Missed revolutions and Revolutions to Come

A conversation about memory, catastrophe, and the role of culture in shaping political experience


Fields of Knowledge
  • Pedagogy
  • Philosophy / Theory
  • Politics / Economics

Organizing Institutions



Jean-Michel Rabaté


Department of English at the University of Pennsylvania

Opens to public



4017 Walnut St
Philadelphia, PA 19104


25% Formal - 75% Informal

Slought is pleased to announce "Missed revolutions and revolutions to come," an evening conversation with philosophers Rebecca Comay and Andrew Benjamin, moderated by Jean-Michel Rabaté, on Friday, October 21, 2011 from 6:30-8pm. The conversation, using Rebecca Comay's book Mourning Sickness (2010) as a starting point, will explore a new reading of Hegel in light of contemporary theories of historical trauma. Comay explores the ways in which major historical events are experienced vicariously, and the fantasies we use to make sense of them. Hegel is brought into relation with the most burning contemporary discussions around catastrophe, witness, memory, and the role of culture in shaping political experience.

Like many of his contemporaries, Hegel was struck by the seeming parallel between the political upheaval in France and the upheaval in German philosophy inaugurated by the Protestant Reformation and brought to a climax by German Idealism. Many thinkers reasoned that a political revolution would be unnecessary in Germany, because this intellectual "revolution" had preempted it. Having already been through its own cataclysm, Germany would be able to extract the energy of the Revolution and channel its radicalism into thought. Hegel comes close to making such an argument too. But he also offers a powerful analysis of how this kind of secondhand history gets generated in the first place, and shows what is stake. This is what makes him uniquely interesting among his contemporaries: he demonstrates how a fantasy can be simultaneously deconstructed and enjoyed.

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"Note the paradoxical temporality. The new is the déjà vu is the perpetually not yet. Always familiar and yet forever awaited, the present unfolds into both a memory and a promise. The Revolution splays out simultaneously toward past and future—a cataract diverted from the cliff edge of a present left vacant, invulnerable, and intact. The crisis already over: we've already had our revolution—there is nothing (left) to fear. Or, the crisis is forever pending: the real revolution is yet to come—there is nothing (yet) to fear. Already here, forever elsewhere..."

-- Rebecca Comay, Missed Revolutions