The Future of an Allusion: Poïesis in Karl Marx’s The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte


Skepticism about the possibility of autonomous action accounts in part for romanticism’s many theatrical failures—misfires precisely because they stage failures to act. Uncertain whether the playing out of the revolution in France underscored the capacity of people to act independently or confirmed their status as mere instruments of heteronymous forces, the romantic dramas of Heinrich Von Kleist and William Wordsworth direct our attention not to the actions of characters but to the character of action. This uncertainty about the possibility of autonomous action also explains the repeated analogy drawn in romantic texts between the French Revolution and theater: the revolution is being directed by sinister forces that pull the strings backstage; scripted events are being performed as acts of liberty.1 Situating Karl Marx’s essay The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1852) within this post-revolutionary critique of human action, this essay will read Marx’s text as settling accounts with both of these romantic legacies: the theater as a privileged site to explore human action, and revolutions as essentially theatrical.

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