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B o o k R ev iew s that a capitalist bourgeois class was driven to overthrow a feudal aristocratic ruling class to which it was intrinsically opposed” (18). Rethinking the French Revolution provides a useful overview of both the revisionist historians whose work justifies that statement and of the classical historians whose work is under attack. Even casual inquiry into the French Revolution demands knowledge of the historiographical issues raised when historical facts are mentioned, and Comminel’s book is an informed and informative guide to the schools and debates with significant historiographical impact. But the book’s principal purpose is to give a Marxist response to what its subtitle identi­ fies as the revisionist challenge to Marxism, a challenge that is all the more pressing because of the long dominance of the Marxist concept of class struggle in Western understanding of the Revolution. Precisely because certain passages of The Communist Manifesto provide such handy summaries of traditional understanding of the Revolution’s underlying causes, the refusal of traditional views is—explicitly as often as implicitly—a refusal of the Marxist vision of the historical process in its entirety. As the violent eruption of a contradiction between the vital class interests of bourgeoisie and aristocracy, the French Revolution was an object lesson in Marxist thought. If no vital class interests were at stake, the violence becomes incomprehensible and the object lesson disappears. Comminel’s thesis is that the new consensus should not be understood as a challenge to Marxism because there never was a legitimately Marxist vision of the French Revolution as a struggle between bourgeoisie and aristocracy. That vision was in fact the self-conception of the bourgeoisie, first produced while the Revolution was in progress and then repeated throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Although Marx wrote much that shows him to have shared the dominant misconception, he did so only because he failed to submit bourgeois history to the same relentlessly materialist interrogation that allowed him to overturn bourgeois economics. According to Comminel, the long agreement between Marxist and non-Marxist historians of the French Revolution came not because Marx was right but because he was wrong. What was seen as the best proof of Marxist historiography was in fact its worst error: “ the theory of bourgeois revolution which [Marx and Engels] accepted was in fact a central expression of liberal bourgeois ideology, one which is intrin­ sically at odds with M arx’s own concepts of historical materialism” (50-51). Comminel sets himself the task of defending Marxism against Marx by establishing an authentically materialist approach to what could not have been the kind of Revolution Marx believed. He does so by contending that, because class struggle always entails the exploitation of one class by another and because the aristocracy in no way exploited the bourgeoisie in eighteenth-century France, the concept of class struggle is inapplicable to the conflicts between two hegemonic groups during the French Revolution. Comminel’s position is original and tightly argued. In combination with his survey of Revolutionary historiogra­ phy, it makes Rethinking the French Revolution a welcome contribution to bicentennial réévaluation of 1789 and its consequences. S a n d y P e t r e y SU N Y at Stony Brook Ronnie L. Scharfman. E n g a g e m e n t a n d t h e L a n g u a g e o f t h e S u b j e c t in t h e P o e t r y o f A im é C é s a ir e . Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1987. Pp. 133. $14.50. The divided self is one of the major preoccupations of Caribbean literature. The Carib­ bean writer is haunted by the darker implications of the polarities which divide master Prospero and slave Caliban, King Christophe and fool Hugonin, Castaway subject and cast-out other. The task of self-definition becomes the only valid response to a world made unintelligible by the coloniser’s signifying presence and traumatised by self doubt. As LéviVOL . XXIX, NO. 2 93 L ’E spr it C r éa te u r Strauss...


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pp. 93-94
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