
de la baignoire,
ecrivait
aux
qui a embaumesoncorpsm'aenvoyedemanderde quellemanierenousl'exposerions
des Cordeliers.
On ne peutpointdecouvrir
quelquesparregardsdu peupledans1'eglise
Maisj'ai
tiesde son corps,carvoussavezqu'ilavaitune lepreet que son sangetaitbrul1e.
in theYearTwo
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33

de l'offrir
dans l'attitude
oiije l'ai trouv6,"6crivant
pens6qu'il seraitinteressant
pour le
bonheurdu peuple."
{thisis David
[On theeveningofMarat'sdeath,theJacobinSocietysentMaureand myself
in the Conventionon 15 July}to gatherfreshinformation.
I foundhimin an attitude
medeeply.He had a blockofwoodhardbyhim,on whichwereplacedpaper
whichstruck
waswriting
hislastthoughts
forthe
and ink,and hishand,emergingfromthebathtub,
thesurgeonwhoembalmedhiscorpsesenttoaskme how
ofthepeople.Yesterday,
safety
we shoulddisplayitto thepeoplein thechurchoftheCordeliers.Somepartsofhisbody
fromleprosyand hisbloodwasinflamed.
couldnotbe found,foryouknowhe suffered
ButI thought
itwouldbe interesting
toofferhimintheattitude
I foundhim,"writing
for
thehappinessofthepeople."]49
I get the feelingthatthe embalmerwas already tryingto talk David down from
his firstidea of a scene straightout of the morgue; but David was nothingif not
stubborn(as well as impressionable),and it was not tillthe next day,aftera conof Theatre-Frantais,thathe admitteddefeat. "II a
sultationwiththe sectionnaires
ete arrete que son corps serait expose couvertd'un drap mouille qui representeraitla baignoire et qui, arrose de temps en temps, empecherait l'effetde la
putrefaction."50

Surelyone main thingthe pictureof Marat was meant to do was make up for
the disappointmentinJuly.It would restorewhat had been missing.It would be
imperishable.Instead of metonymyit would presentthe thingitself,the body in
the bath,writing-the thoughtis enunciated twice- "ses dernierespensees pour
le salut du peuple."
21. We shall not get the measure of David's ambitionfor his Marat, in other
words,unless we understandthedepth of hiscommitmentto literalnessand completenessin painting.He is stillfullof the idea in his presentationspeech, on 24
brumaire."Le peuple redemandoitson ami, sa voix desolee se faisaitentendre,il
provoquoitmon art,il voulaitrevoirles traitsde son ami fid&le.... J'ai entendu
la voix du peuple,j'ai obei.'
Part of the insistencehere has to do withthe fiction,whichclearlyis central
to David's whole proceeding,thatthisis the People's image-asked forby them,
addressed to them,of one of theirnumber."II est mort,votreami, en vous donnant son dernier morceau de pain; il est mort,sans meme avoir de quoi se faire
enterrer."Pictures, in the People's eyes, are miracles, where what everyone
thoughtwas lost, or maybejust subject to time and fevers,comes back forever
into the world. "Approchez! et contempler. . ."
It would take us too far fromour subject to discuss how much thisview of
painting'spowers divergesfromDavid's own. Obviously David is a bookish and
elaborate painter,sometimesplayfulin a lugubrioussortof way.But I should say
thateven at his most grandlydiscursive-in the Intervention
oftheSabineWomen,

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FIGURE

6. Jacques-Louis David, Les Sabines,1799. Oil on


canvas. Musee du Louvre. Photo: Giraudon/Art
Resource.

say (fig.6)-what is mostdistinctiveabout his artis the discursivenessbeing combined withsuch an all-or-nothing
sense of the Real. The greatbodies lumberinto
narrativeand symbolicposition,finally,but as it were in spite of the weightof
theirillusionisticarmor. It is thisdouble-sidednessof David's pictorialimagination all through-the effortto signifyso often at odds with the passion for
embodiment-that is the clue to his work'sinimitablepathos.
But in any case I thinkthatin 1793 the idea of complete and concrete rendering in art was subtended, in his case, by a specificpoliticsof transparency.
Virtue was what stood up to the lightof day. Vice-the veryexistenceof which
explained why the Revolution,of all things,met with resistance-sought the
shadows. All the Revolutionaryneeded to do was lifthigh Diogenes' lamp. "C'est
en vain que vous vous enveloppez des tenebres;je porteraila lumiere dans les
replis les plus caches de votrecoeur,je decouvrirailes ressortssecretsqui vous
fontmouvoir,etj'imprimeraisur vos frontsle caracterehideux des passions qui
vous agitent":thisis David fightingforhis lifein May 1794, in a public indictment
of his accusers addressed to the Museum section.52I doubt thereis a sentencein
his writingswhichbringsus closer to the heartof his aesthestics.

in theYearTwo
Painting

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35

22. "Approchez!et contempler. . ." One oratorat Marat'sfuneralinJulyhad


Marat in turn opening his eyes and returningthe People's gaze. "Homme cheri
des patriotes... ouvre encore les yeux a la lumiere et vois le souverain qui t'entoure."53I am reminded of the passage in WalterBenjamin where the characteristicof the work of art in the age before mechanical reproductionis said to be
thatitlookedbackat itsspectators.Of course thisillusion"restson thetransposition
of a response common in human relationshipsto the relationshipbetween the
inanimateor natural object and man."54It was a qualityof the work of art imagined by itsusers. Art as a practicestillbore the marksof itsbeginningsin magic.
Maybe it is true that in the end these kinds of cultic investmentsin the art
object were (or willbe) destroyed,as Benjamin has it,by "the desire of contemporarymasses to bringthingscloser spatiallyand humanly,whichisjust as fierce
as theirwish to overcome the uniqueness of everyrealityby acceptingits reproduction."55Spatial and human closeness is insisted on with unique passion in
David's painting.And thatfactis bound up, no doubt, withthe fictionof address
to "contemporarymasses." But nothingI have found suggests that this undermined the work'smagical address-its abilityto look back-to those who saw it in
Year 2. If anythingit reinforcedit. Art'shaving to imagine that it was done for
the People (Soboul's "L'artn'etaitplus reservee'a une minoriteprivilegiee")leads,
to a reinventionof itscultvalue-all the more urgentbecause the
at least initially,
stakeswere once again seen to be high. Art had come out (been dragged out) of
the Palais du Fontainebleau. That did not mean it was ready to understand its
place in the disenchantmentof theworld.The whole historyof modernismcould
be writtenin termsof itscoming,painfully,to such an understanding.
"Closeness,"in the case of the Marat, is a specificformof what I have been
calling contingency.Another modernistword for it is "immediacy."And one
thingthe pictureof Marat demonstratesis thatdwellingon these qualities does
not necessarilymean that the work of art exits from the realm of magic. Any
quality,however earthbound, is ripe for artistictransfiguration.In late Monet,
art,conimmediacytakeson metaphysicaldepth. In mostearlytwentieth-century
tingencyis fetishizedas accident or arbitrariness,and invested with sinister
glamor.Modernism,as I say,is alwayspart rear-guardaction againstthe truthsit
has stumbledon.

23. David's picturewas done in two-and-a-halfmonths,in the timeleftover


froma politicalcareer.56I do not thinkit helps to call the picture"unfinished,"
for reasons I shall explain, but obviouslyit was done at speed, and is full of the
signs of a master technicianeconomizing on means. A lot of Marat's body is
worked straightout of the initialunderpaintingwith a minimumof fuss. The
hand that holds the quill pen, for example; most of the forearmabove it; the
chest and the neck. Sometimes,looking at the picture,one even hankers aftera
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bit more definition.The fingersand knucklesof the writinghand can strikeone


as perfunctory.(But maybe the perfunctorinessis a way to suggest the fingers'
at the momentof death. The
lettingthe pen go, or hangingonto itautomatically,
same kind of "maybe"applies to Marat'sknifewound. The factthatit adheres so
to hischest-its "comingcloser,spatially"-seems to tallywiththeway
imperfectly
more and more features of the painting are pulled forward onto the picture
plane, liningup nextto it or echoing itsorientation.That is the painting'sway of
focusingand separatingits main objects,opening them to contemplation.)Even
where the body emerges fromshadow and is worked into somethingmore definite-in the face, above all-it is less and less clear,the closer one looks, how the
definitenesswas done. The eyes especially are a bafflingimprovisation,with
underdrawingand ground both recruitedto the surface in the search for the
finaleffect-of skin puffyand fragile,like a half-healedsore, dryand yetsoftto
the touch. (Marat'sgeneral ragingskindisease, whichapparentlywould have put
paid to him in a matterof monthseven if CharlotteCorday had not intervened,
is condensed and displaced onto thisone feature;and thereforemade easier to
look at. Though maybe the overall range of color that David used for Marat's
skin-a grimywhite,incandescentgreysand browns,a hint of green, even-is
anotherwayof intimatingthe same condition.)
None of thisadds up to unfinish,in myview.(For the timebeing let us leave
aside the picture'semptyupper half.) But the kind of finishthe paintinghasthe hardness and clarityitinsistson forthe thingsthatmatter-was clearlyoften
pulled offat the lastminute.A greatdeal of chopping and changingwenton, for
instance,in and around the top edge of Marat'sleftforearm-the one restingon
the improviseddesktop-and the space just above it. It is the picture'scrucial
(polarized) oppositionof lightand dark. Contour and color were subjectto what
There are dabs of a separate dark
look likelateralterations,maybeafterthoughts.
brown,close to the color of the emptybackgroundbut quite distinctfromit,put
in along the line of the forearmso as to cancel a previouscontour,whichtimehas
made visibleagain.
I am not sayingthese are great risksor unusual displays.Fixing a picture's
light-darkfulcrum,forinstance,is oftendone when workis almostover,when its
place in the balance of colors can be seen for real. I just want it establishedthat
talkingof sharpness and severityin the Marat-Jacobin qualities, which David
worked hard to achieve-is not the same as pointingto clarity,stillless straightforwardness,in technique.

24. "Redonne-nous Marat tout entier."Naturallythere were other painters


in Year 2 besides David who responded to thatrequest.And ifwe compare David's
paintingwithits most remarkablerival,by a Toulousain named Joseph Roques
(fig.7)-it is safe to assume thatRoques's paintingderived fromDavid's, but his
Paintingin theYearTwo

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37

treatmentof the subjectis decisivelydifferent-thenat least we shall get a clearer


idea of what David took the requestnotto mean.
Roques, we could say,took Audouin's wordsat face value. Offeringthe body
entire, for him, meant givingit a fair amount of space to occupy. It involved
puttingthe viewerback a certaindistance fromthe bath and the orange boxes,
having the pavementrake upward in readable perspective,and having the bath
be seen froma highenough vantagepointforbothitssides,and theblood-stained
water,to be clearlyvisible. (It is not that such thingsare simplyabsent in the
David, but informationabout them is kept to a minimum.)Of course decorum,
and maybeverisimilitude,
decreed thatmuch of a male body in a bath was going
to be hidden. But what there is of it on show-almost exactlyas much as in the
David-is as true to death as a Tussaud's waxwork.The chest and ribcage catch
the light,and the blood fromthe wound looks onlyhalfclotted.Marat is all skin
and bones. His fleshis an oilygrey.Over thecollarboneit seems stretchedalmost
to bursting.Mouth and jaw are setin somethingtoo much like rigormortis.Black
hair fallsout of the turban.The chesthas a nipple. Fingersare bony and prehensile. In a word, thisbody belongs (too much) to a possible world. It is too much

FIGURE 7.

38

Joseph Roques, La MortdeMarat,1793. Oil


Musl e des Augustins,Toulouse.
on canvas.
Photo: Giraudon/ArtResource.

REPRESENTATIONS

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undressed as opposed to naked. The cloak on the wall behind and the hat on the
back of the chair-a swankJacobinhat,withtricolorsash and feathers-are just
the last straw.Even withoutthem Marat would have had too much the look of a
characterfromhistory.
None of this,as faras I can tell,is the resultof reservationson Roques's part
about Marat and the Revolution. His paintingwas presented to the Club des
Desbarreaux.57
Jacobins in Toulouse on 16 prairial,a giftfromthe commissaire
Hard to imagine a more orthodox pedigree. But all the same the featuresI have
been pointingto do put the subjectat risk,I think.They missthe pointof David's
elisions.

25. In David's painting,by contrast,Marat'sbody is maneuvered into a state


This is not to say thatthe arms and torso,whichare what we
of insubstantiality.
to read. But theydo not elicitthe
mainlysee, are hidden or even made difficult
kind of scrutiny-repelled, but for that very reason fascinated-that we find
ourselves givingthe corpse in Roques. They do not detain the eye in the same
way.This is partlybecause so much of the body in David is kept in shadow, and
one which in David's treatmentof it seems to make Marat much the same substance-the same abstractmaterial-as the emptyspace above him. The wound
is as abstract as the flesh. And the blood coming out of it as impalpable as
thread. (Of course the economy here is chilling.)Even these signs of violence
would be enough to call the body back to itsdeath throes,had itsarms and head
not fallen into such a strict,almost mathematicalorder. Never have horizontals
and verticalsbeen so settled.The laws of gravityhave spoken once and for all.
So thatwhatevermighthave been obtrusiveand particularabout the body-all
the untidyspecificsof its martyrdom,all Roques's dishevelment-is quietly set
aside. A face put at ninetydegrees to its normal orientation,and perfectly
frontal,by that factalone existsat an infinitedistance fromthe world we know,
where faces returnour gaze. We do not look to it for emotions we can recognize. The face is furtherestranged by being miniaturizedby the turban. (And
why a turban anyway?)Miniaturized,and robbed of the normal signs of masculinity.Fragile as an eggshell, but of course invulnerable. How touching the
wisps of hair on the forehead! How heavy the eyelids and delicate the mouth!
How accidental your kindestkiss.
Saint-Justblurts out a fear at one point in his Espritde la Revolution,lest
"958Bu
"nos enfantsrougirontpeut-etredes tableaux effeminesde leurs peres. But
he agrees that "l'homme revolutionnaireest intraitableaux mechants, mais il
est sensible.... Marat etait doux dans son menage, il n'epouvantait que les
The qualities here are hard to balance. Saint-Just'sspeech is partly
traitres."59
about that. But I cannot help feelinghe would have thoughtthe composure of
David's revolutionarywas bought at the cost of too much gender uncertainty.
Paintingin theYearTwo

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39

26. I remembertalkingon one occasion about the Marat,and someone saying


when I finishedthat I had gone on at length about everythingin the picture
except Marat himself-his dead body,his physicalpresence. It struckme at the
timeas a trueobservation,and somewhatcrushing;and itwas onlylaterI realized
thatwhat I had leftout, the picturein a sense leftout too. The body is not there
in the Marat in the same way as the other main objectswhichDavid has gone to
such pains to make real. It is leftas a generality;a kind of scaffoldingon which
otherparticulars-attributes,writings,instrumentsof the passion-are hung. Or
a machine to hold and displaythem.If it holds themproperlytheywillbringthe
machine back to life.
27. Three timesin his presentationspeech to the ConventionDavid returned
to the idea thatwhat he had done in his picturewas make Marat's features-his
traits-visibleagain. "Le peuple redemandoit son ami.... I1 voulait revoir les
traitsde son ami fidele ..." "Que ses ennemisvaincus palissentencore en voyant
ses traitsdefigures. .." "Vos regards, en parcourant les traitslivides et ensanglantesde Marat,vous rappellerontses vertus. . ." ObviouslyI am not sayingthat
are simplyconjured out of sightin the pictureitself.But
blood and disfigurement
I do thinktheyare overshadowedbythe playof othersignswhichcatch the light
more strongly,or reach forwardinto our physicaland conceptual space. And
given the depth of David's commitmentto an aestheticsof bodilyrevelation,this
should strikeus as a problem. "C'est en vain que vous vous l'enveloppez des
tenebres;je porteraila lumieredans les replisles plus caches de votrecoeur."
It is not thatI now intendto turnDavid's recommended procedure on him.
God forbid.But I do wantto knowwhatitwas in Marat thatcould not be written
on or withthe body,howevermuch David may have wanted to do so (may have
believed he was doing), but had to be given us literallyto read.
28. On one level the answer is easy. It is implicitin the materialI have presented so far about Marat's place in politicsin Year 2. Marat could not be made
to embodythe Revolutionbecause no one agreed about whatthe Revolutionwas,
and least of all about whetherMarat was itsJesusor itsLucifer.David's picturethisis what makes it inaugural of modernism-tries to ingestthisdisagreement,
and make it part of a new cult object. David is explicitabout thisin his presentationspeech. He knowshe is makingan image of Maratagainstmany(maybemost)
otherimages of Marat thatare in circulation.The pictureis addressed, somehow
over the heads of thatcurrentimagery,to Posterityor Humanity."Posterite,tu le
vengeras.... Humanite, tu diras 'a ceux qui l'appeloient buveur de sang, que
jamais ton enfantcheri,que jamais Marat, ne t'a faitverser des larmes." But of
course the tears and the accusation are there in the sentence that denies them.
And David is fullyaware of that,and the special pressure it puts on picturing.
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"Toi meme, je t'evoque, execrable calomnie . . ."; one can almost hear David
gasping at his own (necessary) daring. For how on earth will it be possible to
secure an image of Marat'ssaintlinessifone has to findformforthe demonization
of Marat at the same time,in the same canvas, and actuallyshow the deadlock of
truthand lie as constitutiveof Virtue?
This is what I meantbefore bytalkingof contingencyenteringthe image, or
of paintingbeing forcedto include the accident and tendentiousnessof politics
in itspictureof the world-notjust in the thingsit shows,but in itsconceptionof
what "showing"now is. The carrierof truthand lie in David's picture,needless
to say,is writing.Isn't it always?But writinginfectsthe picture'swhole economy
of illusion.That is whatis new. Its proceduresovertakethose partsof the picture
that are, or ought to be, unwrittenand objective,empty,factual,unoccupied,
material,merelyand fullypresent-all of those words we have forthe partsof a
world where words are supposed not to be. It swallows up the figurativein
general.
29. Item one, Charlotte Corday's letter.Writtenin a brave, square, superlegible hand. Two pages long. Well lit.The firstthingwe look at in detail.
"du 13 juillet, 1793." it says. (The Revolutionarycalendar only started in
October.) "Marie anne Charlotte/Corday au citoyen/Marat."Addresser and
addressee. The basic components,or circumstances,of the speech act. Then a
bold line before the letterproper begins. The kind compositorscall a dagger. "il
suffitque je sois/bien Malheureuse [capital M] /pour avoir Droit [even more
formalcapitalD] /a votrebienveillance."
Of course the letter,quite apart fromits contents,is a tour de force of illusionism,calling to mind the scrap-of-papersignaturesin Bellini or Zurbaran.
Page two,just visible,is purestpathos,of the kind still-lifepaintingspecializes in.
The shadow thatfallson the green baize coveris exquisite.Even the blood is like
like
pollen or smoke. A gray,almost green, thumbnailholds onto bienveillance
grim death. The paper cracklesunder its pressure. I know of few momentsin
paintingthatso insiston the strangethingthatwritingis-childlike, formal,perfidious,entrancing.Marat'snot lettinggo of it even in death seems the keyto his
vulnerability.
The phrases in the lettercome, so contemporariestell us, fromone found
on Charlotte Corday after her arrest. She had thought the better of using it
to gain access to Marat, and instead wrote another offeringto name counterrevolutionariesin her nativecity,Caen. That was guaranteed to do the trick.One
sees whyDavid preferredthe alternative.
30. "il suffitqueje sois bien Malheureuse." The pictureturnson a statement
thatis true,propositionally-the pictureas a whole is out to show its truth-but
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41

thatis of course duplicitousin intent,considered as a performative.It is hard to


know how close a reader David expected his viewerto be. Someone less trusting
than Marat in 1793 mighthave been put on his guard by the factof Charlotte
Corday's using votreto address a singularcitoyen-justat the momentwhen such
matterswere on Revolutionaries'minds."Si vousconvient'aMonsieur,toiconvient
deParisin October 1792. "Le tuest le langage de
to quote the Chronique
'a Citoyen,"
la verite,et le vousle langage du compliment."60
I am not sure. Again, the problemis thatsensitivities
of thiskind changed so
fastin the course of 1793 thatit is unclear ifDavid would have thoughthe could
play upon them. Certainlyby the time he was finishingthe Marat, the parts of
speech were thoroughlypoliticized.On 10 brumairea deputationfromthesocietes
to be writteninto law.
populairescame beforethe Conventionto ask fortutozement
And the Conventionagreed. Tu was henceforththe officialformof the French
language: the Committeesof Public Safetyand General Securitywere to use it in
theiractsand correspondence.6'There was even a move some weeks laterto have
made a thingof the past. The Cite-Varietestheatercashed
spoken vousvoyement
in on the issue of the momentwitha play entitledLe Vouset le Toi.The The'atre
National followedup in frimairewithone called La Plus Parfaite
Egalite;ou,Le Tu
etle Toi.62
was a sans-culotteidea. Presumably
But the case is complicated. Tutoiement
the Convention's accepting it on 10 brumaire was part of its general "giving
ground but retainingcontrolover events."Robespierreneverseems to have used
the second-person singular fromthe rostrum.Thuriot put paid to the idea of
alteringspoken parlance witha sentenceor twowhose loftysarcasm seems to me
typicalofJacobinism-thatis,ofJacobinism'sother(mostoftenhidden) side. "On
sait bien que le vous est absurde, que c'estune fautecontrela langue de parler 'a
une personne comme on parlerait'a deux, 'a plusieurs,mais aussi n'est-ilpas contraire'a la libertede prescrireaux citoyensla manieredont ils doivents'exprimer?
Ce n'estpas un crimede parler mal le fran~ais."63

31. We shall probablyneverknowhow deeply ingrainedin Corday'sgrammar


untruthwas meant to be. But forsure her letterestablishesTruthand falsehood
as what the pictureis mainlyabout. That is why the letterhas to be so visually
spellbinding.Once we are drawnto it,we are expected to look forwhereand how
falsehood is visible.Corday's words are all true. It is what is in them,or behind
them,thathas to be rooted out. What maybe hidingin the shadow. If you do not
root it out soon enough you die. These are the tropes of the Convention in the
summer,repeated ad nauseam in debate afterdebate. They are what eventually
made Terror the order of the day.
The paradox of the revolutionarysituation,as Furethas reminded us, is that
the obsession withlyingand hiding exactlydid notlead to a distrustof language

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in general, or even to a sense of its practicallimits.The worse one's opponents'


linguisticperfidy,the more certainone became thatLanguage, once rid of their
attentions,mightstillbe the locus of Good. Discourse sweptthe warringfactions
on. No one dreamtof a momentoutside it.
Marat isjust as much a writeras CharlotteCorday. He stillhas his pen in his
hand. Anotherpen is ready when thatone wears out. His leftforearmrestson a
pile of paper. And there,if we look, are his last words, put at the point in the
picturewhere "closeness"becomes positivecross-overfromthe space of illusion
to the space of the Real-on top of the orange box, perched unstablyon its forward edge, reaching out beyond the box's weather-beatenface (which already
seems, by the looks of its lower reaches, hard up against the pictureplane), and
castinga shadow upon it.
This letteris also legible,but onlyjust. The eye has to strainfor a reading,
and at a diagmainlybecause the whole thingis offeredin acute foreshortening,
onal, but also because it seems to have been scratchedout in a hurry,withnone
of Corday's deliberation.This time the reader does not begin at the beginning,
and cannot be sure who is addressingwhom. The top halfof the letter,long and
thin,is hidden by another scrap of paper, and we pick up what is writtenon it
seeminglyin mid-flow-maybe not even at the start of a sentence. The first
word-one hopes this time it is genuinely plural-is vous. "vous Donnera [or
maybe'vous Donnerez,' whichwould be grammaticallysimpler,even if the form
of the word's finalletterdoes not reallyfitthe case; the capital D, by the way,is
touchinglyclumsycompared to Corday's]cet/assignat'a cette/mere de 5 enfans/
et dont le mari est [here thingsstartto get difficult:the handwritinggets more
as ifthe ink were runningout, and the paper begins to curl slightly
perfunctory,
upwards]/parti[or is it 'mort'?] . . . pour la deffense. .. ['pour la deffense'of
what, precisely?. . . 'de la patrie,'maybe? . . . 'de la France'?]." Is there a final
phrase at all? Of course there looks to be something;but it is so scrappy and
vestigial,an extrafewwordswhere therereallyis no room leftforanything,that
the reader continuallydouble-takes,as if reluctantto accept that writing,of all
things,can decline to thisstateof uttervisualelusiveness.Surelyif I look againlook hard enough-the truthwill out. For spatially,thisis the picture'sstarting
point. It is closeness incarnate.No reader or vieweris ever quite going to accept
thatit is also the pointwhere eyesightfails.

32. No reader, and come to that not many painters. When David had his
studio do a second versionof the Marat sometimeover the winter-we know it
was done under David's supervision,and presumablywas meant to be an exact
replica-what got tidied up was exactly this petering out of Marat's writing.
Everythingon the piece of paper was opened just a littlemore to the viewer,
partlybecause the paper was allowed to droop down a triflelower fromthe lip
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43

of the orange box. In particular,the last three words, de la patrie,are this time
clear as day.
33. Who can blame thepoor copyist?Somethingabout the factof the picture's
is deeply counterintuitive.
most salientpoint being also its momentof illegibility
Especiallyin a pictureso spare and sharplyfocused.And when so much depends
on the contrastof texts.So thatwe wantthe contrastto be cut and dried. We want
to be literalreaders. But here,wherethe pictureoffersus the figureof "grasping"
as theveryformof readingand understanding-grasping the text,and therefore
surelythe meaning too?-writing and illusionismsuddenly turn on each other
likea Moebius strip.Reading becomes
viewing;but thatkindof viewing(thatdeterminanthuman activity)in whichwhat we see is alwaysalready lost (but whydo
we say"lost"?)in whatwe know.MaybeDavid himselfcame not to appreciate what
he had done here. Why set up a systemof writingat all, if not to tie down what
Marat must have meant? Is not that what writing(as opposed to picturing)is
supposed to do? I can imaginehim a monthor so later,back in his role as teacher
and administrator,tellingWicar or Serangeli to give the viewerpatrieafterall.64
34. As for Roques, what gets leftout of his versionof David (as opposed to
put in) is preciselywriting.Corday'slettertakes the place of Marat'son the front
edge of the orange box. Only now thatfrontedge has been set back safelyin the
space of illusion. Roques certainlyexpects his viewers to thrillto the letteras
illusionism.A fewdrops of bathwaterhave spilledon itfromMarat'shand. Light
is reflectedoffthem.Their transparencyis marvelouslydone. Only the firstword
of the letter,Citoyen
naturally,is legible. It is upside down. The rest is done in a
confidentgeneralizationof how handwritinglooks.
This is a paintingofwriting,in otherwords,as opposed to the painted writing
thatstructuresthe David. That is to say,itknowsitsown technical,visual distance
fromthe sign language it portrays.Whereas the point of David's manipulations,
as I see them,is thattheyenact the lack-or loss-ofjust such distance. "Painted
writing"becomes the figureof the picture'swhole take on the world. There is a
momentat whichthe descriptions"painted writing"and "writtenpainting"seem
largelyinterchangeable,and both appropriateto everythingwe see. The boundaries between the discursiveand the visual are givingway,under some pressure
the paintercannot quite put his fingeron, though he getsclose. Large questions
occur, about seeing and understandingin general. Modernist questions. Is it
(ever) possible to saywhatwe are lookingat, or see whatwe are saying?Are there
parts of a world to whichthejudgments "true"or "false"-linguistic judgments,
on the face of it-are not applicable? Do bodies (ever) do anythingbesideswrite,
or hold up writingsaftertheyare dead? And so on. We shall find questions of
thiskind recurringall throughthe followingtwocenturies,regularlygeneralized
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FIGURE 8. Giorgio de
Chirico,Politics,1916.
Oil on canvas. Private
collection.Reproduced
fromJames Thrall Soby,
TheEarlyChirico(New
York, 1941), plate 57.

by an ominous "ever."I thinkof Lissitzkybroodingon the wordsRosa Luxemburg


in 1920. Or Malevichmakinga sketchfora pictureconsistingof nothingbut the
words A purseis snatchedon a tram.Or De Chirico'sPoliticsof 1916 (fig. 8). The
"ever,"we shall see, is whatgivesmodernismitsflavorof madness.
35. Let me go back to Marat'sand Corday'sletters,and the contrastintended
between them. Marat'sletterwas presumablydashed offto accompany the piece
of paper money that holds it in place, and its purpose is clear. It describes,or
recommends, the unfortunatewidow to whom the assignatshould be given.
(Could the widoweven be CharlotteCorday,in her guise as malheureuse?)
Both letters,that is, pose the problem of politicsand the People in 1793 in
Marat'sbeing a friendof the People is mostvividlya matter
termsof bienveillance.
of self-sacrifice.
Bare room, orange box desk, acts of charity."II est mort,votre
ami, en vous donnant son derniermorceau de pain." This is part of what I see as
David's strictJacobin constructionof Marat, and it gives us a clue to what the
Jacobins conceived popular politics to consist of-what its proper discursive
formswere,who were the actorsand who the acted upon. When David had originallypromised to show Marat as he had found him,"6crivantses dernierespensees pour le salut du peuple," he could not have knownthatthose thoughts-or
at least the last published version of them, in Le Publicisteon 14 July-was an
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attack on no less than the Committeeof Public Safety.A double edit, then: of
Corday's promise to swell the list of Suspects, and Marat's inveighingagainst
"quelques intrigantsdu comit6de salut public queje dimasqueraibient6t."65
36. This, ifyou like,is the picture'sideologicalground bass. I have been suggestingthat the testof Marat's writingbeing truthful-trulybenevolent-is its
its being offeredto us as a thingamong things.I have
closeness and illegibility,
tried to show thatthe offerdoubles back on itselfin perplexingways. In that,I
think,the pictureenacts the contingencyof claimsto Truthand falsehood at the
momentit was made. This is its modernism,so to speak. But we get the picture
utterlywrong if we see it as accepting,let alone revelingin, these kinds of selfdoubt. They are doubts foistedon itbytheveryurgencyof itseffortto guarantee
Truth, to show it inheringin the world. Marat's letter,the picture wants us to
believe,is not writingat all-not like CharlotteCorday's patientestablishmentof
everygrammaticalcoordinate-but a piece of theReal whichhappens to be readable. And for thatreason incompletely.We shall never be sure who sayswhat to
whom. The letteris an act. It begins in midsentence,so thatwe do not know-or

FIGURE 9. Caravaggio,
SaintMatthewand the
Angel,1602. Oil on canvas.
San Luigi dei Francesci,
Rome. Photo: Alinari/Art
Resource.

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FIGURE 10.

1763.
J.S. Chardin,Raisinsetgrenades,

Oil on canvas. Musee du Louvre.


Photo: Agence photographiquede la
Reunion de musees nationaux,Paris.

need to know-whether its firstvousis subjector object of the verb thatfollows.


The sentence'svoice is unfixed:in a sense it is hardlyMarat'sat all: it is the voice
of benevolence,the genuinelypluralvoice of collectiveconcernsand loyalties.Or
so the illusiontriesto persuade us.
37. Someone mightobject at thispointthatI have made out Marat'sletterto
be a more unusual object in the historyof paintingthan in factit is. For Western
art since the Renaissance is full of such paradoxical moments,when an object
seeminglyescapes fromthe picturespace to become partof ours. Sometimesthe
offeris made witha flourish,liketheleg of thestoolin Caravaggio'sSaintMatthew,
as if to confirmthe whole picture'sbeing largerand more unstablethan life(fig.
9). Sometimesitis quiet. A knifeor a clusterof grapes in a Chardin stilllifepokes
out over the forwardedge of the shelfon whichobjects rest (fig. 10). Again the
frontface of the shelfseems pressed rightup to the pictureplane. The painter's
abilityto setup a situationwhereobjectscome forwardeven beyond thatnotional
boundaryis meant,I takeit,to lead us to thinkabout thespecialnessof illusionism
in general.
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The last thingI am sayingis thatMarat'sletteris whollyunlike these precedents, any more than CharlotteCorday's letteris whollyunlike Bellini and Zurbaran. But I do want to speak to the way it ultimatelydiffers.In Chardin and
Caravaggio, as I see it, the picture sets up a series of transitions,from lightto
dark, from vegetable to mineral, from animate to inanimate, from focused to
generalized,whichis meant to reconcilethe final,incidentalexcess of realitywith
the painting'soverallview of things.I thinkthatthe opposite happens in David.
The excess of reality,and the fact of the excess's being writing,are only the
strongestsignsof a general uncertaintyabout whatpicturingnow is.

38. Consider,above all, theweirddisparitythatexistsin the paintingbetween


itsinsistenceon matterand itstreatmentof wherematteris not. Of course Marat's
letter partlypossesses the force it does because it is one among a panoply of
objects: the pens and the inkwell,the patched sheet,the bone-handled knife,the
bath, the orange box. The picture goes in for Marat's things,as we know his
devoteesdid in general. It insistson thespecificformsmattertookin thisinstance.
And yetthe single most extraordinaryfeatureof the picture,I should say,is its
whole upper half's being empty.Or rather(here is what is unprecedented) not
being empty,exactly,not being a satisfactoryrepresentation of nothing or
nothing much-of an absence in which whatever the subject is has become
present-but somethingmore like a representationof painting,of painting as
pure activity.Paintingas material,therefore.Aimless.Ultimatelydetached from
any one representationaltask. Bodily. Generating (monotonous) orders out of
itself,or maybeout of ingrainedhabit.A kind of automaticwriting.
This is one of those points-more and more of them will occur as the book
on modernism proceeds-where perception and interpretationof a painting
to put into words. Difficult
turnson a set of featureswhichit is speciallydifficult
is
but
because
the
the
effect
subtletyis of a kind that is
notjust because
subtle,
meant to leave it open to doubt whetherwhat we are looking at is an "effect"at
all. Much less an effectthatputs the mechanicsof picturingat risk.It is open to
the viewer,thatis to say,to see the upper halfof the Marat as satisfactorily
empty,
of the painter'spersonal handor sufficiently
likea wall. And equally,thevisibility
writinghere can be broughtunder a whole setof comfortable(normalizing)technical descriptions.What we see is "scumbling."It is a kind of brilliant-maybe
here understated-unfinish,withwhich the betterclass of viewersin the eighteenthcenturywould be perfectlyat home.
I am being a bit dismissivein my presentationof these alternativesbecause
in the end I thinktheyavoid the visual issue. They offerways not to look (of
whichart historyis alwaysprodigal). But I am not sayingthattheysimplyare not
alternatives.And the best I can do to persuade otherreaders to take myreadings
seriouslyisjust to go on insistingon the failureof language-other people's lan48

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guage, thatis, normativeand normalizingdescriptionsof these featuresas part


of a world of objects and/or techniques-to come to terms with what we are
looking at. Look at the "scumbled"wall, I say,as it occurs in rough proximityto
the triumphof objecthood in CharlotteCorday'sletter.Look at the distancetraveled, in termsof the kind of attentioninvitedto the business of illusion-making,
betweenthe grain on the surfaceclosestto us-the face of the orange box-and
thaton the surfacefarthestaway.And is "surface"the rightword here? Is not the
verymetaphoricsof distanceon whichmysentencepivots-of distancestraveled,
between frontand back, near and far,arm's length and stone's throw-itself a
way of evading the upper half's placelessness?Its not being anywhereand not
being made of anything.So that"grain"foritstextureis about as faroffbeam as
"farthestaway" foritsoccupation of space.
All I am doing, I realize, is inventingdifferentwaysof saying,"Trustme, the
visual is a farweirderthingthan language (and looking withlanguage) willever
know."This is a topos of modernistcriticism.Sometimesone thinksit is about all
modernistwritingon thevisualartshas to say.And itstone is regularlymystagogic
or worse.Latelyithas come in fora lotof meritedmethodologicalflak.Therefore
I do not like doing it. I knowthe bad companyI am keeping. I do it (and shall do
itagain in what follows)because it seems to me true to the visual factsof the case.
The modernistfacts,thatis. As to whymodernismfeltdrawn to these particular
areas of visual experience-ones where language has minimalpurchase, where
the understandingis regularlyin doubt as to whetherit has been offeredanything,or enough, for the interpretingmind to work on-I hope some kind of
answerwillemerge as the book goes on. As to whetherart'scoming to depend on
itsexplorationof such areas was a good or a bad thing,ditto.
39. Let me tryto offera plausibleaccountof David's intentionshere-of what
would have led him to leave the upper halfof his pictureemptyin the firstplace.
There is no great mysteryto it. The emptinessis of a room, perhaps a wall. (No
hats and cloaks hung on thisone.) It signifiesMarat'sausterityand self-denial.It
makes him one of the People-it and the orange box and the patch on the sheet.
As the eye moves right,the emptinessgraduallybecomes less dark and absolute.
is
We know that David was a great believerin the lightof history.The difficulty
not in suggestingthe kinds of metaphoricalwork the upper half was meant to
do, but deciding whyit ended up doing themthisway.And whetherdoing them
thiswaywas doing themat all.
40. We are at the heart of David's beliefsand purposes, and of the Revolution's.We do not need Furetto tell us that"in order to perceive the Revolution's
deepest sources, one must grasp the most extraordinaryand novel aspect of its
nature, namely,the People's entryonto the stage of power."66 My firsttwenty
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49

theses were essentiallyan effortto grasp that aspect again, as it might have
affectedDavid. And I mainlywanted to suggestthatbecause it was so extraordinaryand novel,it changed the circumstancesof picturingforgood and all. It is,
in myview,the deepest cause of modernism;whichis exactlynot to say thatmodernismhas usuallyrecognized itscause. Whyshould it? It is enough, mostof the
time,ifit representseffects.
The question of the People is a question about representation.The great
historiansof the Revolution,if we are to believe Furet,were
nineteenth-century
greatabove all because they"attachedcentralimportanceto the Revolution'ssymbolic investmentin a new image of power."The People was that image. Edgar
Quinet "understoodthatifthe Revolutionwas a kindof annunciation[the Christian terminologychimes in withour object here], it was not because it was supposed to change societybut because itwas supposed to put the People in place of
the King."67That is to say,one kindof sovereignbody in place of another.A Body
that had somehow to be represented withoutits either congealing into a new
monarch or splittinginto a congeryof vitalfunctions,withonly an instrumental
reason to bind themtogether.
Hence, at a symboliclevel, the careeringtoward directdemocracy in 1793.
(In myview,puttingthiskind of stresson symbolismdoes not necessarilyconflict
witha historythat points to the Jacobins'calling the People on stage as actual,
temporaryallies in a class politics.Here as elsewhere,politicalcontingencyis the
circumstancewhichsymbolicactionsstriveto contain."Contingency"isjust a way
of describingthe factthat puttingthe People in place of the King cannot ultimatelybe done. The formsof the social outrun theirvarious incarnations.)The
Jacobinswere the People represented."In other words,a People unanimous by
definitionand thereforesubject to constantself-purification,
designed to eliminate enemies hidden withinthe body of the sovereignand thus to reestablishan
imperiledunity."68
41. From the point of viewof those tryingto representit,thatis, the body of
the People was alwayssick.It needed some radical purging.And ultimatelythere
was only one way to do that. It had to be killed in order to be represented,or
representedin order to be killed. Eitherformulationwilldo. Marat is the figure
of both.
42. Marat, I said before,had to be made to stand forthe People. By now the
enormityof the taskbegins to be visible:notjust thatMarat was such a disputed
object,pulled to and frobythe play of factions(thoughthisindeed is part of the
problem) but thatat a deeper level anybody was inadequate to what had now to
be done. Or any technique of representation.That representationwas hencefortha technique
was exactlythe truththathad not to be recognized.
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43. To put it another way.Marat had to be shown to be one of the People.


not onlybecause his image mightso easilybe captured byother
This was difficult
and so on, but because the
competing notions of People/poverty/popularity
They were definedby disJacobin notion of these entitiesor qualitieswas empty.
the idle and unproductive.And
cursiveopposition, to the riches,the aristocrates,
the categorieshad betterbe kept empty,lest the actual distinctionsand tensions
thatexistedwithinthe People's rankstake on politicalform.

44. This is the frameworkin which David's instantiationof "People" in his


picture'supper half mightcome to make sense. It embodies the concept's emptiness,so to speak. It happens upon representationas technique. It sets the seal
forthe workof incarnation."On ne peut point decouvrir
on Marat'sunsuitability
quelques partiesde son corps,car vous savez qu'il avait une lepre et que son sang
etaitbrufie'."

45. I talked earlier on about the emptyupper half's effecton the picturein
general. I see it as puttingpaid to the viewer'slast vestigeof certaintyas to the
picture'srepresentationallogic. Now I can say what I mean bythat.
David was committedto an aestheticsof completenessand realization,never
more so than here. The job of the painter,in his opinion, was to conjure Marat
back fromthe realm of the dead, and make his body and attributespresent. I
have argued that the offerof presence on which the pictureturns is a piece of
writing,reaching forwardinto our space. Reading and seeing are strangelyconflatedat this point, the one termconsuming the other. But even this need not
have been fatal,ifonlythe picturehad engineeredan absence-of the kind Caravaggio and Chardin provide,in theirdifferentways-as ground and foil to the
world of things.Presence in painting,so the Westerntraditionseems to assume,
is ultimatelydependent on the painter'ssecuringan opposite termforit: a place
where representationcan effaceitself,because here, after all, there is littleor
nothingto represent.A wall or a void or an absence of light.
Somethingthatought on the face of it to be such an absence looms large in
the Marat. It takesup halfthe canvas. But insteadof guaranteeingthe illusionby
its simple negativityit turns out instead to be a positive of sorts; and not just
another particular,like the unobtrusivewall in the Chardin, but something
abstractand unmotivated,whichoccupies a differentconceptual space fromthe
bodies below it. This produces, I think,a kind of representationaldeadlock,
which is the true source of the Marat'scontinuinghold on us. No paintingever
believed in illusionismmore fiercely.No objects were ever offeredthe viewer
more beguilinglythan Corday's and Marat's letters.But the objects are writing.
And up above them,ironizingor overshadowingthem,is another kind of script:
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produced bypaintnotquite findingitsobject,


the endless,meaninglessobjectivity
symbolicor otherwise,and (dis-)contentingitselfwithitsown procedures.
In a sense, then,I too am sayingthatthe upper halfis a displayof technique.
But "display"is wrong; unless we writeback intothe word the discontentthatthe
prefixdis-ought to signify.For mypointis thattechniquein modernismis a kind
of shame: somethingthat occurs as the Truth of picturing,but always against
picturing'sbest and mostdesperate efforts.Occurs where the picturemostwants
Truth,and where it thinksit almost has it-but never quite does. Modernistsin
the early twentiethcentury sometimes talked of what they were doing as
attempting"Truthto materials."Perfectmisrecognition.For "materials"in modernismare alwaysthe site of Untruth,or the site where questions of Truth and
Untruthdisappear into the black hole of practice.The factthatthishappens in
the David where "People" ought to be, as a kind of aura or halo, is similarto its
happening in Matisse,say,where "Pleasure" ought to be, as a kind of ground or
immediacy.As does happen, timeaftertime.69

46. There is, I think,one furthersmall piece of the picturewhichmighthave


the power to reconcile the warringparties.Up to now I have brushed it aside. I
mean thescrap of paper whose tinyweightkeeps Marat'slettereternallybalanced
on the edge of the orange box. It is an assignat,a piece of Revolutionarypaper
money.Writingwhichstandsforproperty.
I have to say something,in consequence, about what the assignatwas. Many
of the issues hereabouts are for experts,and leave me as far behind as theyleft
most revolutionaries.Marat was notablyboneheaded on the subject. But one or
two thingsare clear. The assignatwas a formof paper currency,firstissued in
January1790, partlyin response to theflightof gold and coin whichhad followed
the stormingof the Bastille.70It onlygraduallybecame a mainstayof government
finance.There was considerableskepticismabout thewhole idea of paper money,
whichwas thoughtto be an English sortof thing.In theorythe notes were guaranteed by land. Inscribed on each was the legend: "Mortgaged on the National
Estates."That is to say,on thewealthgeneratedfromthesale of crownand church
emigres'relatives,
properties,and later fromthe lands and belongingsof e'migre's,
and foreigners.From a Jacobinpointof view,thisrootednessof the paper in the
earth was an importantideological consolation.For theywere no great believers
du signein general,and in particularmoneymade them nervous.
in the arbitraire
Saint-Justcan be found playingthe role of Jeremiahin November 1792: "I no
longer see anythingin the State but misery,pride, and paper." The three were
roughlyequivalent,thatis, but at least somewherebehind the bank notes was a
memory,or promise,of germinaland fructidor.
In the end, in 1794 and 1795, the new formof moneycollapsed. The government was forced to conspire against its own currency-buying up the paper in

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secretand burningit,as a desperate hedge againstinflation.But in 1793 thatstill


lay in the future.No one is going to call the economic policyof Robespierre and
Co. exactlya success,but itdid have one paradoxical resultfora while: itmanaged
to stabilizethe value of itsmultiplyingpaper. This was no small feat fora nation
at war. Between the fallof the king and the fallof Robespierre,the State put 11
billionlivres'worthof new notesin circulation.3.686 billionin 1793, 4.190 billion
in the firstmonthsof 1794. Depreciation set in. By September 1793, the assignat
was changing hands at 50 percent of its face value. Many atrocious thingsfollowed when Terror was made the order of the day. But the value of the assignat
rose, slowly-to 65 percent of face value by thermidor.The American ambassador in Paris wrote admiringlyto Jeffersonthat the Revolution had managed
the "feat of a paper money which goes up in value while the amount of bills
printedis actuallyincreasing."71
And how had theydone it?By Terror,ofcourse. By forcingthe pace of exproby
priations,bythe seekingout and meltingdown of hidden gold and numeraire,
David himself,in his capacityas memberof the
a general and ruthlesscoursforce'.
Committeeof General Security(one of thetworeliableRobespierristson itbefore
it was properly purged), was repeatedly involved in the detail of duress all
throughthe summer.His signaturesare thereto prove it.72
47. Marat's assignatis denselycoded, then. Of course I am not sayingthatit
possesses the kindof visualweightwhichbelongsto the otherplayersin the scene.
One mightalmost say that it is meant to be overlooked. But only in the way of
Poe's Hidden Letter.And we knowthatsome at least of the picture'sfirstviewers
did pick it up, and appreciate its signifyingpower. A writerin the Feuillede salut
public,forexample, had thisto say on 8 brumaire(he mustbe reactingto seeing
the picturein the cour du Louvre): "L'assignatde cinq livresqui faisaittoute la
fortunede Marat a ete place par David sur le billot represent6pres de la baignoire. Cette idee est vraimentun traitde genie, et une reponse eternelle'a tous
les sots qui accusaient l'Ami du peuple de vendre sa plume. Eh, qui donc aurait
but itdoes givea hintof the audience's reading
pu le payer!"73Not greatcriticism,
habitsin Year 2. It confirmsthatone of the issues the picturewas taken to turn
on was Marat's poverty.And that viewerswere able and willing to invest the
smallestsign witha freightof meaning.
48. Being as tendentiousa reader as theone in theFeuilledesalutpublic,I shall
take the assignatto sum up Marat's(and David's) worldas follows.Those involved
in making the Revolution in 1793 believed profoundlythat they were doing
Nature's bidding. If human lifecould be ridded of artifice,theythought,Virtue
would reassertitself.Because artificewas invariablythe work of Power. It was a
set of waysto keep men (maybeeven women) in subjection.Tyranny,fanaticism,
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53

custom,superstition,time immemorial:theywere all names for the same spirit


of misrule.Hence the utopianismof the Revolutionwhen itcame to the symbolic
order: the institutionof thecalendar,the dividingof the countryintodepartements
decreed by factsof geographyas opposed to history,the rationalizationof measurement(a meterbeing exactlyone millionthof the distancefrompole to pole),
even the effortto alter the parts of speech. And behind all this,the belief that
Power itselfhad been naturalized,in the formof the People's body.
Some of these moves look captious and thin.We have seen thattheJacobins
themselvesrecoiled fromthem or theirconsequences on occasion-as withthe
But the same verdictapplies here as in the case of dewar against vousvoyement.
Christianization.Because theactionstakenwere oftenstrained,and mostof them
did not stick,does not mean thatthe deepest meaningsand functionsof the Revof a historythat is still
olution were not at stake. The Revolutionis anticipatory,
far fromfinished.Its projectis the disenchantmentof the world.
This is the ultimatesource of thatdesperation which seems to me most distinctiveofJacobinismas a politicalstyle-the blend of impatienceand purityand
To believe in oneselfas usheringin Nature's kingdom,and to think
self-distrust.
there was no time to lose if it was to be secured against its enemies; and yet to
wasjust another form
know in one's heartof heartsthatwhatone was instituting
of artifice,as wayward and unpredictable as the rest. Another arbitrariness.
Anotherlaw forthe lion and the ox.
"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornfultone, "it
meansjust what I choose it to mean-neither more nor less." "The question is,"
said Alice, "whetheryou can make words mean so manydifferentthings.""The
question is,"said HumptyDumpty,"whichis to be master-that's all." This is the
kind of conversationDavid must have got quite used to in the Committee of
and HumptyDumptyRobespierre.Let word
Public Safety.Let Alice be Saint-Just,
and bienveillance
and droitand deffense
and patrie.
equal assignat.Plus malheureuse
And Peoplescrawledin the paintabove the lot of them,though unfortunatelynot
quite legible. "There's a nice knock-downargumentforyou!"

49. The French Revolution was made by the bourgeoisie. By that I mean
roughlywhat Burke meant at the time,when he said that "the moneyed men,
merchants,principaltradesmen,and men of letters... are the chiefactorsin the
French Revolution";74thoughobviouslyI differfromBurke in thinkingthatthe
coming to power of such men was partof an irreversiblechange in the social and
here. Not "caused by"or "expressionof." I
symbolicorder. "Partof" is sufficient
am not interestedin a narrativeof causes. All I wantor need to do, formypresent
purpose, is insiston the oddityof the word "People" in a Revolutionof thissocial
character.
An image willdo betterthan a thousand words. There is a picturein the Le
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FIGURE 11. Anonymous,


Portrait
defamille,1790s. Oil
on canvas. Musee de Tess6,
Le Mans. Photo: Agence
photographique de la
Reunion des musees
nationaux.

Mans Museum whichforyearswas thoughtto be by David himself,and which I


thinkmusthave come fromsomeone close to themaster(fig.11). It is rightlyheld
to be one of the mostpoignantdocumentsto come down to us of the change that
the Revolutionwroughtin personal style.NothingI can say willrob, or is meant
to rob, the man in the centerof the pictureof his plain dignity.It is massiveand
touching. But for that very reason I think we should attend to the contrast
between the father'scarefulsymbolicdeshabille
and the costumesof his sons and
daughter, or the china on the mantelshelf(one looks about for a terra-cotta
Marat),the glimpseof picture-coveredwalls,thewell-turnedfurniture,thespinet
and the young girl'smusic lessons, the power to order this paintingin the first
place. These people and theirpainterare anonymous,as I say.But I take them
to be representativeof the politicalactorswe have been looking at.
Compare, forexample, the sans-culottemilitantFrancois-PierreBeaudouin,
president of the comitere'volutionnaire
of the Gravillierssection in the winterof
Year 2 (we knowabout him fromhis will).75 Masterdecorativepainter,employing
six skilledworkers,in charge of the section'swar production,and leavingbehind
at his death in 1795 a fineapartmenton therue Phelippeaux: severallarge rooms
opening onto a terracedgarden,a kitchenwithtwoovens,walnutcabinets,inlaid
hardwood floors,copper plumbing,crystalchandeliers and goblets,settingsin
in theYearTwo
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55

porcelain (terra-cottaMarats long since disposed of), tables of oak and marble.
Remember thatBeaudouin existedquite fardown Jacobin ranks,and in a sense
outside them. He was a "popular" leader. To quote the verdictof the historian
who discovered him, a leadership composed of men like Beaudouin "was bourgeois in its social aggregate,and absolutelybycomparisonwiththe population it
ruled. It was so byitsmanufacturingand commercialcapital,byitsreal properties
and salaried incomes, by its skills in literacy,manipulation of ideological formulae, and governance.It had the power to command labor on a large scale and
These were the kinds
to create dependencies, allegiances,and constituencies."76
of men who rang thechanges on David's crybeforethe Convention:"J'aientendu
la voix du peuple, j'ai obdi."
Of course the point is not to convictthem of hypocrisyor even lack of selfknowledge. I for one am sure David was horriblysincere. It is to wonder what
mighthave been involved for bourgeois individuals-what kinds of inventiveness, what sources of knowledgeand ignorance-when theybegan to represent
those whose labor theycommanded.
50. "A MARAT," it finallyreads on the orange box, "DAVID. L'AN DEUX."
Dedication, signature,date. And even here language is not to be trusted.For what
does the capital A mean, precisely?What kind of connection does it intend
betweenMarat and his image, or Marat and his maker?And where are the words
I wrotethattheywere "on the orange
supposed to be, spatially(illusionistically)?
box." I guess thatis one interpretation.It is as Marx said on one occasion about
the commodity-how maybe its power derived most deeply from us not being
able to tell "where the commodityis." In the Marat thatqualityis generalized to
signs of all sortsand degrees of sophistication,frompaper money to indexical
tracesin the mud.
Not that the Marat shows us this work of unfixingand ambiguityactually
finished.It is not utopian in that sense. (It leaves that to later brands of modernism.)Even the inscription"L'AN DEUX" is provisional.The numbers17 and
93 are stillthere to leftand rightof the finalinscription,only half erased, this
time adhering more firmlyto the wood of the orange box, as if the painter had
triedto make themvanishbut had been defeatedbyhisown materials.Technique
is a perfidiousthing,one discovers,but at least a hedge against the future.The
timeof the Revolutionis short.Annodominiwilldoubtlessbe back.

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Notes

1.

2.

3.
4.
5.
6.

7.

8.
9.

Earlier versions of this essay were given as the Gauss Seminars in Criticism at
PrincetonUniversityin 1986 and at the WhitneyHumanitiesCenter,Yale University,
in 1984. My finalresearch was aided by a National Endowment for the Humanities
FellowshipforUniversityTeachers and a Universityof CaliforniaPresident'sResearch
Fellowshipin the Humanities,both in 1992-93.
"Historyhas too oftenbeen a tale of nothingbut the actions of wild beasts, among
whom now and then heroes can be made out; we are entitledto hope that we are
beginning the historyof mankind"; Mirabeau, speech on 27 June 1789, quoted in
3 vols. (1900; Paris, 1983), 1:362.
de laRgvolutionfran(aise,
JeanJaur6s,Histoiresocialiste
George Kubler,TheShapeofTime:Remarkson theHistoryofThings(New Haven, 1962),
70. Kubler is aware of the problemhere: he knowsthatmodern art "is an expression
correspondingto new interpretationsof the psyche,to a new attitudeof society,and
to new conceptions of nature,"and that "all these separate renovationsof thought
came slowly."This only makes it the more interesting,in his view,that the transformation in art was as ifinstantaneous.However gradual and cumulative the change
mighthave been in the realm of ideology,"its recognitionin perception by a corresponding mode of expression in the arts was discontinuous,abrupt, and shocking."
au catalogue
See Daniel Wildensteinand Guy Wildenstein,Documentscomplhmentaires
de loeuvrede LouisDavid (Paris, 1973), document601.
See Jules Michelet,Histoirede la Revolution
fran(aise,2 vols. (1847-53; Paris, 1952),
2:602, and compare the chronologyon p. 1664.
pendantla RevoluSee PierretteJean-Richardand GilbertMondin, Un Collectionneur
tion:JeanLouis Soulavie,1 752-1813 (Paris, 1989), 90-9 1.
populaireetgouvernement
parisiensen l'AnII: Mouvement
AlbertSoboul, Les Sans-Culottes
(1958; Paris,1962), 304. Compare Section
2juin 1793-9 thermidorAnII
rgvolutionnaire,
qui aura lieule 26e jour du l ermoisde l'an
du Museum, Ordrede la Marche:Pompejfunbre
16 octobre),
pour
(vieuxstyle,mercredi
de la republique
deuxieme
fran(aise,une etindivisible
des bustesde Marat etLe Pelletier(Paris, n.d.). Soboul points out that 16
l'inauguration
October equals 25, not 26, vendemiaire.
no. 601; "Before offeringit to you, to allow me to lend it
See Wildenstein,Documents,
to myfellowcitizensof the Museum section,as well as thatof Lepelletier,so thatboth
of them can be present,in some sort,at the civic honors paid them by their fellow
citizens."
oftheFrenchRevolution(Lewiston,
Marat,HeroandAnti-Hero
See Ian Germani,Jean-Paul
N.Y., 1992), 274 and discussionon 86.
D. A. F. Sade, Oeuvrescomplees,vol. 12 (Paris, 1957), 70-7 1. Sade's instructionsto artistsput me in mindof David's decisionnotto representCorday in his picture,or rather
to representher by her writing.A reading of the Marat in termsof Jacobin gender
politicswould certainlybe possible,thoughtheversionsof such a reading I have come
smug and schematic.To imagine that the last
across so far strikeme as insufferably
word has been said on Jacobin attitudesto women by pointingto the suppression of
the Citoyennesrepublicainesrevolutionnaireson 9 brumaire(nowadaysan obligatory
trope) is like imaginingthatall thatneeds chroniclingof theJacobins'relationto the
sectionnaires
happening at the
sans-culottesis the patternof action against the societes
same moment. Whereas the historicalquestions in both cases are: What fears led to

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57

10.

11.
12.

13.
14.
15.

16.

17.
18.

19.

58

the finalsuppression?Fears of what kinds of symbolicand politicalenergy?To what


extenthad featuresofJacobin politicsled to those energiesbeing released in the first
place? And so on.
Gender politicsas applied to Marat is double-edged. Marat's impeccable home
life was a standard featureof Jacobin oratory,and sometimesmore attentionseems
to have been paid to the virtuesof Simone Evrard than to Marat himself;see Martyn
(Bern, 1978), 161. The
Lyons,Revolutionin Toulouse:An Essayon ProvincialTerrorism
Citoyennesrepublicainesrevolutionnaireswere primemoversin the settingup of the
wooden obelisk in Marat's honor in the place de la Reunion, and on 18 August they
carried his bathtub,chair,table, pen, and paper in procession to the obelisk'sinauguration;see Germani,Marat,73. It hardlyneeds sayingthatthe basic factsof Marat's
assassinationstirup all kindsof Oedipal fearsand wishesin those tryingto represent
them.Sade's firstsentencesget thatright.One can imagine him as an interestedspectatoron both 18 August and 25 vendemiaire.
Germani,Marat,chap. 3, "The Sans-Culottesand the Cult of Marat," and his listof
"Pamphletsand FestivalPrograms,"265-75, providethe fullestdocumentation.Compare Jean-Claude Bonnet, "Les Formes de celebration,"in Bonnet, ed., La Mortde
Marat(Paris, 1986), 101-27; and AlbertSoboul, "Sentimentsreligieuxet cultes populaires pendant la Revolution: Saintes patrioteset martyrsde la liberte,"Annaleshistono. 148 (July-September1957): 193-213.
riquesde la Rgvolutionfran(aise,
See Germani,Marat,89, quoting the Museum sectionOrdrede la marche.
de l'Institut
historique
(August
See AlbertLenoir,"David, souvenirshistoriques,"Journal
Brutus,and theFrenchRevolution:
1835); quoted by Robert L. Herbert,David, Voltaire,
An Essayin Artand Politics(London, 1972), 145, n. 107. It is Herbertwho suggeststhe
chapel would have been made of branches(101), and as faras I knowhe was the first
to point out that the Marat procession happened on the day of Marie Antoinette's
execution.
no. 602.
See Wildenstein,Documents,
304, n. 259.
Soboul, Les Sans-Culottes,
"The republicans makingup the popular societyof the Museum section are here to
ask theirmotherforthe sustenancenecessaryto the developmentof theirpatriotism;
of all those
could a tendermotherrebuffa virtuouschild?You are the mother-society
in the Republic; add to your familyby adopting us"; see ibid., 276; the spokesman's
speech is quoted in n. 144. Soboul himselfdoes not seem to have made a connection
betweenthe eventsof 25 and 26 vendemiaire,whichcrop up in differentpartsof his
story.
"Only those where the revolutionarycommittee,having purged itself,now formed
the society'score, and where all membershad had to pass a vote of this same committeeon theircredentials";ibid.,275, quotingan interventionbyBrochet(see below).
Soboul's discussionof the push and pull betweentheJacobin Club and the sectionsis
on pp. 274-82.
Francois Furet,"RevolutionaryGovernment,"in Furetand Mona Ozouf, eds., A CriticalDictionary
oftheFrenchRevolution(Cambridge,Mass., 1989), 552. Unless otherwise
indicated,the quotes and factsin thissectionare all frompp. 551-52.
de la Revohistorique
See R. Gotlib,"Jacques Roux," in AlbertSoboul, ed., Dictionnaire
lutionfran(aise(Paris, 1989), 939; and compare Daniel Guerin,La Luttede classessous
la Premiere
Republique:Bourgeoiset "brasnus,"1793-1797, 2 vols. (Paris, 1946), 1:23149, "Liquidation des 'enrages."'
183-9 1.
See Soboul, Les Sans-Culottes,

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20. Paragraph 1 as reportedbyan ex-priestfromLuzarches named Oudaille; see Richard


de la Revolution
Cobb, "Marat compare a Jesus,"Annaleshistoriques
fran(aise,no. 161
(July-September1960): 312; paragraph 2 froma similar ilogeFunebredeJean Paul
le 26 Brumaireeta Strasnationale,Prononc a Schiltigheim
Marat,Dgputga la Convention
Morel,Capitaineau premierbataillondu
bourgdans le Templede la Raison,Par le Citoyen
Jura,quoted in Frank P. Bowman, "Le 'Sacre-Coeur' de Marat,"in Jean Ehrard and
(Paris, 1977),
ColloquedeClermont-Ferrand
Paul Viallaneix,eds., LesFetesdela Revolution:
161. Bowman also quotes alternative,almost identicalreportsof the Cordeliers orator'sspeech.
21. Oudaille's report,quoted in Cobb, "Marat compare a Jesus,"313. (Oudaille also tells
the storyof Brochet's search for the vial.) Interpolated sentences fromLes Revolutionsde Paris, no. 210; quoted in Bowman, "Le 'Sacre-Coeur' de Marat," 164. The
exchange in the Cordeliers is quoted and discussed in connectionwithDavid's Marat
Idea: Jahrin Klaus Herding, "Davids 'Marat' als dernierappela lunit9 revolutionnaire,"
Kunsthalleno. 2 (1983): 100-104, though Herding draws different
buchderHamburger
conclusions.
22. Compare Cobb, "Marat compare a Jesus," 313, n. 2, with Soboul, Les Sans-Culottes.
770.
852-53.
23. See Soboul, Les Sans-Culottes,
24. See ibid., 897.
25. "In the state of war we are in, it is only the people, the littlepeople, that people so
scorned and so littledeservingof scorn,who are capable of imposing libertyon the
revolution'senemies, makingthemdo theirduty,forcingtheminto silence,reducing
them to that stateof salutaryterrorso indispensableif the great work of the constitution is to be consummated and the State organized wisely";L'Amidu Peuple,no.
132 (13 June 1790); quoted in Michel Vovelle,ed., Marat: Texteschoisis(Paris, 1963),
217-18.
26. "Every means is lacking the people in the struggleagainst the upper classes who
oppress them";L'Amidu Peuple,no. 670 (1OJuly1792); quoted in Vovelle,Marat,220.
27. "It is withour Revolutionas witha crystallinesolutionwhichis agitated by shakingit
violently:first,all thecrystalsscatteredthroughthe liquid move about, dispersingand
minglingat random, then theymove withless vivacity,by degrees theydraw closer
together,and finishby takingup theiroriginal combinationagain"; L'Amidu Peuple,
no. 539 (27 August 1791); quoted in Vovelle,Marat,36.
28. "It is by violence thatwe mustestablishliberty,and the momentis come to organize
temporarilythe despotism of libertyto crush the despotism of kings"; session of 6
de l'ancienMoniteur,32 vols. (Paris, 1863-70), 16:76; quoted in
April, in Reimpression
Guerin,La Luttede classes,1:39.
29. "I demand that you put me to death, I too am a virtuous man.... Liberty will
no. 428.
triumph";see Wildenstein,Documents,
30. See L'Amidu Peuple,no. 493 (18 June 1791); in Vovelle,Marat,225-26, and Vovelle's
comments.
31. See Guerin,La Luttede classes,1:235-38.
32. Le Publicistede la Republiquefran(aise,no. 245 (21 July 1793): quoted by Germani,
Marat,52, who givesa good account of the initialbattleforMarat'slegacy in Julyand
August, pp. 50-60.
Partie,2 7juillet1 79333. See MaximilienRobespierre,Oeuvres,vol. 10, Discours:Cinquieme
27juillet 1794 (Paris, 1957), 59-60; quoted byGermani,Marat,53.
(1922; New York,
34. The same speech, as quoted byAlbertMathiez,TheFrenchRevolution

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59

35.
36.
37.
38.

39.
40.
41.
42.

43.

44.
45.
46.

47.
48.

60

(and
1964), 356. Mathiez is typicallyenthusiasticabout Robespierre'scoup de the'atre
followingcoupdeforce).
no. 224 (23 June 1793): in Auguste Jean Marie
Le Publicistede la Rgpubliquefranpaise,
Vermorel,OeuvresdeJ.P. Marat(Paris, 1869), 11.
lesavant(Paris, 1911),
See AugustinCaban6s, Maratinconnu:L'Hommeprivg,le medecin,
251-52; cited by Bowman, "Le 'Sacre-Coeur' de Marat," 166.
See Bonnet, "Les Formes de celebration,"102. Compare the accounts in Guerin, La
Luttede classes,284; and Soboul, "Sentimentsreligieuxet cultes populaires," 206-10.
"That the building which previouslyserved as a church become the meeting hall of
the popular society,and as a consequence, thatbustsof Marat and Lepelletierreplace
the statues of Saint Peter and Saint Denis, its patron saints,and that the village of
Mennecy-Villeroybe henceforthnamed Mennecy-Marat";petitionof the Mennecy
soci't populaireto the Conventionon 19 brumaire,quoted byBonnet, "Les Formesde
celebration,"120.
fungrailles(Paris, 1867), 23: quoted by
See Paul Fassy,Marat: Sa Mort,ses veritables
Bonnet, "Les Formesde celebration,"117.
an II (Paris,
See Marc Bouloiseau, La Republiquejacobine,10 aouit1792-9 thermidor
1972), 200-201.
Quoted in StanleyJ. Idzerda, "Iconoclasm during the French Revolution,"American
HistoricalReview60 (1954):17. The ceremonyis dated by Bonnet, "Les Formes de
celebration,"120.
aux Fran(ais,26 juillet1793, l'an
See, for example, Ballin'sMaratdu sejourdesimmortels
premierde la constitution
fran(aise(Paris, n.d.), which warns against those engineering
Marat's deification"so thattheycan denature his Doctrine,as the debased Senate of
Rome wished to place Jesus at the level of the Gods, in order to halt the progressof
his doctrine.... That is to say,to bend the principlesof 'Holy Equality' under the
principles of Priests,Publicans, Monopolizers, Intriguers,and false Doctors of all
times";quoted byGermani,Marat,76. Compare thisupdating of the gospels' dramatis
personaewiththe Cordeliersorator's.
par Sauvageot,mairede la communede Dijon, a
See for example the Discoursprononcd
l'an deuxieme
tenuea Dijon, le 25 brumaire,
dessociztgs
populairesde la Cote-dor,
l'assemblge
du bustede Marat (Dijon, 1793), quoted and
de la republique,le jour de l'inauguration
discussed in Bowman, "Le 'Sacre-Coeur' de Marat," 162-63. And compare the letter
to the Cordeliers orator fromthe sans-culotteJean-BaptisteVingternier,repeating
and amplifyingBrochet'sarguments,presented in Cobb, "Marat compare a Jesus,"
313-14. Herding's "Davids 'Marat' als dernierappel"contains a full discussion of the
to-and-froof argumentin the Marat-Jesuscomparison(99-105).
Letterof 5 August 1793, quoted byJ.C. Bonnet,"Les images negatives,"in La Mortde
Marat,170.
Speech at theJacobinClub, 1 frimaire,in Robespierre,Oeuvres,10: 196.
"They are far fromconsideringthis projectworthyof so great an object or likelyto
They considerthe idea of threedivinitiesrepresentedby three
realize it satisfactorily.
women as contraryto the principleswhichthe Frenchpeople havejust proclaimedby
way of the Convention,and against all notionsof good sense"; see Soboul, Les Sans977.
Culottes,
"If Marat was stillalive at thismoment,he would have been indictedand maybe guillotined"; quoted in ibid., 820, withotherconnectedmaterialfromthistime.
Quoted byJacquesGuilhaumou, "La Mortde Marat a Paris,13juillet-16juillet 1793,"
in La MortdeMarat,61.

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no. 463.
49. David's speech to the Convention,15 July;Wildenstein,Documents,
50. "It has been decided thathis body be put on show covered witha damp sheet which
will representthe bathtub and which,sprinkledwithwater from time to time, will
preventthe effectof putrefaction";speech to the Convention;ibid., no. 466.
voice made itselfheard, it
51. "The people asked for its friendback, its grief-stricken
provoked my art,it wanted to see its faithfulfriend'sfeaturesagain.... I heard the
voice of the people, I obeyed"; David's formalpresentationof the pictureto the Convention;ibid., no. 674. The followingquotes are fromthe same speech.
52. "In vain do you surround yourselfwithshadows; I shall shine lightinto the inmost
recesses of your heart,I shall uncoverthe secretspringsof your conduct, and I shall
stampon your brow the hideous characterof the passions whichmove you"; letterof
14 floreal; ibid., no. 1190. I discuss this aspect of David's aesthetic in T.J. Clark,
"Gross David with the Swoln Cheek: An Essay on Self-Portraiture,"in Michael
History:Culture,Politics,and thePsyche(Stanford,Calif., 1994),
Roth, ed., Rediscovering
285-91.
53. "Man beloved of patriots... open your eyes to the lightone again and see the sovereign who surrounds you"; see Eloges,Discours,Lettreset VersAddressesa la Sectionde
ditede Marseille,sur la mortde Marat,assassinsdansson bain,sur lessept
The'atre-Fran(ais,
Corday,le 13 juillet1793, l'an 2?mede la RepubliqueFran(aise
heuresdu soir,par Charlotte
une et indivisible
(Paris, n.d.); quoted in Guilhaumou, "La Mort de Marat a Paris," 77.
trans.HarryZohn
54. WalterBenjamin, "On Some Motifsin Baudelaire," in Illuminations,
(London, 1970), 190.
55. WalterBenjamin, "The Workof Artin the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,"in Illuminations,
225.
56. Among recent treatmentsof the pictureby art historians,see Jorg Traeger,Der Tod
(Munich, 1986); Herding's "Davids 'Marat' als
desMarat:RevolutiondesMenschenbildes
dernierappel"; and WillibaldSauerlander, "Davids 'Marat a son dernier soupir' oder
derHamburger
Kunsthalleno. 2 (1983).
Malerei und Terreur,"Idea:Jahrbuch
De Roques&David (Toulouse,
57. See Musee des Augustins,Toulouse, Ingresetsesmaitres:
in Toulouse,160-61, 174-75: he was
1955), 37. On Desbarreaux, see Lyons,Revolution
the quintessential"popular" politicianmade good, beginning as a badly paid local
and ending his days as "proprietaireet directeurd'une manufacture
actor/playwright
de fayence."
58. "Perhaps our children will blush at the effeminatepicturesof their fathers";Saintde France(1791); in Saint-Just,Oeuvres
Just,Espritde la Revolutionetde la Constitution
(Paris, 1984), 307, chap. 12, "Des Femmes."
completes
59. "The revolutionaryis implacable toward the wicked,but he is a man of feeling....
reportto the
Marat was gentlein his own home, he terrifiedonlytraitors";Saint-Just,
809-10.
Conventionon 26 germinal;in Oeuvrescompletes,
60. See Ferdinand Brunot,Histoirede la languefran(aise,13 vols. (Paris, 1937), 9:690 and
689. The second quote is fromVoltairein 1733.
656 and n. 44.
61. See Soboul, Les Sans-Culottes,
theRevolution:TheStagingofMarat'sDeath,1793-1797
62. Marie-Helene Huet, Rehearsing
(Berkeley,1982), 74, n. 4.
63. "It goes withoutsayingthatvousis absurd, thatit is a faultagainst grammarto speak
to one person as one would speak to twoor several,but is itnot also contraryto liberty
to prescribeto citizensthewaytheyshould expressthemselves?Speaking Frenchbadly
is not a crime"; speech reportedin theJournalde la Montagne,22 brumaire; quoted in
9:691.
Brunot,Histoirede la languefran(aise,

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61

64. On the identityof the copyists,see Musee du Louvre and Musee national du chateau,
David, 1748-1825 (Paris, 1989), 282.
Versailles,Jacques-Louis
65. "Several plotterson the Committeeof Public Safetywhom I shall soon unmask";Le
no. 231 (2 July 1793); quoted in Alfred Bougeart,
Publicistede la Rgpubliquefran(aise,
Marat,l'amidu peuple,2 vols. (Paris, 1865), 2:259. An extractfromthe 14 Julyissue,
which sounds much the same note, is given in Vermorel,Oeuvresde Marat,318-19.
Hebert made much of this aspect of Marat's last days in his speech to the Conseil
general de la Commune de Paris on the eveningof the assassination; see La Mortde
Marat,444-46. Presumablymuch to Robespierre'sannoyance.
984.
66. FrancoisFuret,"Michelet,"in CriticalDictionary,
997.
67. Both quotes fromFrancoisFuret,"Quinet,"in CriticalDictionary,
in CriticalDictionary,
709.
68. FrancQisFuret,"Jacobinism,"
69. I am not sayinghere that Matisse's paintingsdo not successfullygive pleasure, any
more than thatthe Marat completelyfailsto instantiatethe concept "of the People."
What is at issue in modernismis the means bywhicheffectsare achieved or connotations mobilized; myview is thatthe means are most oftendiscovered to be unstable,
maybe dysfunctional,and that that discoverybecomes part of the picture'sdealing
withitsworld.I should saya crucialpart.But thatdoes not mean thatI see all Matisse's
workas consumed by doubt about Nature or sensation,or even thatI am only interested in the work thatis (the rigorous naivete of the paintingsdone at Collioure in
1905 is a touchstonefor all that followsin Matisse; and I do mean touchstone,not
foil); stillless that I thinkI am offeringan account of doubts Matisse might have
entertainedon any other level than thatof practice."Can't possiblyhave pleasurein
the twentiethcentury,now can we? . .. Must do somethingabout that. . ."
426-36. Unless other70. See Michel Bruguiere,"Assignats,"in Furet,CriticalDictionary,
wise indicated, the facts in the followingdiscussion are drawn from him, though
he is even less impressedby the financialachievementof the Terror than I am (see
432-33).
71. Quoted in Guerin, La Luttede classes,1:150. Guerin's whole chapter,especially the
sections"Le Soutien de l'assignat:La Solution 'autoritaire"'and "La Victoirede l'assignat,"146-54, is basic to myinterpretation.
no. 452 (David as commissaire
fora new plan
72. See, forexample, Wildenstein,Documents,
to combat forgery);no. 511 (forced replacementof numeraire
by assignats);nos. 568,
588, 600, 628, 643, 648, 657, 697, etc. It may well be, to repeat, that my account of
the assignatin 1793 is too sanguine. Guerin, as usual, wants his Jacobins ruthlessas
opposed to out of theirdepth. Not everyonewas as impressedas theAmericanambassador. The figuresI use are all disputable,and even the best of them hardlysuggest
that theJacobinshad much of a hold on the country'sfinances.I guess all I want to
establishis thatthe struggleto stabilizethe currencywas stillgoing on in summerand
fall,thatit did not seem an utterlylostcause, and thatDavid was personallyengaged
in it. Given his temperament,he would have been as likelyas the ambassador to have
lived in hope.
73. "The assignatfor fivelivreswhichwas all Marat possessed has been placed by David
on the block of wood representednext to the bathtub.This idea is reallya strokeof
genius,and an everlastinganswerto all the foolswho accused the Friendof the people
of being a pen for hire. In any case, who could have paid him what his pen was
worth!";Feuilledesalutpublic,no. 120 (8 brumaire): 3; quoted inJean-RemyMantion,
"Enveloppes 'a Marat David," in Bonnet,La Mortde Marat,217, n. 38.
on FrenchAffairs
74. Edmund Burke, Thoughts
(1791); in R. Smith,EdmundBurkeon Revo-

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lution(New York, 1968), 190; quoted in Lynn Hunt, Politics,Culture,and Class in the
Burke puts immense stress
FrenchRevolution(Berkeley,1984), 125. In the Reflections,
on the assignatas symboland instrumentof the new "burgher"regime:
A paper circulation,not founded on any real moneydeposited or engaged
for ... mustput the whole of what power,authority,and influenceis left,in
any form whatsoeverit may assume, into the hands of the managers and
conductorsof thiscirculation.... The whole of the power obtained by this
revolutionwillsettlein the townsamong theburghers,and the monied directorswho lead them.... All theseconsiderationsleave no doubt on mymind,
thatifthismonsterof a constitutioncan continue,France willbe whollygoverned by the agitatorsin corporations,by societiesin the townsformed of
directorsof assignats,and trusteesfor the sale of church lands, attornies,
agents,money-jobbers,speculators,and adventurers,composing an ignoble
oligarchyfounded on the destructionof the crown,the church,the nobility,
and the people. Here end all the deceitfuldreams and visionsof the equality
and rightsof men.
on theRevolutionin France(1790; Harmondsworth,Eng., 1982), 307, 311,
Reflections
313. The last twosentenceswould do as epigraph forGuerin'sLa Luttede classes.
75. See Richard Andrews, "Social Structures,Political Elites, and Ideology in RevolutionaryParis, 1792-1794: A Critical Evaluation of Albert Soboul's Les Sans-Culottes
19, no. 1 (Fall 1985): 79.
parisiensen l'AnII," JournalofSocialHistory,

76. Ibid.,77.

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