Tea at Trianon Forum
Always be polite. Courtesy is required of you.
Tea with the Queen
Latest topics
» Do you want a cup of Afternoon tea?
Sun Sep 10, 2017 10:33 pm by otto

» Tea bag vs Loose leaf tea?
Sun Sep 10, 2017 10:27 pm by otto

» Greet teaVS Black tea
Sun Sep 10, 2017 10:22 pm by otto

» Tsar Nicholas I
Thu Aug 03, 2017 11:02 pm by princess garnet

» Emperor Rudolph II
Wed Jul 19, 2017 1:03 pm by princess garnet

»  Tea and Sleep
Fri Apr 28, 2017 4:54 am by janet11

» Faux Pecan Pie
Thu Apr 27, 2017 6:38 am by janet11

» Jacqueline Marie Evancho
Thu Apr 27, 2017 6:18 am by janet11

» Robert Burns
Thu Apr 27, 2017 6:09 am by janet11

Who is online?
In total there are 2 users online :: 0 Registered, 0 Hidden and 2 Guests

None

[ View the whole list ]


Most users ever online was 70 on Mon Jul 27, 2015 8:35 pm
Social bookmarking

Social bookmarking Digg  Social bookmarking Delicious  Social bookmarking Reddit  Social bookmarking Stumbleupon  Social bookmarking Slashdot  Social bookmarking Yahoo  Social bookmarking Google  Social bookmarking Blinklist  Social bookmarking Blogmarks  Social bookmarking Technorati  

Bookmark and share the address of Tea at Trianon Forum on your social bookmarking website

Banner art courtesy of The Graphics Fairy.

Simon Schama: Citizens

View previous topic View next topic Go down

Simon Schama: Citizens

Post  Sophie on Tue Jul 29, 2014 7:23 pm

What do you think about Schama's stout "chronicle"?

In my case, this is the book about the French Revolution I've enjoyed the most so far. I don't know how good is Schama as a historian, but I love the way he, as a "chronicler", portrays the era, the events and the people. I think the specialty of Citizens is that it can't be easily assigned in one genre. One the one hand, you can read it as a stunning "adventure novel" with more than a hundred protagonists and a detailed notes-and-bibliography sytem. One the other hand, you can read it as a serious historical work with interpretations, bias, but an extensive resource management. It can be read by non-historians as an informative work, and by historians who can argue with it or develop some of Schama's theories further. In the end, it's a highly remarkable book!
avatar
Sophie

Posts : 167
Join date : 2011-10-26
Location : under the free blue sky

View user profile

Back to top Go down

Re: Simon Schama: Citizens

Post  Kaitlyn Lauren on Wed Jul 30, 2014 12:58 am

I've been wanting to read this book! It does sound excellent Smile
avatar
Kaitlyn Lauren

Posts : 144
Join date : 2014-06-28
Age : 23
Location : United States

View user profile

Back to top Go down

Re: Simon Schama: Citizens

Post  Elena on Mon Aug 04, 2014 8:29 pm

It is one of the best, in my opinion!

_________________
Je pardonne à tous mes ennemis le mal qu’ils m’ont fait.
avatar
Elena
Admin

Posts : 1164
Join date : 2011-10-18
Location : East of the Sun, West of the Moon

View user profile http://www.emvidal.com/

Back to top Go down

Re: Simon Schama: Citizens

Post  Bunnies on Sun Aug 10, 2014 11:02 pm

Sophie and I were having a private discussion via PM and our discourse strayed to our varying views on the Revolution and what we had used to construct (or, given the ingrained bias of us all, support) them. While we finally compared notes and found that our conclusions were very much identical our material couldn’t have varied more and Sophie, as lovely and perceptive as she is, observed that my repulsion for the name ‘Schama’ ripped across the ocean and was a tangible force emanating from her computer. She suggested that the conversation might be one best held on the forum itself, so as to educate and incorporate opinions from all and I agreed. She held to her word and promptly created this thread whereas I promptly did a 180 and scurried away.

Because one of the founding rules of this forum is: Be polite. And I post here on sufferance as it is. My opinion is so opposed to the consensus that I'm not sure how to articulate it without being forceful. I  hope it goes without saying that the below is directed at Simon Schama, Simon Schama alone, and not any of his readers or fans.

A friend said to me today, Simon Schama’s to the French Revolution historiography what E.L. James is to fanfiction. Certainly Simon Schama should’ve invested in an editor because – he’s not the best at citations, consistency, or even accuracy. I couldn’t possibly list them all, but let’s list some of them and hopefully the sheer volume will weigh down on the work as a whole.

I’m an robespierriste impénitente so let’s focus on him, with the understanding that as an important figure of the period, mistakes regarding his person are somewhat more grievous than and, given the quantity of studies on him, more questionable. And today’s the anniversary of the journee of 10 August, so let’s start there. Schama reports that “Commenting on the Revolution of the 10th August, Robespierre had rejoiced that 'a river of blood would now divide France from her enemies.” Hmm. Pretty hardcore stuff!

Except that Robespierre never said this. What is the deal with people concocting character sketches of historical figures based off of quotes they never said? I demand 500,000 heads, Let them eat cake, The Republic doesn't need scholars --- did anyone ever say anything during the Revolution? Well, in this case: yes. This quote was said by  Danton, the darling of conservatives who want to be radical but not TOO radical, man, because let’s not get crazy. I mean, I like Danton: he wants to chatter about blood, it’s whatever by me, but the bottom line is that not only is this a quote of Danton’s, it’s a famous quote of Danton’s. In relation to the September Massacres. Said not at Paris on the rostrum, where Schama sets Robespierre, but on the frontlines of battle.

So the quote was said by an entirely separate human being in regards to an entirely separate event in an entirely separate context. Is this just a nitpick? Well,  this particular nitpick is either a case of grievous historical laxity or grievous historical dishonesty. In the case of the former, the sin is grievous because taking a quote out of context like this can prove just about anything. I want to prove Robespierre was a royalist? Pff, I’ll just quote a pamphlet of his from the mid-1780s where he describes Louis XVI as a beloved monarch, recite it as the 1790s, and BOOM, I have Maximilien Monarchist Robespierre. A error of this magnitude deserves mockery and condemnation because Simon Schama is not a schoolchild. He is an historian, teaching at one of Britain’s most prestigious universities. This is an author who presumably has an editor. This isn't even a "oh, he's only one man, mistakes are bound to occur!" given the quantity of mistakes riddled throughout the text. There's no excuse.

In the case of the latter, Schama  implies that this river-of-blood is Robespierre's end game and it fits so snugly in his thesis that it has the whiff, not of intellectual laziness, but of deliberate intellectual dishonesty. I mean, he's using the quote to sum up that the Terror as a sadistic, self-evidently Robespierrist enterprise…summarized in reality, again, by Danton.

Right-o.

But at least there’s a degree of logical consistency there. Robespierre=Bad=Terror. I follow, man, I follow. Unfortunately, Schama cannot maintain this throughout his work. Robespierre is, Schama sneers, a provincial nobody of no standing…but then a page later, this provincial nobody is receiving fan-letters from across France, which demonstrates the senders’ easily swayed, childish sensibilities. Which is it? Is Robespierre a Nobody without a Following or is he influencing the weak-minded? It can’t be both. (Incidentally, I’m not-so-subtly referring to the letter of admiration Saint-Just sent to Robespierre. Which Schama, of course, misdates as being sent in 1789. Oop)

Likewise, Robespierre’s father couldn’t have instilled in his son a legalistic mindset while skipping out on his kids. It’s inconsistent. It’s illogical. So too is Robespierre writing a letter to Danton as a condolence for his wife’s death…after Danton has finished grieving and has gotten a second wife. But then, the man who can’t look at a painting of Saint-Just and figure out that the man doesn’t have black hair or flip through any biography of Camille Desmoulins to get his proper birthday right is hardly the man to maintain a firm chronology of dates. But even these negligible errors are packed with calculation: Saint-Just’s black locks warrant comparison to ebony temptresses who leads France to sin, Robespierre is long-nosed like a pantomimed villain and all of this can be disproven by looking at a dang portrait but hey, let’s not. But seriously, imagine Saint-Just and Marat switched physical appearances. Where’s your smoldering temptress now? Who is a poxy gargoyle? Get a time machine and switch the paintings of Robespierre and Louis XVI -- what sterling analysis are we going to draw from the corpulent Robespierre and the suavely smiling Louis? This whole trend, of drawing personalities from appearances, is hogwash. Phrenology is a discredited science.

On a slightly wider scale, Schama fails to properly calibrate the true political scope of certain integral points, such as investment of abolitionism of the Girondin deputies such as Brissot and Vergniaud. While Schama likes to foist his favorites with the hallowed crown of abolitionism, a little digging would indicate that his favorites are as moderate here as they are anywhere - because, hey, “radicalism” isn’t a synonym for evil. Sometimes moderation sucks.  Moderation in abolitionism SUCKS but this nuance is carefully not discussed because, again, radicalism=evil always.

But hey, Schama thinks Abolition is a Good Thing and wants to applaud those who rallied for it – even if he overestimates their contribution, A+, good opinion there. But wait a tick. The Jacobin Republic, they outlawed slavery in February 1794, didn’t they? Pretty big deal, that! And since Schama feels so strongly about abolition, strong enough to include it in an offhand litany of laudable Girondist traits, he’ll surely --- not mention it?

So let me get this straight. When a Girondist makes an offhand comment, which he never ever acts upon or includes with so many caveats that his comment becomes meaningless that, “Slavery is sorta bad sometimes idk?” it deserves a round of applause but when a Montagnarde government actually abolishes slavery it doesn’t warrant a mention? Not a footnote?

Look me in the eye and tell me there isn’t a degree of intellectual dishonesty here. You can’t tell me that’s accidental.

But again, maybe there's no ideological whitewashing (!) regarding these omissions. But then we have to confront the fact that Simon Schama is a hack historian who apparently has no idea what was going on in the period of which he was writing. I mean, abolition was… kinda a big deal at the time. And actually, its very conception had spurred on a lot of the counterrevolutionaries, who interpreted it as an act of "Terror." Even proposing it got the Revolutionaries a lot of flack, because they were effectively advocating stripping people of their "property." And yes, abolitionism – alongside stripping the aristocracy of feudal dues – is the root of the “leveler” “anarchist” pseudo-Marxist accusations against Jacobinism are rooted (I mean, I guess we could squint at the Laws of Ventose, but that's a debate for another day and also? If Saint-Just's a Socialist for the Laws of Ventose than Henry VIII's a Socialist for the dissolution of monasteries and goshdarnit you see how this is getting ridiculous?) Anyway, people see Rich People whining about how their “property” is being taken away and immediately shift to a 20th century analysis, think Communism, and twist Robespierre into Lenin. But abolitionism isn’t Communism – and Communism is what Schama is really condemning in Citizens, so this doesn’t quite gel with his thesis, so he apparently chooses not to mention it.

Whoa there Bunnies! Schama isn’t writing about Communism, he’s writing about the French Revolution!

Eh, no he’s not. Given the alarming proliferation of mistakes, any resemblance between Citizens and the French Revolution is purely coincidental. Schama can’t really stop telling us How Little he’s writing about the French Revolution, given his consistent comparisons to the Bolsheviks/Nazis and the Jacobins…while simultaneously criticizing Marxist historians who did the same dang thing, albeit for different ideological motives. (Saying Jacobins=Bolsheviks=Bad is as erroneous as saying Jacobins=Bolsheviks=Good, given that the error in argument is the equivalency itself. Big words? Well, this was effectively argued and proven by Francois Furet, Schama's ideological mentor and the most vocal proponent of Revisionism himself. Although he was equally blind to the logical and natural inversion of his thesis, somehow managing to criticize Marxists for an ahistorical juxtaposition while doing the same thing himself. Sorta like how he criticized Marxists for twisting history to suit their purposes while doing the same thing himself. Pff.

I mean, check it out: Schama quotes Saint-Just as saying, ‘The Republic consists in the extermination of all who oppose it.’ Wowee! So Saint-Just is a totalitarian nutbag who advocates the execution of anyone who happens to disagree with him and Schama, being an upstanding citizen, condemns this. Nasty stuff.

Oh wait. What Saint-Just said was, "Ce qui constitue une République, c’est la destruction totale de ce qui lui est opposé." Translating that into English, it becomes: "What constitutes a Republic is the total destruction of that which is opposed to it." Not ‘who’. That. Almost like Saint-Just’s speech is contextually discussing ideas and not human beings, hmm.
(If Schama’s version was translated into French, it would be something like "La République consiste de l’extermination de tous ceux qui lui opposent.")

So, either Schama’s paraphrasing is poor or he intentionally manipulated the Saint-Just quote in order to fit the hard-core "Jacobins were basically French Nazis" argument that he’s been pushing forward throughout his text. Really, with words like "extermination", it’s not difficult to figure out what he’s implying (*coughHolocaustGulagcough*).

There’s always more. Schama reports Fouquier's defense post-Thermidor of "I didn't commit a crime!" as being similar to the Nuremburg trials. True. But this is also similar to every single criminal trial that has ever been in human history, so I don't really understand the reference, aside from ideological grounding. This is conscious twisting and, I must say, playing dirty.  

Holocaust, holocaust, holocaust: paint your opposition as Nazis (Who are also Communists? Somehow?), and anyone who disagrees with you is literally a holocaust denier A+ above-board playing. Speaking of denying atrocities, Simon Schama sure is selective when he reports them. He’ll give his elongated reports of the crimes of Carrier but hey, what about Charette? He’ll weep over Lamballe – as indeed he should, as we should weep over all victims of rape and murder – but not give Marie Martin a mention? The equivalent of this would be writing about the Battle of Bosworth and weeping over how Tudor’s army stabbed Richard with swords while neglecting to mention that Richard had an army too, was also intent on stabbing, and oh yeah there’s a battle going on.

Now, to reiterate a point I made in another thread: as long as history is written by humans about humans, a degree of bias and polarization is inevitably going to sink in. But if an historian is going to write a book of political argument he should call it just that: a political argument, a diatribe, and not plain history. The average reader isn’t perusing Citizens with one hand gripping a highlighter and one hand flipping for citations, the average reader is trusting their historian to give them history. Schama’s Citizens is just part of the left-right swing that the Revolution has been playing on since Barnave published his introduction to the subject in 1792. That is, while the Revolution was still Happening. Any argument has to be backed up, not with emotion, but FACT, and Schama apparently favors making up and twisting facts to suit his case.

And that’s what isn’t cool. It also isn't cool that the work, despite its reprints and citation by popular historians as the Frev "Bible" was not a labor of love for Schama...it's a rather apparent hop onto the bandwagon of 1989 bicentennial celebrations.

But these are, even in summation, arguably nitpicks. Even if they do add up, even if errors are riddled on almost every page, even if the sum total should make the work itself worthy of more scrutiny. Still nitpicks, I guess, although together the work comes apart at its seams. Don’t I have anything substantial to say?

Well, in the large scale, the entirety of Citizens relies heavily on the late-1980s theory that "history is over." Which is to say, we need no longer to reform, we need no longer to question, our current Government is Good and prosperity is surely to follow.

Schama's lasting achievement - and indeed, this is the achievement of Revisionism itself - is to discredit the idea that the event of the French Revolution brought about a change in France's social order. This is largely proven, naturally, by omitting any mention of the changes in his work [for a quick example, see the abolition of slavery above. But that's questionable given Napoleon's later reestablishment: if you wanna peruse the case yourself, Isser Woloch's The New Regime is in English and straight-up addresses many of Schama's omissions so!] Schama sees the revolution as a narrow political event rather than a broader social transformation - which is to say, that the extremity of circumstances of war, famine, counter-revolution, figures little in his explanation as to why the "protagonists" act the way they do. This becomes most apparent in his analysis of the Terror, which is explained NOT in terms of war or counter-revolution but in reference to the ~symbolic ~re-establishment of power of the people with ~villains and ~plotters. Materialism, what's that?

But this is arguably an ideological contention - although I must say that I'm not a Marxist of any variety, and so while Schama likes to shriek that only evil Stalinists could possibly disagree with his absolutely objective interpretation, my ideological ax isn't grinding in the name of a Proletarian Revolution.  Because to an extent, I actually agree with Schama: Revolutions SUCK. They’re gross and messy and a lot of innocent people get swept up in them and get hurt or worse. But Citizens acts as a moral rebuke against the oppressed, rather than the oppressor. Rather than arguing, “Reform! Fix the problems in your government before they grab the pitchforks!” he shrieks, “You're oppressed? SIT DOWN AND SHUT UP! Never question your government or kindly Louis XVI will be replaced by the Ebil Robespierre!”

Because hey, if History is Over, and our Governments are perfect, any change will inevitably be for the worse, right? If History’s over, and everything’s perfect, if you’re struggling, it’s YOUR fault, isn’t it? Prosperity is here!

Government good, you bad. What a delightful thesis coming from a man who claims to be against totalitarianism.

Hi, 2014 poppin' in to say hi: History isn't over. I should hope that the 25 years since the publication of Citizens is proof enough that there’s something wrong, a wrong we can discuss in another thread, at another time.

But we can at least come to this consensus: Something. Is. Wrong. Look at the unemployment rates and tell me nothing is wrong. Look at the drone strikes, the bombing, the war, and tell me nothing is wrong. Tell me history is over and that this is all we have to hope for. Tell me unemployment, debt, war, was the grand, prosperous inheritance the 1980s promised its children, promised your children.  

History Isn’t Over. Clamping our palms over our ears and denying this only omits opportunities for change. For betterment. There's not just room, there's a demand, there's a necessity for reforms.  

Go make them from above before we make them from below.
avatar
Bunnies

Posts : 199
Join date : 2012-12-24
Age : 24

View user profile http://bunniesandbeheadings.tumblr.com

Back to top Go down

Re: Simon Schama: Citizens

Post  Sophie on Wed Aug 13, 2014 7:59 pm

Wow, it's a bit hard to react because your critic is so coherent and in some way extremely logical, so I just write my personal thoughts on yours...

Bunnies wrote:Sophie, as lovely and perceptive as she is, observed that my repulsion for the name ‘Schama’ ripped across the ocean and was a tangible force emanating from her computer.

Laughing

Certainly Simon Schama should’ve invested in an editor because – he’s not the best at citations, consistency, or even accuracy. I couldn’t possibly list them all, but let’s list some of them and hopefully the sheer volume will weigh down on the work as a whole.

I suppose this was one reason Schama refers to his work as a „chronic” rather than a more serious historical paper. I'm not defending him, but if you think about medieval chronics, they also weren't as accurate as we expect today, and they were really really biased. Literary works form themselves, that's why I'm sure that Schama himself also didn't know what exactly he wants to write at the very beginning. Yes, sometimes he writes a „novel” and sometimes a „dissertation”, and it can be disturbing.

In the case of the latter, Schama implies that this river-of-blood is Robespierre's end game and it fits so snugly in his thesis that it has the whiff, not of intellectual laziness, but of deliberate intellectual dishonesty. I mean, he's using the quote to sum up that the Terror as a sadistic, self-evidently Robespierrist enterprise…summarized in reality, again, by Danton.

I was glad to be in Hungary right now, because I could get Citizens from the shelf down and search for this fiasco. I must admit I didn't find that now, nor can I remember reading it years ago. It's not important at all, but is it a direct or an indirect quote in the text? It's very weird, anyway, that such a thick and detailed book can contain such an error.

This whole trend, of drawing personalities from appearances, is hogwash. Phrenology is a discredited science.

Yes, it's not scientific at all. It's the „novelist” Schama again, following Carlyle's and others' tradition.

So let me get this straight. When a Girondist makes an offhand comment, which he never ever acts upon or includes with so many caveats that his comment becomes meaningless that, “Slavery is sorta bad sometimes idk?” it deserves a round of applause but when a Montagnarde government actually abolishes slavery it doesn’t warrant a mention? Not a footnote?

OK, it's also really worth considering... Wink

Given the alarming proliferation of mistakes, any resemblance between Citizens and the French Revolution is purely coincidental. Schama can’t really stop telling us How Little he’s writing about the French Revolution, given his consistent comparisons to the Bolsheviks/Nazis and the Jacobins…while simultaneously criticizing Marxist historians who did the same dang thing, albeit for different ideological motives. (Saying Jacobins=Bolsheviks=Bad is as erroneous as saying Jacobins=Bolsheviks=Good, given that the error in argument is the equivalency itself.

Well, one of Schama's deal was to show how „the French Revolution foreshadowed totalitarian regimes of the 20th century” (from the jacket flap of the Hungarian edition). This is his bias. And although we often laugh at people who have a theory and then find random sources that prove it, the sad truth is that many of us are doing it unconsciously. I mean, many of us like to draw parallels between historical times, thinking that „big” people in history experienced the same feelings than our „small” family members who suffered under Nazi/Communist terrors. And, speaking of personal bias, if you consider Schama's own Jewish identity, it's not even surprising that he's so sensitive to all these topics (I recall a chapter title „The Holocaust of Freedom” from his Citizens, or the below mentioned parallel of Fouquier-Tinville and the Nuremberg trial). I don't say it's good or historically accurate, but it's utterly human.

Oh wait. What Saint-Just said was, "Ce qui constitue une République, c’est la destruction totale de ce qui lui est opposé." Translating that into English, it becomes: "What constitutes a Republic is the total destruction of that which is opposed to it." Not ‘who’. That. Almost like Saint-Just’s speech is contextually discussing ideas and not human beings, hmm. 
(If Schama’s version was translated into French, it would be something like "La République consiste de l’extermination de tous ceux qui lui opposent.")

My French is still quite poor, so I have to believe you. But just because Saint-Just doesn't talk about about humans but ideologies spread by humans, it doesn't mean that his statement can't be *interpreted* as a call for destroying the counter-republican people as well. But it must really remain as an interpretation and not a statement.

Holocaust, holocaust, holocaust: paint your opposition as Nazis (Who are also Communists? Somehow?), and anyone who disagrees with you is literally a holocaust denier A+ above-board playing.

Sensitive field, if you ask me. It shouldn't be, but we can't change this. Pity...

The average reader isn’t perusing Citizens with one hand gripping a highlighter and one hand flipping for citations, the average reader is trusting their historian to give them history.

So did I. But the truth is that I liked the way Schama interpreted events (so his political propaganda, in this sense) in 2005, by the time I read in the book for the first time. I was 14 then. And I became kinda „brainwashed”, so today I see everything through Schama's glasses. I try to create my own point of view, but I'm afraid I'm very similar to Schama in many ways, and this is what my soul needs. Thank God I'm not a professional historian!

To the last few paragraphs of your review: I find it amazing how you interpret Citizens in the context of 1989. I was always so obsessed with his style, his richness in details and the „I-write-everything-in-one-book!”-intention that I never realized what conclusions Schama's interpretation might deliver to us, the posterity. I read it as a closed system and not an allegory of today's world (even it the „Revolutioners → Nazis/Communists” line gives the majority of explanations in the book), and I never realized that Citizens might influence the way I see contemporary politics. So thank you very much for this enrichening new detail to „understand” Schama's position and bias (even if it's impossible to understand another human fully, vive le postmodernisme).

And thank you, above all, for this long and logically built analysis about the book. As you see, I don't argue with you much, because all things you write are matter-of-factly „true”, and they are really good tools to handle with Schama as an author and with Citizens as a kind of historical work critically, even if our personal points of view differ in some ways.
avatar
Sophie

Posts : 167
Join date : 2011-10-26
Location : under the free blue sky

View user profile

Back to top Go down

Re: Simon Schama: Citizens

Post  Bunnies on Thu Aug 14, 2014 2:53 pm


I was glad to be in Hungary right now, because I could get Citizens from the shelf down and search for this fiasco. I must admit I didn't find that now, nor can I remember reading it years ago. It's not important at all, but is it a direct or an indirect quote in the text? It's very weird, anyway, that such a thick and detailed book can contain such an error.

Direct. I don't have Citizens on me but I'll try to pull it up for later in the discussion. At the same time though, I would have thought that my litany of mistakes would have shaken the foundation of Schama-not-being-one-to-make-Errors. He makes them all the time.
From minuscule details that should be easy to fact check (ie., Camille Desmoulins' birthdate or Saint-Just's hair-color) to wider errors in argument (Arrogantly thinking that History Is Over in 1989, etc.).

Re: his titling the work as a Chronicle, I hardly think this was an effort to highlight his own biases. Indeed, Schama favors himself the God of Objectivity, and preens himself as such on documentaries, reviews, etc. He even got into a public "flame-war" with Norman Hampson when the latter dared to question certain assertions. Not the main thesis, mind you, just Hey, maybe you should probably know that Camille Desmoulins wasn't an actor:

http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/1989/may/18/the-two-french-revolutions-an-exchange/

Sidenote, I found this quote of Schama's in the above exchange hil-ari-ous:
Hampson is impervious to this kind of writing just as he thinks I offer no account of Jacobin ideology because I prefer to describe its acting out in spoken rhetoric, paintings, prints and songs rather than as a set of abstract principles and texts.

w-what?

H-how aren't songs and paintings just manifestations of abstract principles and texts? Gosh, what is so scary about materialism?

Well, one of Schama's deal was to show how „the French Revolution foreshadowed totalitarian regimes of the 20th century” (from the jacket flap of the Hungarian edition). This is his bias. And although we often laugh at people who have a theory and then find random sources that prove it, the sad truth is that many of us are doing it unconsciously. I mean, many of us like to draw parallels between historical times, thinking that „big” people in history experienced the same feelings than our „small” family members who suffered under Nazi/Communist terrors. And, speaking of personal bias, if you consider Schama's own Jewish identity, it's not even surprising that he's so sensitive to all these topics (I recall a chapter title „The Holocaust of Freedom” from his Citizens, or the below mentioned parallel of Fouquier-Tinville and the Nuremberg trial). I don't say it's good or historically accurate, but it's utterly human.

As I said, a bias is unavoidable. But he supports his with such rampant dishonesty, in the manner I've already described. In any case, it's interesting that when a Revisionist Historian has "personal" reasons for his pet bias, it deserves more attention and apologies but when an Orthodox has "personal" reasons for his, then it's to be dismissed. I'm thinking of Lefebvre, the contemporary and intellectual companion of Albert Mathiez, whose brother was guillotined on the orders of Adolf Hitler. This tragedy was employed by Revisionists, such as Tourzel, to discredit Lefebvre. After all, Lefebvre clearly favored the Revolutionary-bias because it happened to be shared by many of the French Resistance fighters! Like Albert Soboul. Pff, that's not, that's not objective.

Please. In any case, Lefebvre was absolutely sensitive to these topics and this is why he advocated resistance to oppression, rather than approaching your tyrant with head bowed low, "Pretty please, Mr. Furhrer sir, could you please stop killing us? No? Okay. I-I'll go home, then. I wouldn't want, I wouldn't want to resist and cause someone to get hurt, oh dear me no!" But that's my bias talking now. But it really all comes down to: Your bias should be able to be supported with fact. And I mean fact, not "I'm going to prove our unredeemable this group was by not mentioning anything good they did" or omission. Or "I'm going to twist what they said to have them parallel the Big Bad of the 20th century" skewering. Or, hey, invention: The French Revolution totes killed 400,000 people guise it's for truthies.

Although, *giggle* hey, if Lincoln's Civil War killed a million people "to end slavery," and the Jacobins did it at 400,000, isn't Maximilien Robespierre just Abraham Lincoln at bargain basement prices? But oh no! Lincoln suspended the writ of habeus corpus and usurped dictatorial power! LINCOLN WAS ADOLF HITLER GUYS HE FORESHADOWS THE HOLOCAUST!

STOP LINCOLN 2K14!

I can do it too. You can literally turn anyone into a Stalinist Nazi with enough ellipses and a leap of logic, and considering the former is nearly the entirety of Schama's Citizens I'm not too impressed.  I'm being facetious but still, it's worth noting. (Or not, I guess, since Schama doesn't note slavery but to get Morality Points for the Girondins.)

To that end, William Doyle somehow managed, in his Oxford History of the French Revolution, to argue the Revisionist thesis without any glaring mistakes (I still disagree on a wider, ideological level but) Schama was both intellectually dishonest and lazy. C'mon. And say what we will about Marxists, but I've yet to see one use phrenology to argue a central point of their thesis.

A bias isn't an excuse for any of this nonsense.

My French is still quite poor, so I have to believe you. But just because Saint-Just doesn't talk about about humans but ideologies spread by humans, it doesn't mean that his statement can't be *interpreted* as a call for destroying the counter-republican people as well. But it must really remain as an interpretation and not a statement.

In which case I'd cite you to look at the whole speech - and since Schama can't be troubled to look at a painting of Saint-Just he probably can't be troubled to read his speech. I think I myself may have miscalibrated Saint-Just's meaning, since I was more miffed about the translation then anything, but hey look: I'm posting on a forum. I don't have an editor. This is acceptable here but maybe you shouldn't be slamming the New York Time's Best Seller List with poorly thought out arguments and errors.

In any case, "actions do speak louder than words," and I'd just ask whether Saint-Just lived up to his bloodthirsty rhetoric on mission. (Hint: He did not. Saint-Just actually attracted criticism from the Committee of Public Safety for being too lenient. Saint-Just presumably flipped them two birds and then stage-dived into his army. ...Well, it's at least as legit as anything Schama wrote.)  It should here be noted that Jacobin rhetoric was violent - they would use violent imagery even if they were doing something absolutely pacifistic. "AND NOW WE WILL BAKE A CAKE AND OUR ENEMIES WILL BE SO DEVASTATED BY OUR CULINARY DELIGHTS THAT THEIR HEADS WILL SPEWER OFF IN SHAME!" Compare this with the Society of Jesus, who preached pacifism and love while raping old ladies and murdering political dissidents. (Edit: I am not here referring to the Jesuits or any other quintessentially Catholic organization, but the offshoot loonies who popped up during the White Terror in 1795 and later. I don't know enough about the true Jesuits to construct any criticism or praise of them so. Yes.) Or a more modern example, the United States current pacifistic, "war on Terror" where they plaster watchfords like Democracy and Freedom while bombing children.

Which is to say, I'm not too swayed by rhetoric. But Schama is, and said as much. I bet he gets frustrated at the polls all the time. "But my candidate SAID they'd do this! What do you MEAN politicians lie?!?!?!?!"

To the last few paragraphs of your review: I find it amazing how you interpret Citizens in the context of 1989. I was always so obsessed with his style, his richness in details and the „I-write-everything-in-one-book!”-intention that I never realized what conclusions Schama's interpretation might deliver to us, the posterity. I read it as a closed system and not an allegory of today's world (even it the „Revolutioners → Nazis/Communists” line gives the majority of explanations in the book), and I never realized that Citizens might influence the way I see contemporary politics. So thank you very much for this enrichening new detail to „understand” Schama's position and bias (even if it's impossible to understand another human fully, vive le postmodernisme).

This is actually why I'm a little more "miffed" at Schama than I might be at others. He was writing for a popular audience, he had a fluid and enticing prose: he is a brilliant and enthralling author. As such it was his responsibility to be honest, it was hist duty to be careful, it was his duty to leave his readers with a solid impression of the Revolution. But he didn't. Nonetheless, he is so well-read that in popular discussion, the phrase "everyone knows" is usually translated into "Simon Schama knows" and since what Simon Schama knows is questionable, we have a sticky wicket indeed.
avatar
Bunnies

Posts : 199
Join date : 2012-12-24
Age : 24

View user profile http://bunniesandbeheadings.tumblr.com

Back to top Go down

Re: Simon Schama: Citizens

Post  Sophie on Thu Aug 28, 2014 8:16 am

Bunnies wrote:
From minuscule details that should be easy to fact check (ie., Camille Desmoulins' birthdate or Saint-Just's hair-color) to wider errors in argument (Arrogantly thinking that History Is Over in 1989, etc.).

In the 1989 Hungarian edition, he also confuses Louis-Joseph with Louis-Charles (he calls the ex-dauphin, with whom Antoinette was accused with incest, an "approximately eleven-year-old boy"). Not that it makes a difference if an abused boy is eight or eleven, but I find it a bit more tragic that the boy torn apart from her mother wasn't a little adolescent but an even smaller child.

H-how aren't songs and paintings just manifestations of abstract principles and texts? Gosh, what is so scary about materialism?

True. Schama might try to go to another radical direction, after finding that other works don't analyze material stuff in the depth and extent he finds necessary...?

I can do it too. You can literally turn anyone into a Stalinist Nazi with enough ellipses and a leap of logic, and considering the former is nearly the entirety of Schama's Citizens I'm not too impressed.  I'm being facetious but still, it's worth noting. (Or not, I guess, since Schama doesn't note slavery but to get Morality Points for the Girondins.)

I think this whole point comes from a logical mistake that is rooted in traditional view of history (at least in the former Socialist part of world, but not only, I suppose). The point is that the Jacobins built a "dictatorship" with Robespierre as a "dictator". For Lenin and co., it was very important to have previous examples for that kind of "proletarian dictatorship" they wanted to create in Russia. The "Jacobin dictatorship" as a phenomen, no matter if it's true or not (from today's POV, rather not), sounds really like the previous version of "Nazi dictatorship" or "Stalinist dictatorship". But it surely wasn't THAT kind of dictatorship, and then, if you don't call it dictatorship, then the whole argument won't stay at all. Using the word "dictatorship" concentrates on similarities, but there were a bunch of important differences, too. (My grandfathers recall how people had to clap their hands, shouting "Long Live the Great Stalin, Long Live the Great Stalin!" None of the Jacobins expected such a childish personal cult in the 1790s. But maybe the biased interpretation of the French Revolution could lead to the later "extended versions" of "dictatorship".)

In any case, "actions do speak louder than words," and I'd just ask whether Saint-Just lived up to his bloodthirsty rhetoric on mission. (Hint: He did not. Saint-Just actually attracted criticism from the Committee of Public Safety for being too lenient. Saint-Just presumably flipped them two birds and then stage-dived into his army. ...Well, it's at least as legit as anything Schama wrote.)  It should here be noted that Jacobin rhetoric was violent - they would use violent imagery even if they were doing something absolutely pacifistic. "AND NOW WE WILL BAKE A CAKE AND OUR ENEMIES WILL BE SO DEVASTATED BY OUR CULINARY DELIGHTS THAT THEIR HEADS WILL SPEWER OFF IN SHAME!" Compare this with the Society of Jesus, who preached pacifism and love while raping old ladies and murdering political dissidents. (Edit: I am not here referring to the Jesuits or any other quintessentially Catholic organization, but the offshoot loonies who popped up during the White Terror in 1795 and later. I don't know enough about the true Jesuits to construct any criticism or praise of them so. Yes.)  Or a more modern example, the United States current pacifistic, "war on Terror" where they plaster watchfords like Democracy and Freedom while bombing children.

Yes, these examples are very good. But somehow, it's easier to find contradictions if someone speaks about peace and love while doing disgusting things. If someone has an aggressive rhetoric, one doesn't tend to search for the hidden truth: "Are they really so aggressive, or is it only a rhetoric?" The far right-party of Hungary often claims that they are misrepresented in the media because of their offensive rhetoric, but they mean no harm. Haha. One of their members said in the Parliament that "Jews in the country has to be listed for being dangerous for the nation", and later on, he was totally huffish because he only meant "people with Hungarian-Israeli dual citizenship". With such a rhetoric, I don't care what he meant. He should learn to use the exact words if he doesn't want to be offended. (If he really feels the difference between dual citizens and "Jews", which I highly debate... Rolling Eyes ) And then they say: OK, but we are a radical party, we should talk radically! But if we use the same word with *radically* (hehe) different meanings, there can't be a dialogue between us.

OK, my problem with rhetoric in general has nothing to do with Schama and his book, so I'll move on... Laughing

This is actually why I'm a little more "miffed" at Schama than I might be at others. He was writing for a popular audience, he had a fluid and enticing prose: he is a brilliant and enthralling author. As such it was his responsibility to be honest, it was hist duty to be careful, it was his duty to leave his readers with a solid impression of the Revolution. But he didn't. Nonetheless, he is so well-read that in popular discussion, the phrase "everyone knows" is usually translated into "Simon Schama knows" and since what Simon Schama knows is questionable, we have a sticky wicket indeed.

Schama's mistakes are really disappointing - even for myself who likes the way he generally writes. Sometimes I feel that it's impossible for historians to avoid factual errors in their works, no matter how hard they try... Neutral
avatar
Sophie

Posts : 167
Join date : 2011-10-26
Location : under the free blue sky

View user profile

Back to top Go down

Re: Simon Schama: Citizens

Post  Bunnies on Thu Oct 02, 2014 6:59 pm


In the 1989 Hungarian edition, he also confuses Louis-Joseph with Louis-Charles (he calls the ex-dauphin, with whom Antoinette was accused with incest, an "approximately eleven-year-old boy"). Not that it makes a difference if an abused boy is eight or eleven, but I find it a bit more tragic that the boy torn apart from her mother wasn't a little adolescent but an even smaller child.

No, it doesn't. It really doesn't. But it is better to be accurate than inaccurate. If Schama cannot get a firm hold on the negligible aspects of the Revolution which aren't debated - ie., names and dates - then how can we trust him on what is debated?


The point is that the Jacobins built a "dictatorship" with Robespierre as a "dictator". For Lenin and co., it was very important to have previous examples for that kind of "proletarian dictatorship" they wanted to create in Russia. The "Jacobin dictatorship" as a phenomen, no matter if it's true or not (from today's POV, rather not), sounds really like the previous version of "Nazi dictatorship" or "Stalinist dictatorship". But it surely wasn't THAT kind of dictatorship, and then, if you don't call it dictatorship, then the whole argument won't stay at all. Using the word "dictatorship" concentrates on similarities, but there were a bunch of important differences, too. (My grandfathers recall how people had to clap their hands, shouting "Long Live the Great Stalin, Long Live the Great Stalin!" None of the Jacobins expected such a childish personal cult in the 1790s. But maybe the biased interpretation of the French Revolution could lead to the later "extended versions" of "dictatorship".)

The Russian Revolutionaries did take inspiration from the Jacobins. Their leaders perused the histories of the Revolution and drew their own interpretations, their own inspirations. And they had the opportunity to learn from its - many - mistakes. They chose not to learn and that makes their actions reprehensible. Schama is wrong to posture that Robespierre and co. could have possibly anticipated the 20th century, that they even shared common principles with them. Bottom line, it's absurd to blame 20th century events on the 18th century. These 20th century revolutionaries may have held Robespierre as among their forefather - but is that indicative that he would have liked them in return? (And I place much weight on the word "may" back there. 'Cuz lemme tell you, I've read me some Lenin, I've read me some Stalin, and they ain't exactly singing his praises if you get me.)

Oddly, the chief point I disagree with you here is the idea that the Jacobins didn't expect such a childish personal cult. While I don't think Robespierre (or Danton, or Vergniaud, or anyone) were aiming for a personal dictatorship at this juncture -- c'mon. C'mon. C'mon. Robespierre ain't a dumb dumb, when people shout "long live Robespierre!" on the street he picks up what they're putting down. So yes, Jacobinism and Bolshevikism do share the strain of a cult of personality. But details aren't substance. Like Stalin, Robespierre also had two legs and a face. Coincidence? Coincidence?

I have as many limbs as Adolf Hitler.

Joan of Arc shared Eva Person's religion.

A commonality isn't an equivalence.

And if you contend that an obsession with one individual is of a larger impact than the litany of details I just rattled off: The United States, the alleged "good" Revolution of the 18th century, swore in its First President as "His High Mightiness, the President of the United States and Protector of their Liberties." Washington bartered this down to "Mr. President" in his ensuing tenure as President, but that's...that has a strain of the "cult of personality" there. That is ridiculous. But it was hardly new. I must say, declaring your leader God's anointed King also seems to be indicative of a degree of obsession with one person. At worst, in this respect, even Lenin would be guilty of mere hypocrisy in doing the same thing as the Tsar before him - certainly, it was nothing new.

And perhaps there's some misunderstanding here. I understand why the Jacobins are compared to the Bolsheviks, from a historiographical perspective. I'm aware of the heady debates, the clashing philosophies. But that's not going to stop me from thinking it's stupid. I understand 1794% but heck if I've seen a valid point to date.



But somehow, it's easier to find contradictions if someone speaks about peace and love while doing disgusting things. If someone has an aggressive rhetoric, one doesn't tend to search for the hidden truth: "Are they really so aggressive, or is it only a rhetoric?"
Eh, I get what you're saying and I agree to an extent (although I'd point out here that we're being a little churlish in highlighting the Jacobins for speaking with a virulence. As though they were the only ones who spoke of blood and guillotines. They aren't.) Certainly the Jacobins used the language they did because they meant to instill "terror" into their listeners. Nevertheless, that is how it should be discussed: what they meant as well as how it was perceived, in a work of history. If Saint-Just says a Super Scary Thing, we would do right to condemn it as fear-mongering. But we are being ingenuous if we don't point out that, wul, when given the means, motive, and opportunity, Saint-Just doesn't live up to his Super Scary Thing at all. And I reiterate, the language ain't cool...but it should be contextualized.

Schama's mistakes are really disappointing - even for myself who likes the way he generally writes. Sometimes I feel that it's impossible for historians to avoid factual errors in their works, no matter how hard they try...

Pff, I don't know why we're cutting Schama so much slack here. There's mistakes in every work of history but there's an inordinate amount of mistakes here.
avatar
Bunnies

Posts : 199
Join date : 2012-12-24
Age : 24

View user profile http://bunniesandbeheadings.tumblr.com

Back to top Go down

Re: Simon Schama: Citizens

Post  Sponsored content


Sponsored content


Back to top Go down

View previous topic View next topic Back to top

- Similar topics

 
Permissions in this forum:
You cannot reply to topics in this forum