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Jeffrey Schnapp on the Phenomenon of Crowds

Professor Jeffrey Schnapp is the Rosina Pierotti chair and professor of French and Italian and comparative literature. His research falls into two main areas: Italian literature in the age of Dante and the emergence and institutional articulation of Fascist culture in Italy. His other interests are the troubadour lyric; Franco-Italian cultural relations from 1850 to […]

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It's just that things started to get a little solemn there at the end of the show last week
as those of you who tuned in might remember.
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and to a Christmas that will usher in a year so new
it will turn the dust into swarms of angels.
You're truly.
Trimius Caesar, Act 3, Scene 3,
Enter Cina the poet with a crowd of plebeians
carrying clubs stealing behind him.
Cina, I dreamt tonight that I did feast with Caesar
and things unluckily charged my fantasy.
I have no will to wander forth of doors, yet something leads me forth.
plebeians surround him.
First plebeian, what is your name?
Second plebeian, where are you going?
Third plebeian, where do you dwell?
Fourth plebeian, are you a married man or a bachelor?
Third second plebeian, answer every man directly.
First plebeian, I and briefly.
Fourth plebeian, I and wisely.
Third plebeian, I and truly you were best.
Cina, what is my name?
Whether am I going?
Where do I dwell?
Am I a married man or a bachelor?
Then to answer every man directly and briefly,
wisely and truly, wisely I say, I am a bachelor.
Second plebeian, that's as much as to say they are fools that marry.
You'll bear me a bang for that I fear proceed directly.
Cina, directly I am going to Caesar's funeral.
First plebeian, as a friend or an enemy.
Cina, as a friend.
Second plebeian, that matter is answered directly.
Fourth plebeian, for your dwelling briefly.
Cina, briefly I dwell by the capital.
Third plebeian, your name sir, truly.
Cina, truly my name is Cina.
First plebeian, tear him to pieces.
He's a conspirator.
Cina, I am Cina the poet.
I am Cina the poet.
Fourth plebeian, tear him for his bad verses.
Cina, I am not Cina the conspirator.
Fourth plebeian, it's no matter his name Cina,
plucked by his name out of his heart and turned him going.
Third plebeian, tear him, tear him.
They set up on him.
Come, brands, oh, fire brands.
To Brutus's to Cassius's burn all.
They rush forth, dragging the mangled body of Cina after them.
Shakespeare is a trip.
Why would he put a gratuitous scene like that into Julius Caesar?
Well, you try making your living as a playwright in London in the late 16th, early 17th century.
You're always at the mercy of the crowd, which can turn against you at any moment and rip you apart for your bad verses.
And not even for your bad verses, but because that's just what crowds like to do sometimes, tear someone apart.
And who better to get your hands on than a poet after all?
Orpheus, orpheus floating down the stream in a hundred pieces, beware of crowds.
Shakespeare made his living off the crowd, but it's fair to say he had no love of the mob.
Look at Julius Caesar, how at one moment the crowd swears allegiance to Brutus and the next, having heard Mark Anthony's speech.
It goes on a rampage against the conspirators.
Look at Coriolanus.
There too the crowd is in a Morpheus mass of potential energy waiting to take one form or another.
Always under the sway of its passions.
But always ready to be swayed by those who know how to appeal to its passions.
It was an art that Shakespeare learned well, but he also knew what a high-risk game it was to please the crowd just enough that it would not tear you to pieces.
He wanted a description of crowds, how about the Roman Colosseum?
In book six of St. Augustine's confessions, we read that Augustine's friend,
Alipius, was dragged against his will to the gladiatorial shows by a group of friends,
but he was determined not to watch the cruel and bloodthirsty sport and to keep his eyes closed.
If only he had closed his ears as well, for an incident in the fight drew a great roar from the crowd,
and this thrilled him so deeply that he could not contain his curiosity.
Whatever had caused the uproar, he was confident that if he saw it, he would find it repulsive and remain master of himself.
So he opened his eyes, and his soul was stabbed with a wound more deadly than any which the gladiator whom he was so anxious to see had received in his body.
He fell and fell more pitifully than the man whose fall had drawn that roar of excitement from the crowd.
When he saw the blood it was as though he had drunk a deep, dropped of savage passion.
Instead of turning away, he fixed his eyes upon the scene and drank in all its frenzy unaware of what he was doing.
He reveled in the wickedness of the fighting and was drunk with the fascination of bloodshed.
He was no longer the man who had come to the arena, but simply one of the crowd which he had joined, a fit companion for the friends who had brought him.
Crowds are about as fascinating a phenomenon as there is, whether in nature and in human societies.
And I have with me in the studio today a friend and colleague who has studied crowds from all sorts of angles,
and can tell us more about them than anyone around. Jeffrey, welcome to the program.
Jeffrey Schnapp is a professor of comparative literature here at Stanford.
He is also the director of the humanities Stanford Humanities Lab,
and he is also the one who has put together the fascinating exhibit called Revolutionary Ties at the Cantor Museum here on campus.
Jeffrey, I'd like to talk to you about that exhibit shortly, but first, why don't we talk about the phenomenon of crowds more generally.
What is it about crowds that can cause someone like Alipius to lose his self-possession and get swept up in this sort of collective ecstasy?
Is it fair to say that any of us under the right circumstances could lose our individuality and become part of the crowd?
Cultures throughout the world have had a deeply and prevalent attitude towards mass assemblies of all cons.
That ambivalence is particularly acute in Western cultures, in as much as it conditions to fundamentally contradictory attitudes towards large-scale assemblies.
On the one hand, the kind of attitude that comes out in both the Shakespeare passages that you cited and in the passage from Augustine's confessions,
where crowds become the very embodiment of mad, irrational passions, the kind of world where the human gives way to pure animal savagery and instinct.
On the other hand, assemblies, particularly the kinds of assemblies of people belonging to the social elites, represent the foundation of notions of the state, the city, the police, the collective.
That ambivalence between those two faces of the crowd, the one monstrous and frenzied and the other associated with the highest values of human community, is a kind of split that accompanies the image of the crowd throughout the history of Western cultures all the way to the present.
I apologize for our listeners for the little silence there at the beginning, we had a microphone problem, but we got it back.
So again, we're speaking with Jeffrey Schnapp who has worked extensively on crowds, has published a book on crowds.
So you're talking about that the crowd has two different faces.
From the beginning of Western history, and I think in all world civilizations, there's deep ambivalence towards forms of mass assembly.
But let's talk a little bit about this psychology again, in the, what is it that happens to a person in the situation that a littiest was in, where it's actually, I would say with physical proximity of numbers,
the vast numbers, that something can come over a person, a complete loss of self possession and of a sense of your self as an individual, and you get swept up in what the traditional metaphors and that have always talked about in terms of storm or sway or winds, or tides,
and I guess the question was, that's part of the bad, the monstrous mob crowd, but it also has its positive inflections.
I mean, we don't go to sports shows for nothing, it's in order to feel that sense of energy that can only come from the density of numbers.
So, you were talking about that politically when you get crowds together that that can also represent the state in all its power and its glory, and it's kind of well regulated by its leaders and so forth.
But we want to talk about that with respect to Rome.
What about, I'm very interested in the phenomenon of Dionysianism, where if you read Nietzsche on this, for example, there's a kind of collectivity that falls into an ecstasy, it kind of works itself into states of transport, and then all sorts of things can happen once you enter into that state.
Would you consider those early rituals associated with Dionysus already part of the phenomenon of crowds or we have to make a distinction?
No, I would absolutely consider them, I think that forms of religious belief, particularly associated with limit experiences, experiences of the very boundaries of the human of individuality.
Frequently, are connected to feelings of loss of that boundary line that separates individuals and that feature of religious practice, which I view as fundamentally a transcultural and transhistorical phenomenon, is one that reaches across the centuries from the rights of Dionysus all the way to the present, that suffice it to look at everything from forms of evangelical Christianity that are part of the world.
To trans-music, there are all forms of social intensification and sort of the testing of boundaries that allow for a kind of communion that humans have sought in one form or another over the centuries, despite all of the historical differences that separate us from the era that Dionysian and various mystery religions of the world.
Yeah, so on the one hand, we were always longing for some kind of togetherness, communion, self-transending with the group.
And I agree entirely, it's the foundation of almost all forms of religious gatherings, but at the same time there's something scary when it gets too intense and you lose your individuality.
So aren't we always on the one hand, the earning for self-rapture that comes from that, but then we can get very terrified if it gets out of hand.
Well, I think the ambivalence is deeply embedded in the history of world cultures.
And in Western cultures, I would state that ambivalence as, in a sense, there are two different kinds of crowds of multitudes that figure in the Western imagination going all the way back to the origins of certainly religious belief and religious practice, but also of political theory.
So one of those crowds, one of those multitudes is this religious, this ecstatic multitude, which is a source both of anxiety and expectation.
And the other is the assembly, the assembly of citizens, it's the court. It's a place of rationality where the highest powers, the highest moral standards that which represents the apex in a sense of human civilization, the kivitas, the police, or triumphs.
Those two models, each with their own set of attendant anxieties and expectations, they really co-exist long into the history of the Western.
I think it's really in the 18th century that they come together in a way that really will define and shape what is different and distinctive about modernity vis-a-vis the role that multitudes played in ancient and early modern life.
Yeah, we're going to talk mostly about modernity, but before we get there, would you say that there's an association of the assemblies politically speaking with democracies or let's say republicanism?
So for example, before the tribunes and Rome, crowds do not play such an important role, but once the republic is established there, now the senators have to go before the people, and they have to make their case with the people.
Would it be fair to say that the crowds are particularly phenomena of associated with a metropolis on the one hand and forms of also in antiquity I'm talking about, republican governments or democratic governments that if you consider Athens a democracy for example?
I think so. The tricky factor in addressing this question is what gets called a crowd and the word that's used to describe an assembly is almost always a highly prejudicial term.
The Roman word tour buff, for instance, is used almost exclusively to describe popular crowds that is to say precisely those multitudes that were viewed with skepticism and indeed even outright anxiety by the classes that were the dominant leading classes of Roman life.
Whereas when is tour buff mean?
Tour buff means literally the mob, but it's a word that's associated with words like turbulence. You will be all ready to the associations between crowds and metaphors of storms and tempests and the like.
So tour buff is a word that immediately evokes a threat that has to be somehow contained, responded channeled by that individual who hovers, who triumphs, who towers above the tour buff, who teams its passionate storm.
And that figure in Roman life as much as the case in Greek life is almost always a figure who belongs to the aristocracy not to that populace.
Those oppositions are going to change when we reach the 18th century and political doctrines shift from doctrines based on the notion of inherited authority, whether that's by virtue of divine birth or of noble descent,
to ideas of political legitimacy based on the notion of popular sovereignty, in other words the notion that power belongs and emanates from the people.
So tour buff is one word, multitude though, I guess, multitude though, certainly.
Populus and populus?
Yes, I guess the positive, the populus.
We, the people know exactly.
And then there's always the crowd leader, but of course the dangerous thing about crowds and everyone knew that all along is that they can get out of control.
And that's why I think that Shakespeare has seen in Julius Caesar where, you know, our colleague, Konejidad, who has been on this program, found a whole theory about the origins of religion, the violent origins of religion through the crowd and the way in which
when a certain disorder sets in and takes over that very often it ends in a kind of lynching arbitrary and nature and random, the way sinna, who just happens to have the same name as the conspirators, it's kind of set up on.
Well, there's always a, when one enters a circumstance where the crowd in question is that first crowd I spoke of that crowd associated with passions and with the loss of boundary lines,
there's always a deep set anxiety about the loss of control.
And that loss of control often hinges on a collective act that's carried out that might not have been within the intentions of any single individual, but the very sort of stormy nature of that loss of boundaries on leashes, passions that otherwise individuals would not permit themselves or would not be able to tap into.
And this was the central focus of much of the early work in the social sciences in the second half of the 19th century on crowds, almost all of that literature in sociology and anthropology and collective psychology was negative in the sense that it was trying to control crowds, crowds which were increasingly viewed as a threat to the very foundations of civilization, much as they had been all the way through antiquity.
So one last comment on antiquity before we move on, would it be fair to say that in Rome, for example, the virtuous politician was really one who could appeal to the crowd, control the crowd and use the crowd towards his own political purpose?
Absolutely. And anybody who was able to appeal to the crowd, but who belonged to the crowd was by definition not a great leader, but a tyrant.
The word tyrant in ancient Greek and Roman political theory is almost always attached to a figure who belongs to the crowd and who becomes a leader by virtue of some kind of perverse inversion of the ordinary course of theory.
So the great man, the Guber not Tor, the governor, the figure who can tame and channel the passions of the crowd is almost by definition somebody who stands outside of the crowd in ancient thought.
Okay, let's move on. I was thinking in preparation for the program in the middle ages, as our crowds are big deal in the middle ages, and I was thinking that I can't.
I don't think they were such a big deal, maybe because with the collapse of the Roman Empire, it took a long time before cities, you know, populist cities came into being.
And maybe that explains why there's such a positive, if not references, at least importance.
I was thinking about Dante, you know, I should mention to our listeners that both of us began our careers as Dante scholars.
And TSL, it takes the align from Dante's, I guess it's the second or third, Kant, of Infared, no, about I had not thought death had undone so many.
And that is, for Eliot, it's the London Bridge, it's all these people in the crowd of the Metropolis, but in Dante it refers really to the neutrals, these people who didn't take a side.
They're in fact the only, I think the only people in Dante's Inferno who are anonymous, undifferentiated.
But I was thinking, yeah, even though the Inferno is a very populated realm, I don't think you can call those people a crowd because each one is individual.
And is separate.
Is actually isolation is the condition of the Inferno.
And that Dante consistently wants to identify them.
And therefore, would you agree with me that we can't really speak about a crowd in the Inferno?
I think that the notion of crowd for us generally implies the idea of a subject, a collective subject that has agency of some kind.
And therefore, when you can identify every single individual who makes up that group, you, the word means something much weaker than it would mean and it's truer, more rigorous meaning.
And so I would tend to agree with you.
And if you look at medieval and Renaissance representations, for instance, of the last judgment, the closest thing we get in the world,
is the closest thing we get to a crowd in that either ancient Roman or certainly modern industrial-era sense.
Typically is in representations of hell, where we often get, certainly in visual representations, a kind of loss of boundary lines between individuals who form a kind of hoard, if you like.
Whereas, interestingly enough, I think tells you a lot about early modern and certainly medieval culture.
In scenes of paradise, I think it would be a little bit stretching the definition of crowd to describe the scenes of the saints and the blessed in heaven, always represented in all of their individuality in very carefully structured geometrical forms to describe them as a crowd in any deep or real sense.
That's interesting because I was thinking in some ways that if you have a crowd in Dante, it's actually in Purgatory and Paradise, where, of course, I think you're right, it's called a crowd might not describe it properly, but Dante does speak about the true
about the true and family in particular.
It's a lot of different kinds of things that you can see in the modern era.
Let's move on because the bulk of your work, I think, really concerns crowds in the modern era.
Let's speak about what happens in the period of industrialization.
Let me just say that I think what's striking certainly is that in the late period of the Roman Empire, we had forms of mass spectacle that are on a scale comparable with the largest mass gatherings and spectacles of our own time.
They included shows in hippodroms where the estimates on the part of archaeologists are that the audiences for these horse races were often merging on 200,000 people.
In other words, stadiums very much comparable to the mass athletic stadiums of our own time.
We go from that era.
We're talking here about up until maybe the fourth, fifth century AD.
We just went that alypus thing really take it.
Exactly when the passage from alypus transpires to a long period where it's very difficult to find any kind of single event in human life that has that kind of a scale.
It's really only in the course of the Industrial Revolution in the course of the 19th century, but starting already back in the 18th century with the great revolutions of the 18th century like the American Revolution of 1776,
like the French Revolution of 1789, that in a very self-conscious way, Western life looks back on that era of crowds that was the period of empire in Rome and turns back to that past, whether it's Republican or imperial or both,
and tries to imagine a modernity in which multitudes are not only the antithesis if you like of the governor, the figure who's the leader, but rather become the very foundation of the concept of the collectivity, whether that's the nation state or some other concept, typically it assumes the form of the nation state.
So what we find in the 18th century is the articulation of these fundamental doctrines of political theory that have shaped modern life from that time on, founded on the notion of popular sovereignty that power is and emanates from the people.
It is not the possession of a monarch who wears it like a kind of mantle that he inherits from the past.
It isn't justified by divine right. It is of and emanates from the people, which means of course that now crowds this very turbulent, dangerous, exciting and yet destructive force, suddenly become the very foundation on which modern forms of statehood are built.
This of course gave rise to enormous anxieties as well as expectations and we see those played out in the course of the 19th and 20th century, but certainly by the end of the 19th century, crowds had literally in the form of marchers, protesters, mass armies, other forms of mass assembly in the streets of the great industrial cities of Europe had really literally become the protagonists of public life.
Culture, the economy, all kinds of aspects of the everyday had become conditioned, at least in the great industrial cities of Europe, could become multitudes that really become the dominant feature of everyday life.
We see the impact of this emergence in all kinds of cultural forms, including everything from the visual arts to literature to, of course, forms of economic and commercial communication and like.
Let's go through a few of these phenomena associated with the rise of an urban environment where the people look up, the basis, at least the appeal to sovereignty is to look up, whether the purple, that's sovereign who knows.
The experience, the day to day, the kind of quotidian experience of living in environments full of crowds also led some artists to have a variety of opinions about the crowd and you get a lot of contempt, certainly in the 19th century, early 20th century, on the part of philosophers or artists about wanting to distinguish themselves from the crowd.
I think of Nietzsche who had nothing but a kind of rabbit sort of scorn for the herd, as he called it, or others such attitudes.
I mean, they're really everywhere.
What do we talk about one or two figures?
Because this is not the universal attitude among artists by any means.
One way is more interesting is the attitude of someone like Board Lair, the French poet who has some great poems, prose poems on crowds.
And there he says that the real artist is the one who knows how to make himself at home in the crowd because he will not lose his individuality.
He won't be swept up in the tide as it were, but in the crowd, his true modern homeland as a modern artist.
Indeed, I think those two figures are very telling with respect to the spectrum of reactions to the importance of crowding and crowded spaces as sites for a modern, distinctively modern experience in the 19th century in that prose poem, which you were just referring to entitled fool or crowds, but Lair describes how for him,
the abath in the multitude for the poet, the modern poet, the poet like would live himself.
A bath in the multitudes is it kind of, he uses the phrase a holy prostitution of the soul.
It's this extraordinary opportunity for identity to drift.
He can occupy every subject position in that crowd.
He can carry out the equivalent of travels to the most exotic and remote kingdoms of the world.
All there on the city streets and sidewalks of Paris, without having in other words, to travel more than a couple of meters outside his front door.
And that form of communion with the multitude, for what they're, it's associated with the emergence with the creation of new forms of individuality that are distinctively modern, that are no longer rooted in ideas about the poet as a figure of privilege,
who inherently is outside of the crowd.
Rather, the crowd becomes a kind of testing ground for the entire project of cultural modernity for both there.
Nietzsche's attitude is more aligned with tradition that certainly goes back to antiquity that's powerfully conditioned by the scorn that most ancient philosophers had.
I mean both ancient Greek and Roman, or crowds per se, but also certainly by the history of early modern and Renaissance individualism, where the man of letters, like Francis Petrovk, is almost by definition a figure who places himself in opposition to the crowd, to the multitude who seeks solitude, who seeks kind of refuge from the marketplace in order to pursue a higher set of pursuits.
Yes, but someone like Petrovk, 14th century, when he speaks about solitude, he meant it literally.
In other words, he withdrew from society, he went to his little Avignol, a few colleague thing, and he led a life of contemplation.
But in the 19th century, early 20th century, you find a number of artists who are completely solitary in the midst of the crowd.
So I think, for example, Rainer Maria Rilke, the Austrian poet, writes in 1910 the notebooks of Mount Luregrega, where he is a poet, and it's in the midst of all these turbulence in the city of Paris, that he feels most alone, probably more isolated and lonely than Petrovk ever could have felt in his medieval solitude of contemplation, though.
Absolutely. And in the modern era, this era where the crowd becomes the protagonist of public life, where politics is ever increasingly a mass politics, the crowd always has those two faces.
Both a realm of absolute alienation for these figures like Rilke, Nietzsche, and this realm of challenge and opportunity, this incubator for new forms of culture, for blood layer, and for much of the modernist and avant-gardeist tradition, the crowd becomes a kind of agent of excitement, like a drug, kind of hallucinogen, that opens up these powerful vistas, which otherwise would not be available to the poet,
or to the artist. Great. Well, we might read a poem of vodeles. This is not the one that you referred to, that's a prose poem, but he has a pretty well-known poem in his floridumal about being in the streets, and there's a whole crowd around him.
But I think Benjamin was right when he says, "Bodeles never describes the crowd directly. It's always there in a primitive way." And this is a poem about to a passerby, Aun Passant.
It's a woman that he sees in the street, and let me read it in English. I translated it myself. I don't know what Bodle is really badly translated in English. It's a tragedy that we don't have a better Bodle.
Here it goes. The deafening street around me roared. Long, slender, in deep morning and majestic woe, a woman passed by, lifting up her hand and balancing it with a fastidious hand.
Agile and noble with her statue-like leg. I, nervous and twitching like a deranged soul, I drank in her eye, livid sky with its gathering storm, the sweetness that enthralls and the joy that could be.
A lightning flash, then night.
Fugitive beauty in whose glance I was suddenly reborn, will I never see you again except in eternity.
Elsewhere, far from here, too late, never perhaps. For I know not where you flee, you know not where I go. Oh you, whom I could have loved. Oh you, who knew it too."
Would you call that a crowd-bomb? Absolutely. It has the passage that you alluded to from Walter Benjamin's writings on Bodle.
I suggest the crowd is ubiquitous in Bodle I's poetic universe, even when there's absolutely no mention whatsoever of the crowd.
It's the crowd that creates the preconditions for these kinds of sublime eruptions within the urban landscape, where something magical happens and then disappears just as quickly as it is.
It happens. I think that's the vein that interests me in terms of our conversation here with regard to put there is, but what there evokes for us is a kind of sublimity associated with multitudes, with urban multitudes, with modern heterogeneous multitudes, where people's identities can no longer be read. They're all masks. It's a world of a masquerade and that masquerade involves the threat of alien.
The threat of alienation, like the kind of alienation that Rilka felt, but also the possibility for extraordinary forms of self-expansion and enhancement and fantasy.
That's, I think, what we find resonating in that poem. Yeah for sure, because you can't even call this an encounter. It's like a potential encounter. It could have been, oh you, whom I could have loved.
And the experience of the urban crowd is, in a sense, all these unrealized possibilities that you walk by minute by minute whenever you're in a crowd.
And I think this is a distinctly modern kind of, let's say, lived experience that might not have been the case in antiquity where there are all these vectors that could go in any direction.
It's a lightning flash that has gone and then she doesn't know where he's going. He doesn't know where he's going. It's a kind of possible life.
It's like Elliot would say it's a perpetual possibility only in the world of speculation.
I think what's crucial about it is its connection to accident. It's the magic of it is all about its accidental nature.
And that's where the thrill and the sublimity of it lies, but not in its predictability. And it's the evanescence of it is, of course, inherent to that very model of thrill.
Well, but that is unparalleled. He's a great word. Jeffrey, let's move on a little bit. You've worked a lot on fascism and totalitarianism. Now if there's ever a place where crowds assume a kind of supreme importance,
it's in these Nazism and maybe even Soviet style communism totalitarianism.
Does something really change with the advent of 20th century totalitarianism?
Well, I think what's important in fascinating about studying totalitarian and
let's say non-liberal with democratic state forms like fascism and national socialism is the degree to which they engage in an absolutely explicit and systematic reflection on the importance of mass gatherings of mass mobilization as features of modern public life.
These are features that are important as well. I mean, they're not absent in liberal democratic contexts, but they become explicit themes and central themes within the framework of right wing revolution or movements in the 20th century, but also, of course, in socialist inspired mass-based regimes.
What's interested me as a cultural historian in studying these contexts is precisely the way in which certain features of modernity that extend outside of these limited contexts are come to the surface much more readily,
are much more visible if you like, in these the kind of context that, let's say, muscling in Italy offers where the Italian states drove to create a kind of sense of mass excitement and mobilization that was a constant feature of everyday life.
In other words, a kind of frenzy where public assemblies where the voice of the leader interacting with collective shouts and cries of slogans by crowds in public squares and places was just so central to creating the sense of adventure associated with accelerated forms of modernization.
So I view them simply as a more highly distilled, if you like, version of other forms of modernity that we associate instead with liberal democratic or capitalist models of development.
That makes me a little bit uneasy in the sense that if I understand you to be saying that fascism are just a more distilled version of Republican sovereignty states where there is an appeal to the people, both really appeal to the people that the Italian people, the German people.
So you think this is just a declension of a kind of, because certainly the concept of the state is very different in the impassious regimes than it is in republics where sovereignty really does lie with the people and the representative government, there is no representative government in fascism.
So what is, is there a critical difference or just distillation?
Well, I think there is a critical difference as well as distillation. I think that both are present.
Where there's continuity, where there's distillation, if you like, is in the realm of the kind of techniques, the kind of, the sort of language that is distinctively modern, that creates a certain kind of iconography, for instance, of the mass leader and builds bonds.
Between the mass leader and a mass populace, whether that's in the context of liberal democracy or totalitarian regime.
And that language of mass persuasion and mass communication for all of the fundamental differences that there are between those different kinds of political regimes and contexts is those differences, nonetheless those continuities, I think are real.
And they have something to do, I mean they have fundamental to do, I think, with the central role that media, different kinds of communication media, by definition must play in any kind of state form where popular sovereignty is the foundational principle.
Okay, let's talk a little bit about media here. Let me give you a quote from Kierkegaard and tell me if it applies to what we're talking about here with regard to fascism.
Kierkegaard says that in antiquity, the individual in the crowd had no significance whatsoever. The man of excellence stood for them all.
The trend today is in the direction of mathematical equality, so that in all classes about so and so many people make one individual, and in all consistency, we compute numbers.
Would you say that fascism is a kind of adivistic return to an antiquity where the individual in the crowd had no significance whatsoever, or is it very much in line with this new kind of media-driven age where of mathematical equality so that so many people become one individual and that we're really in the business of computing numbers?
I would, in a kind of simple response to your question, be inclined to give the second answer. A view of fascism as a form of distinctive and certainly paradoxical form of modernization, or better for worse, that was a distinctive feature of in the development history of not just Italy, but a number of countries that didn't follow.
If you like the straight and narrow path to modernization, but where the building of a mass regime, whether it involves democratic consultation or other kinds of forms of mass mobilization or consultation that are highly instrumental, obviously, and manipulative, nonetheless where those forms are being established and are central to the whole language of political persuasion.
Now, Jeffrey, I think that you believe that this era that we're talking about the modern urban crowd era has... Not that it's come to an end, but that it's morphed into some other kind of forms of aggregation, which are no longer the mass of the physical crowds in the street and assemblies or marches or protests and riots, but that there's a...
As you say, that this shift, rather than abolishing the equation between crowds and modernity has reshaped it, channeling experiences of crowding in post-industrial societies into certain limited domains of civic and electoral ritual, entertainment and leisure, while assigning the large-scale mass political actions, a fallback function restricted to times of exception.
So what is it that you're describing here in terms of this new era that we've entered with media and electronics, the computer, internet and so forth?
Well, I think what I would say is that right from the beginning of the debates in the founding decades of the social sciences in the mid to the close of the 19th century, there's a fundamental tension between the notion of mass politics as founded,
on physical... crowding, in other words, on physical assembly.
And the notion of mass politics that's founded instead on the creation of virtual forms of assembly, what the great French sociologist, pioneering sociologist, Gabbalie et al, called public opinion, he made the distinction between crowds in that sense of vast physical assemblies and crowds in that sense of public opinion.
In other words, virtual forms of assembly.
And certainly that tension plays itself out over the course of the many decades of the between tiled's time and the period that we ourselves belong to.
But what I see increasingly is the degree to which forms of virtual assembly.
In other words, mediated assembly, whether you know, tiled was thinking about newspapers, but in our own time, there's such a ubiquity of forms of connection between all of us, whether it's a
cellular telephones, the internet, television, other kinds of live media, radio itself.
But gradually, these forms of assembly becomes so much the dominant feature of the forms, the ways in which we interact around public issues.
And then added to which the development of cities, the way in which urban spaces themselves have become disaggregated, suburban sprawl to not, you know, to use the kind of conventional phrase that's invoked,
at least in American urbanistic conversations.
All of these phenomena, I think gradually give rise to an erosion of that shared sense that so many of the founding figures in the history of sociology had that our era, that
the majority was the era of crowds and that crowd, the word crowd in that phrase meant physical assemblies, the physical assemblies, whether it's mass protest marches or rallies, or people in the stadium enjoying a sporting event, that those kinds of assembly were the norm.
But don't you think once you de-physicalize the phenomena of crowds that you don't get the same either psychology or crowd or experience of crowds that you don't have this melting of individuals into a single sort of entity, the web might, you know, worldwide web is populated with vast hordes of crowds and yet without any sort of loss of individuality.
In fact, some people would say on the contrary, when it does aggravate isolation rather than provide forms of communion, although in some ways that's not true as well.
Yeah, I mean, one could really ask the question of whether a virtual assembly on the sort of scale that's involved in, let's say, the community of viewers of a television program represents in any real sense something that is continuous with the concept of the crowd.
So, I mean, I think he's not going all the way back as I said, into the 1880s argued that it wasn't.
I mean, I think he understood much better than other, some of his peers, the degree to which there's a fundamental tension between those two models of modern mass-based politics.
But what I'm trying to call attention to and the exhibition, Revolutionary Tides, the art of the political poster.
All the art listeners are a little bit about that. Sure. It's a show going on at the Can't Door Museum.
Yeah, it's at the Canner Center for the Arts here on campus, and it'll be running through the end of December 2006.
The subtitle of the show is the Art of the Political Poster in 1914, 1989.
And it's a show built around, largely built around the Hoover Institution's political poster collection, the world's largest political poster collection, if I'm not mistaken, with nearly 100,000 objects in it.
The show consists of about 125 political posters, but also other kinds of art objects.
And installation pieces, which attempt to trace the close relationship between the poster as a medium of mass communications.
The post-chromolithographic posters were already in existence in the last decades of the 19th century, but it's really around the period of World War I.
When they take off and become a really powerful and central tool for connecting the populace to the modern nation states, whether in tyrannical regimes or in liberal democratic regimes, whether as expressions of protest against the state, or as attempts to manipulate.
or shape public opinion on the part of the state.
And what the exhibition tries to show to reconstruct is the kind of graphic for an annacular that artists throughout the world during the course of the 20th century adopt to translate these otherwise very abstract notions like popular sovereignty, or the collective will.
A common language is developed by poster artists to communicate these abstract concepts and to translate them into very concrete and compelling and immediately accessible concepts for the mass audiences of poster art.
And poster art, it's worth remembering, is an art that was specifically designed for precisely those sidewalks and public places where crowds would gather, in other words, the kind of setting that there's poem transpires in.
So, Robert LeShri tells us to show about the tries to reconstruct this language of mass persuasion and mass communication through the distinctive lens that political posters offer.
I should mention just one other thing, it opens, the dates are 1914 to 1989.
In part because World War I represents this enormous explosion of posters as a tool of mass communication, but it closes with 1989 because that's the year of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
In much part because that moment marks a moment where we really begin to see the eclipse of posters as a form of a decisive central form of political communications certainly in countries like the United States where live kinds of media increasingly become the dominant media for political action and social change.
Yeah, well I know that I've made a poster for this program with entitled opinions, but where am I going to get the real publicity is really through the internet and mailing lists and things of that sort.
So, it's perfectly, I understand that.
Just wanted to make one comment about Stanford.
I always lamented that there's not really a center to this campus, a social kind of gathering place either for the humanities.
And I was told that after 1968 with all the unrest on campus that some engineers, they deliberately de-center all the places of aggregation so that again, it's just another way in which crowds can take strange.
So, I think the Paris of Baron Hausmann, who was accused of having essentially demolished all those narrow alleyways where the crowds who were responsible for the revolutionary uprisings of 1848 and the commune had gathered.
So, I'm going to go to Paris and all those huge avenues have this political subtext there in the background which is everything for Le Puple, Le Puple, but Le Puple has to also keep within its controllable limits.
So, Jeffrey, we're almost at a time, got another minute.
You're going to give a book presentation this evening after the show, right?
Yeah, I'm presenting the Revolutionary Tides catalog which was published by Skira in Milan in an English edition, but there's also French and Italian editions coming out as I speak, really.
At Cody's books at Stockton Street in San Francisco this evening at 730, there'll be a discussion about the show and the catalog and your listeners are, of course, more than welcome.
Yeah, any of you in your car is on the way to San Francisco keep that in mind.
Good. Well, Jeffrey, it's been a fascinating discussion. Thank you for coming on. My name is Robert Harrison.
We've been speaking with Professor Jeffrey Schnapp about crowds.
I want to remind our listeners that we have a web page for this program.
Click on to the Stanford French and Italian department homepage.
Click on entitled opinions there. You can download previous programs and leave your comments, etc.
I also want to remind you that coming up at the top of the hour, DECA, at the CAFE Bohemian.
After that at 9 p.m., the broad followed by sports cap.
So stay tuned next week. We're going to be talking about Albert Camour. Bye bye.
Bye bye.
Are there any paranoid studios tonight?
Anyone who worries about things?
A setting.
Is this for all the weak people in the audience?
Is there anyone here who's weak?
This is for you. It's called Run Like Hell.
Let's hope you'll match for that.