Bastille Day!

It’s Bastille Day, one and all, the celebration of the French Revolution, which was, of course, a pivotal time in world history. Not only did it lead to a diminishing of aristocracy and a rise in democracy and nationalism that would reverberate throughout time and space, but it caused a splash that rippled onto foreign, unexplored shores in strange, unpredictable waves. Also, it led to really long lines at Louis the Sixteenth’s castle in Versailles, which is a great place to visit; if I hadn’t gone there, I would not have known all kinds of things, like that Marie Antoinette dyed her sheep to match her clothes or that Louis’ hemorrhoids incited to a brief craze in which it was all the rage in the court to have a hemorrhoidectomy with these big, specially developed pincers – whether one suffered from rhoids or not, or that people at the royal couple’s balls weren’t allowed to leave the room where the king sat on a throne until he did, which meant that people weren’t allowed to relieve themselves, which meant they eventually peed on the floor. Louis’ throne was outfitted with a hole and and a chamber pot. Ah, history!) chamber-potGolden pot to piss inpol-potPol Pot, smiling murderer and leader of the Khmer Rouge, who waged a “revolution” that resulted in the deaths of 25 per cent of the Cambodian population.

Anyway, about the ripples and the shores, the French Revolution led to Georg Wilhelm Frederich Hegel’s ruminations on the bloody revolt and it’s aftermath, and from these big, purple thought clouds, ideas rained, including the huge puddle that is known as the Hegelian Dialectic. It is very deep and, for me at least, kind of murky, but what I get out of it mostly is that things in time start with ideas that contain their own opposite; a thesis and antithesis.This means that change is inevitable, as no one movement, or theory, or way of being, or whatever, can exist without an equal and contradictory movement that is inherently brought into existence with its conception. Here’s a picture:hegel Anyhoo, you probably already know this stuff and understand it better than I do. It’s pretty famous. Philosophers eat it up. Michel Foucault has contended that contemporary philosophers may be “doomed to find Hegel waiting patiently at the end of whatever road we travel”. (I got that from Wikipedia.If you click on Foucault, it will take you right back to Wikpedia, which is maybe where you really ought to be right now, learning questionable factoids for yourself instead of trusting me to decipher some random person’s concept of the truth through my own skewed filter! It’s strange how things become fact, and how history is remembered, right? How do we ever know whose version of the truth is accurate, especially if there is always more than one truth? He gets to set it down as fact, and what is taught as history? Churchill said “History is written by the victors” -except nobody can actually prove whether or not he really said it.)

I bring this up because I saw this documentary on Grace Lee Boggs called American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs, which you can watch here, until July 30, 2014: The documentary was made by a woman named Grace Lee, who originally set out to make a film about Chinese -American stereotypes, using her own very common name as a jumping off point. It was during this endeavor that she met Grace Lee Boggs. Grace Lee Boggs is this awesome Upper middle class Chinese American lady who was studying philosophy at Barnard in 1935 when she learned about Hegel and his ideas.They blew her mind and changed her life. After getting her Ph.D from Bryn Mawr, she couldn’t get a job, on account of prejudice and sexism and the like. She moved to Detroit, because Hegelian thought leads to socialism, and socialism is all about the worker, and in the 1950’s, when Grace was coming up, the place to find workers was the Motor City. She got involved with worker’s rights, and from there, with civil rights and the Black Power movement. She’s amazing. You should watch the documentary. She said that there has to be more to revolution than just rebellion, which is anger funneled into action, and that revolution is not just about the revolt, but also the evolution of new ideas and ways of life.

Lots of ripples hitting up against some strange shores, there.

So, I saw the documentary, and I was thinking about George Wallace’s racist speechwriter, Asa Carter, who wrote the famous “segregation now, segregation forever” speech.

Asa later “evolved” into Forrest Carter, who wrote the “autobiographical” The Education of Little Tree, a book Oprah recommended. The Education of Little Tree is about this five year old orphan who goes to live with his Native American grandpa in Appalachia and learns the way of the Cherokee, and was a New York Times best-seller. It’s all lovely, full of that “never-take-more-than-you-need” ethos and “a respect-for-all-things-great-and-small” attitude. Still and all, it was written by a Klansman. Did he have a revolution of spirit? Was he able to evolve? Does it matter? Can we ever really evolve, or are we destined to just keep revolting in a dialectical spiral for eternity? As John Lennon and Yoko Ono once said:

Let me tell you now
Everybody’s talking about, revolution
Evolution, masturbation, flagellation
Regulation, integrations, meditations
United Nations, congratulations

All we are saying is give peace a chance
All we are saying is give peace a chance

So, what’s my point, you ask? Every once in awhile, something happens that changes the world forever, but forever is really pretty relative, and virtually impossible to comprehend from whatever specific place you sit in time.Everything means something, even if that something is destined to change or be forgotten. And also, maybe nothing ever really changes.

You probably already knew that, too. Sadly, that’s about as deep as I get. I never claimed to be Hegel, or even Foucault, you know. Stop judging me!

Here is a Bastille Day poem written by a true revolutionary, Heberto Padilla, who has an important story that changed the way important (and unimportant) people thought, and that is unknown or widely forgotten today.


They asked that man if they could
take his time and join it to history.
They asked for his hands,
because in difficult times
there is nothing better than a good pair of hands.
They asked for his eyes
that once had tears
so he could ponder the bright side
(especially the bright side of life)
because for horror one terrified eye is enough.
They asked for his lips,
dry and cracked, to affirm,
to erect, with each affirmation, a dream
(the high dream);
they asked for his legs,
hard and gnarled,
(his old high-stepping legs)
because in difficult times
is there anything better than a pair of legs
for building or trench-digging?
They asked him for the forest that nourished him as a child
with its obedient tree.
They asked for his chest, his heart, his shoulders.
They told him
that it was strictly necessary.
Later they explained
that all this giving would be pointless
unless he gave up his tongue,
because in difficult times
there is nothing so useful for stopping hatred or lies.
And finally they begged him
please, to begin to walk
because in difficult times
that is without a doubt the decisive test.


Here’s one more. I’m not exactly sure what it means, but I’ll let it ripple.



I didn’t get much sleep last night
thinking about underwear
Have you ever stopped to consider
underwear in the abstract
When you really dig into it
some shocking problems are raised
Underwear is something
we all have to deal with
Everyone wears
some kind of underwear
The Pope wears underwear I hope
The Governor of Louisiana
wears underwear
I saw him on TV
He must have had tight underwear
He squirmed a lot
Underwear can really get you in a bind
You have seen the underwear ads
for men and women
so alike but so different
Women’s underwear holds things up
Men’s underwear holds things down
Underwear is one thing
men and women have in common
Underwear is all we have between us
You have seen the three-color pictures
with crotches encircled
to show the areas of extra strength
and three-way stretch
promising full freedom of action
Don’t be deceived
It’s all based on the two-party system
which doesn’t allow much freedom of choice
the way things are set up
America in its Underwear
struggles thru the night
Underwear controls everything in the end
Take foundation garments for instance
They are really fascist forms
of underground government
making people believe
something but the truth
telling you what you can or can’t do
Did you ever try to get around a girdle
Perhaps Non-Violent Action
is the only answer
Did Gandhi wear a girdle?
Did Lady Macbeth wear a girdle?
Was that why Macbeth murdered sleep?
And that spot she was always rubbing—
Was it really in her underwear?
Modern anglosaxon ladies
must have huge guilt complexes
always washing and washing and washing
Out damned spot
Underwear with spots very suspicious
Underwear with bulges very shocking
Underwear on clothesline a great flag of freedom
Someone has escaped his Underwear
May be naked somewhere
But don’t worry
Everybody’s still hung up in it
There won’t be no real revolution
And poetry still the underwear of the soul
And underwear still covering
a multitude of faults
in the geological sense—
strange sedimentary stones, inscrutable cracks!
If I were you I’d keep aside
an oversize pair of winter underwear
Do not go naked into that good night
And in the meantime
keep calm and warm and dry
No use stirring ourselves up prematurely
‘over Nothing’
Move forward with dignity
hand in vest
Don’t get emotional
And death shall have no dominion
There’s plenty of time my darling
Are we not still young and easy
Don’t shout

Lawrence Ferlinghetti, “Underwear” from Starting from San Francisco. Copyright © 1961 by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Reprinted with the permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation,

Source: These Are My Rivers: New and Selected Poems (New Directions Publishing Corporation, 1993)

Remember, the revolution will not be televised, so you can go ahead and watch a Frasier re-run in peace. Give it a chance. Laters.