Between silence and speech: spectres and images in the aftermath of the Reign of Terror

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Peer-Reviewed Research
  • SDG 16
  • Abstract:

    The study of responses to mass atrocities is overwhelmingly focused on the present; yet societies in the past also had to deal with the difficulties that arise in the aftermath of such events. This article examines one such case, the aftermath of the Reign of Terror of the French Revolution. This period was characteriaed by ambivalence toward the memory of revolutionary violence, which was at one and the same time repressed and encouraged. In this context, ghosts offered a way for simultaneously talking and not talking about the legacies of the Reign of Terror. This article focuses on the case of the phantasmagoria, a unique lantern show that featured ghosts and debuted in Paris after the Reign of Terror. It argues that the spectral images, which the phantasmagoria created, occupied a middle ground between silence and speech, making it possible for contemporaries of the revolutionary era to face the notion that the past, which they destroyed, would return to haunt them.