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Images of the French Revolution; Reviving Cultural Studies; Philosophy and the Visual Arts; Nietzsche Society and Conference

of Oxford University’.

Ayer’s radicalism, together with his enduring commitment to scientific philosophising in the manner of Russell,
made the rest of the British philosopical establishment uneasy, and his philosophical work was widely regarded as
obsolete by the 1950s. (His masterpiece, Language, Truth and
Logic was published in 1936.) Still, he had ‘the qualities of his
defects’, as one Oxford professor sniffed; and his ‘talents’ as
a teacher and populariser were condescendingly admired,
especially when he turned them against the Common Enemy:

he could always be relied on to lampoon ‘Continental Philosophy’ as ‘preposterous’, ‘unintelligible’ and ‘chiefly an
exercise in misusing the verb “to be”‘.

The obituary which appeared in the Independent was by
Richard Wollheim, who succeeded Ayer as Professor at University College London. Wollheim mourned Ayer not only as
a thinker and a friend, but also as a representative of an epoch
‘when British life was still permeable to wide-ranging, freefloating argument’ – a period which had come to an end,
Wollheim said, in the late 1970s. This comment on the cultural effects of Thatcherism provoked Robert Jackson, Secretary of State for Higher Education, into the ungentlemanly act
of denouncing not only the obituary and the obituarist, but
also their generally respected subject. In a barely literate
letter to the Independent, Jackson deplored the ‘poverty and
superficiality’ of Ayer’s thinking, and accused him of having
‘enormously narrowed the range of philosophical inquiry’.

Both sides have a point. The Professor is right to say that



Ayer wrote readable, popular books devoted to serious philosophical argument. In fact his sales were matched only by
Sartre and Colin Wilson (whom Ayer thought almost as bad as
each other). Whatever one may think of their doctrines, Ayer’s
books represent an age in which professional philosophy held
itself answerable, philosophically speaking, to a non-professional public. On the other hand, as the Minister sees, Ayer’s
dogmatic negativism, allied with his imperturbable Eton-andOxford snobbishness, contributed largely to the destruction of
this desirable cultural habitat. We shall not see his like again.

Jonathan Ree

A fascinating and disturbing exhibition was on show at the
British Museum this summer (‘The Shadow of the Guillotine:

Britain and the French Revolution’, until 10 September). The
exhibition was one of the main British bicentenary events. As
the title suggests, however, it was not the usual celebration.

Certainly, it differed completely from the big bicentenary
exhibition in Paris (‘The French Revolution and Europe:

1789-99′, Grand Palais, until 26 July). There, the focus was
on the Revolution’s positive achievements. In London the
emphasis was almost entirely negative. The French are reported to be angry about this; but it is we who should be upset.

For the exhibition forces us to face up to some of the uglier
aspects of our attitudes to France and Europe.

The subject of the London exhibition was the British
response to the French Revolution. This was portrayed
through a great variety of objects: prints and cartoons, paintings, sculptures, medals, pottery, posters, and textiles. Initially most people in Britain were sympathetic to the events in
France. Radicals were predictably enthusiastic; but even
moderate and conservative opinion was well disposed. The
Revolution was regarded as a belated re-enactment of the
‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688.

However, it soon became clear that something far more
‘dangerous’ was afoot. With the enormous success of Tom
Paine’s revolutionary pamphlet, The Rights of Man
(1791-92), there was fear of a home-grown revolution. Alarm
increased as events in France gathered momentum. In 1792,
the monarchy was abolished and a Republic declared. In
England, a concerted, government-supported propaganda
campaign was organized. With the outbreak of the war with
France in 1793, the full force of this campaign was turned

against radicals and revolutionary sympathirzers. The mood
was violent and ugly. When Joseph Priestley and some friends
held a dinner to mark the anniversary of the Revolution, his
house was burned down by a ‘Church and King’ mob. Prints,
and even a plate and a jug, were produced to celebrate the

The ideas of the campaign were crude and simple. There is
no difference between reform and revolution. Any challenge
to authority leads inevitably to chaos and mob rule. Above all,
the very idea of revolution is foreign; and English radicals are
mere puppets, controlled and manipulated from France. The
violence and hatred of the assault on the Revolution and its
British sympathizers is startling. France is depicted as a place
of terror, mayhem and madness. Despite the title of the exhibition, however, the guillotine is not a predominant motif
(until much later at least). Perhaps this is because visually it is
too geometrical, too clinical, to serve such crude propaganda,
which requires an altogether lower and more barbaric kind of

Gillray’s work stands out. He is revealed as an artist of
remarkable and savage power. He exploits national stereotypes and chauvinistic prejudices quite brilliantly to produce
a stream of vitriolic, grotesque and hate-filled caricatures. He
portrays the Revolution as a time of senseless brutality and
madness, destruction and chaos. The revolutionaries are
shown quite literally devouring their own children.

Many of the pictures, by Gillray, Rowlandson and others,
are familiar; but seeing them all together heightens their
impact. One is reminded of the vilest of Nazi anti-semitic
caricatures. The only thing that ultimately saves much of
Gillray’s work from being mere propaganda is the all-pervaRadical Philosophy 53, Autumn 1989

sive nastiness of his vision. Not even the British are spared. In
a famous piece, ‘French Liberty, British Slavery’, an Englishman gorges himself on a huge joint of roast beef while a
crazed-looking Frenchman is forced to survive on a few withered bulbs of garlic. As usual in Gillray, the Frenchman is a
hideous grotesque; but the Englishman is not prettified either:

he bulges out of his breeches, gross and ugly.

In this way the image is created of the Revolution as an
alien and violent, senseless and destructive event. Reason
gone mad. This is what the exhibition dwells upon. We are
shown almost nothing of more sympathetic responses. We get
no sense of the way in which the rest of Europe saw the
Revolution, or of how the Revolution saw itself.

For this you must go to Paris, where a very different image
of the French Revolution is on view. The contrast is apparent
the moment you enter the gallery. In Paris, all is order, simplicity, geometric regularity, purity, harmony and light. A
rigorous classicism rules. It is visible in everything from the
early years of the Revolution: in the clothes, in the Ubiquitous
tricolors and liberty caps, even in the typography. The contrast with the messy, grotesque style of the English propaganda is unmistakable.

The Paris exhibition celebrates the Revolution. It portrays
it as part of the European mainstream. The main emphasis is
on its political ideals, enshrined in the ‘Declaration of the
Rights of Man and Citizen’: democracy, equality and, above
all, liberty. In wider terms, however, the Revolution is shown
as the culmination of the main progressive currents of European philosophy, science, industry, art and literature.

No doubt, this view of the Revolution – just as much as the
one presented in London – is a product of propaganda. These
are the images and ideas that the Revolution fostered of itself.

But there is more to them than that. For these ideas, of
equality and rights, and these images, of harmony and order,
have profoundly shaped the subsequent development, not just
of Europe, but also of the US and many other countries.

Indeed, they still have the power to inspire. Here, however,
these ideas and images continue to seem alien and unfamiliar.

The impact of the anti-revolutionary hate campaign has lingered on far beyond its time.

Our relations with Europe are again at the top of the
political agenda. And insularity and narrowness are still

Radical Philosophy 53, Autumn 1989

prominent features of our response. They can be seen, for
example, in Mrs Thatcher’s recent attacks on the idea of
European integration. At times she appears to regard everything European with suspicion and distrust. The EEC is portrayed as an organization in love with regulation and bureaucracy almost for its own sake, carried away with the desire to
harmonize and standardize everything. Until recently, moreover, such views were common on the left as well.

At the time of the Revolution, Britain and France were
deadly rivals, continually at war with each other. But now
powerful economic forces are pushing Britain into closer and
closer union with France and the rest of Europe. Mrs
Thatcher’s anti-European rhetoric may stir up ancient fears
and temporarily slow this, but it will not stop it.

Other factors are also at work. As Britain sinks down the
economic league table, people are increasingly realizing that
European ‘bureaucracy’ may sometimes offer substantial
benefits. It can guarantee basic political rights and liberties,
through the European Courts; and it may even help to ensure
a minimum level of material well being, through the proposed
Social Charter.

A significant change in attitudes to Europe has already
taken place. The perception that there may be ‘something in it
for us’ has certainly played a part in bringing this about. It
would be unfortunate, however, if attitudes remained at this
level. To go further, some old prejudices will have to be
overcome; and we will need a better understanding of the European approach to social issues and political life.

To a great extent this is a legacy of the French Revolution.

The bicentenary could have provided an opportunity to portray the ideals and achievements of the French Revolution – a
subject about which the British, more than any other people in
Europe, need educating. But the British Museum exhibition
takes an insular and self-centred approach. It does nothing to
fight the chauvinism it portrays. Indeed, whether by accident
or design, it seems to revel in it. This is infantile; it harms no
one but ourselves. ‘Visual images should never be taken at
face value,’ the catalogue reminds us, ‘we need always to ask
what and whose purposes they serve.’ The same questions can
be asked about this exhibition.

Sean Savers


Amid a mildly revivalist spirit, the first meeting took place in
June of a group to plan and produce a new magazine for
Cultural Studies. Exciting times. Probably to be called Mocs
(geddit? Magazine For Cultural Studies), it’s an outcrop of the
new vitality currently appearing inside the Association for
Cultural Studies. The Spring conference of the ACS, on
‘Enterprise Culture’, was held by a great many of its participants to be one of the most challenging and lively conferences

held for quite a time. A hard act to follow, but one of the direct
outcomes of that conference was a decision to launch this new
magazine. It grew out of a sense that Cultural Studies is in
danger of losing its way as an area of study … a discipline …

an intervention – well, that uncertainty captures just where for
a lot of us the problem precisely lies.

Why tell all this in Radical Philosophy? The idea for the
magazine clearly comes out of the state of Cultural Studies
and its needs. But a great many of the ideas for its form, its approach to possible readers, its style and project – even its
editorial procedures – are pinched direct from Radical Philosophy’s inspirational 18-year experience. Not a journal, a
magazine. There are far too many journals, some close to
being unreadable except by special breeds of cognoscenti.

Not just for academic specialists in HE, but deliberately
aiming across involved critics, students and teachers, from
school to HE, cultural practitioners, or just people with a
general intellectual/political commitment to democratic
forms of culture. Not long strings of unbroken prose (something I’m sure we learnt from Radical Philosophy … ). Instead,

shorter, provocative pieces of all kinds – not just articles or
essays, but a mix of news, reviews, reports on activities,
arguments, teaching materials, deconstructions, cartoons.

The analogy with Radical Philosophy’s original project is
a real one. Radical Philosophy set out simultaneously to
challenge philosophical orthodoxies, and to open up lines of
connection with wider domains of social and political thought,
so that the political meanings and implications of ideas would
be upfront. Obviously the context in which this was done – the
early 1970s – is quite different from now. Then, we were still
to an extent basking in the hazy optimisms of the 1960s, for
all the darkening clouds. The new openings of ideas and
cultural practices were still very much alive. Now the clouds
have been raining Thatcherism on us for a good many years.

But still. Cultural Studies was itself a product so much of that
period, with its interest in new forms of culture and cultural
participation. Its belief that the practice of studying culture is
thoroughly implicated in all the political power structures of
the culture it is studying was a key mark of that history. But
one of the striking things about Cultural Studies in the past
few years, in the opinion of quite a few of us, has been the
whittling down of the interventionist/political side of the
field. ‘Ideology’ seems to be disappearing as a concept, in
favour of … well, what? Considerations of power in relation,
say, to the mass media are being sidled out in favour of studies
of soap operas and their all-knowing audiences who decode at
will- not noticing the privatisation implicit in that switch to
this most domestic(ate) of television forms. Cultural Studies
is in danger of losing its sense of ‘making a difference’ . Hence
the new magazine, hence the revivalism.

We by no means all tidily agree with each other. Truth to
tell, having only worked together to such a small extent so far,
we don’t know each other well enough to have found out
(surely the experience of Radical Philosophy in those first
days). What I’ve written above would probably have been
written differently by any other member of the new Collective
– though perhaps with the same kinds of conclusion at the
end. But one of the strengths seems to be a belief that that
need not be a problem. Indeed, the mark of the opening
planning meeting was the serious friendliness of it. The two
most bitter debates we managed to have were over the name
of the magazine, and over whether we should be going for one
with a glued spine or with staples. Those of us brought up in
the Radical Philosophy tradition proudly but firmly went for
the compromise position: let it be ‘saddle-stitched’.

The magazine is going to launch its first issue next February/March. In an RP-size format, with about 48 pages, it will
cost £2.50 and come out twice a year at first. It will, we hope,
be a part of a counterblast against the new censorships, the
rightist seizure of concepts like ‘community’ and ‘cultural
identity’, against privatised and enterprising culture, for culture as emancipatory. The first issue, still under formulation,
is likely to have pieces on Enterprise Culture, the Salman
Rushdie affair, and war series on TV. Like Radical P hilosophy, it will be produced entirely by a voluntary Collective,
and we’ll hope to keep close friendly relations with other such
magazines in overlapping areas. Good luck to us!

Martin Barker
Radical Philosophy 53, Autumn 1989



Philosophical reflection on the visual arts in Britain has always been a largely conservative preserve. The theoretical
innovations and developments in the art history and cultural
theory of the 1970s were mainly directed against the very idea
of the ‘aesthetic’ as a distinct experiential or theoretical
sphere. And while aesthetics, as a discipline, has survived
only on the margins of institutionalised philosophy in Britain,
and has been, in this respect at least, something of a threat to
established conceptions of philosophical activity, it has never
taken up the challenge implicit in this position or pressed it
home with any force.

The appearance of a new journal, the Journal of Philosophy and the Visual Arts, committed to a re-examination and
investigation of the relations between philosophy and the
visual arts from the standpoint of the latest philosophical and
artistic developments, is greatly to be welcomed. Published
by Academy Editions, who already produce two glossy and
highly successful colour magazines with a theoretical slant,
Art and Design and Architectural Design, the new journal
appears in the same large format, although with black and
white reproductions and a thankfully less hecticly fragmented
sty le of design.

The pilot issue, edited by Andrew Benjamin, is already
out. (Volume 1, Number 1 will be next.) Its contents include
Julia Kristeva on Jackson Pollock, Joseph Margolis on the
interconnection of art and history, Paul Crowther on violence
in painting, Clive Dilnot and Maruja Garcia-Padilla on allegory, and a nicely balanced variety of other pieces. The
presence of David Wood’s essay on Escher and Calvino
(‘Thinking Eccentrically About Time’), and Wendy Steiner
on ‘Pynchon and Pictures’ reveal the broad interdisciplinary
perspective of the journal – both widening the scope of traditional conceptions of ‘visual art’ and interrogating its relations to other representational and narrative forms, as well as
opening it up to a more radical consciousness of its own

The editorial describes the project of the journal in terms
of a confrontation between philosophy and visual art which
will not leave the self-conceptions of either untouched. And it
shows a clear identification with the current philosophical, as
well as artistic, avant-garde. Although, as it acknowledges,
the validity of the whole discourse of the ‘avant-garde’ is
itself something which is currently the subject of heated
debate. This will provide the topic of the third issue (Vol. 1,
No. 2). (The next issue will concentrate on Philosophy and
Architecture.) What is less clear is how much of a political
dimension there will be to the debates. But this, presumably,
will be up to the contributors.

Copies are available from all large bookshops, or from
Academy Editions, 7 Holland Street, London W8 4NA

A special one-day conference is to take place on 28th April
1990 at Essex University under the auspices of the Department of Philosophy. The occasion will be used to launch the
Nietzsche Society of Great Britain. The aim of the Conference is to develop “Nietzsche Studies” in the UK in a concerted way by bringing together people from different academic disciplines, including Philosophy, Polititics, Sociology, European Studies and Literature; and co-ordinating their
research activities.Participation in the Conference and Membership of the Society will be open to anyone with an interest
in Nietzsche.

Anyone who would like to organise and/or participate in
a workshop should write with details of their proposal to:

Keith Ansell-Pearson, Nietzsche Conference Organiser,
Department of Political Studies, Queen Mary College,
University of London, Mile End Road, LONDON EI4NS.

Peter Osborne

Radical Philosophy 53, Autumn 1989


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