define: revolution

Since August, I have been asked to give my definition of revolution. This is not an easy word to define, and there are so many perspectives that one may have while considering the term and having it make sense in their own mind. When brainstorming about where and how to start defining this simple word with such a complex meaning, I realized that the only way to create my own understanding of revolution is by diving into the personal meaning of it and seeing how it has impacted me. Revolutions can be very personal; figuring out your sexuality, developing into adulthood, realizing you are in love. Revolution is all about discovering a potential change that is personal to you, and making it happen. 

So, my definition of a revolution is the ignition of a personal revelation about something, which results in a change. 

A revolution influences some sort of reform. There are no boundaries on the possibility of how big or small a revolution may be, which proves that revolution is constantly around us. For example, a revolution could possibly be as simple as making the slight change of no pickles to pickles on your sandwich, or be as grand and momentous as both World Wars. 

However, no revolution begins until there is some sort of personal revelation. One must individually find a reason or seek for the opportunity for a revolution, or why else would there be a reason for there to be a paradigm shift, no matter the size? In other words, why would one disrupt a seemingly perfect system? If there is no goal to obtain while undergoing a revolution, there is no use for one. 

There are so many types of revolution. Global revolutions, personal revolutions, environmental revolutions, but the commonality between all of these is there has to be some sort of person, idea, or global phenomena that inspires change. 

Throughout the year, we have not just talked about revolutions regarding warfare, but revolutions in spite of what is occuring in society. Starting with Unit 1, we discussed Diderot’s “Natural Rights” and how his idea for a universal law provided the most basic foundation for human society, and challenged the French legislation at the time. Diderot saw the opportunity to create a change, and he took the opportunity, creating a response that forever changed society. Moving on to Unit 2, we discussed the idea that a revolution may be a battle or revolt, or it could be scientific and be considered a paradigm shift, occurring over a long period of time. For example, a revolution around the Sun takes 365.25 days to complete, which follows the structure of a paradigm shift, and shows that a revolution can occur naturally. In Unit 3, we examined the depressing history of the Rwandan genocide, and how such authentic totalitarianism was a result of the revolution rooted in hate. What was revolutionary about this particular genocide, was that there was no revolution. There was not a personal revelation from any country to help those in need, unlike other genocides, where the world rushed to the rescue. Why was there no revolution to help the Rwandans get out of this misery? Was it selfish reasons? Laziness? Lack of interest? As we finished up the semester with Unit 4, discussing the horrors of the American civil rights movement, we came to the conclusion that the time period may not be considered, “revolutionary.” While the civil rights movement follows my idea of a revolution, one may ask, has there really been a change? Is the revolution complete? Racial minorities are still facing social criticism and unequal treatment today. If the American people can elect a racist man to lead our country, can we truly say we conquered the goals of the civil rights movement? Equal and fair treatment for ALL Americans, despite the color of their skin? To me the answer is obvious, yet depressing considering all that has been done to eliminate the problem.

Continuing on into the second semester, we started off the year diving into Unit 5, which discussed dance and the history and the layers of analysis which are portrayed on stage. We continued this scholarly conversation about art in Unit 6, which discussed the science behind viewing art. My favorite part about that unit was all of the different presentations on the different artists and how they created art. Each artist had an internal revolution in their minds, creating something that was unseen in the world beforehand. The performing and visual are considered revolutionary, considering the fact that they look inside the mind of the creator, and are displayed and executed in a foreign way that is unique for each individual observer. Right as Unit 7 was beginning, the revolutionary invention of zoom became a world-wide phenomenon. We adjusted our style of teaching, learning, and discussion and turned it virtual, something I could have never imagined. However, that did not stop us. We watched Russian films, read a novel, and looked at Soviet Russian history, which was a topic none of us had really explored until that moment. Concluding with Unit 8, the theme of “revolution,” really started to come clear to me. I saw artists and members of the notorious RAF create, destroy, and produce revolution, and I started to understand why we were learning it all. Is there a point where something becomes too revolutionary? Where can the line of “too much” be drawn? At what point does killing innocent people become okay?

Continuing with other ideas of revolution, Lapham poses questions in his book, Lapham’s Quarterly, such as, is a revolution a natural order of things or an unnatural order of things?

To me, a revolution is an unnatural order of things, because one must be willing to break free of a system in order to start some sort of change. A revolution is going against the grain, and breaking free of an idea and natural order society has. In his book, Lapham includes images of objects that he considers revolutionary. The guillotine, garments by Alexander McQueen, and the  1977 Commodore PET are just a few examples of material that he finds can start a change. This brutal yet efficient killing device, clothes that draw the eye, and technology that has changed the course of history can all be seen as some of the most revolutionary objects society has constructed. They were constructed to be different from other objects, and created an unnatural force that transformed society.

To conclude, if an individual does not recognize the need for reform, revolution does not take place. Revolution starts with an individual, an identity, which sparks the change and leads to transforming and evolving already known ideas of this world. 

The first pages of notes from Lapham’s Quarterly- Revolution
notes, continued
notes, continued
notes, continued
photo taken over fall break of Humsters, Emily McDill, Skylar McVicar, and Catherine Chimley

Lapham, Lewis. Lapham’s Quarterly, Volume VIII, Number 2 (Spring 2014). Revolutions. New York: America Agora Foundation, 2014.