The Joy of Revolution

While preparing some materials for a talk on the Situationists as part of a course I am teaching, I stumbled upon a delightful reference to Blake in the comic Lulu’s Public Secrets, which can be found on the Bureau of Public Secrets site (http://www.bopsecrets.org/comics/lulu1.htm).

The comic, an act of détournement that will be familiar to anyone with some knowledge of the Situationists, takes the text of Ken Knabb’s The Joy of Revolution dealing with the possibilities and problems of global, anti-hierarchical revolution, and splices it with an episode from one of the Little Lulu comics. (Lulu Moppet was a troublemaker popular in American comic strips in the 1950s and 60s. Despite such promising beginnings, of course, Lulu ended up being thoroughly recuperated into the service of advertising and product placements, so this particular act of détournement feels like a return to first principles. Certainly my students liked it.)

Knapp’s text is fairly standard in terms of presenting Situationist ideas to a new generation – an observation rather than a criticism. After making the pertinent point that capitalism and hierarchy will always generate new obstacles as a matter of course should we overcome old ones, he notes that one aim should be to point out these familiar patterns so that people can recognise and avoid them, which is where Blake comes in:

An anti-hierarchical revolution would not solve all our problems, it would simply eliminate some of the unnecessary ones freeing us to tackle more interesting problems. The new society would be far more diverse than any utopian description. Visionaries like Blake or Whitman, childhood memories, moments of love or enthusiastic creativity, only hint at what it could be like. The only thing that stands in the way is people’s unawareness of their own collective power.

As with so many revolutionary ideas, the gesture is romantic as well as radical, and for all Knabb’s dismissal of utopianism there is much that is utopian here. But, of course, that is why it fits Blake so well, rather like the anarchist Herbert Read’s appropriation of Blake in his work (along with Shelley and plenty of other usual suspects). There is always something rather innocent about ideals of revolution, but while that is often the snide excuse to dismiss them with harsh experience, Blake himself argued that “organiz’d innocence” was the most appropriate state for our lives.

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