Violence and Crowds



One could extrapolate from the iconoclasm of the individual to that of the crowd. One could go from the violence of the individual (read the critic) in front of the work of art to the violence of the crowd in front of a leader. Georges Bataille provides a transition between the two with his comment in his book on Manet, that Olympia, “was the first masterpiece before which the crowd fairly lost all control of itself.”

I was inspired by René Girard’s ideas of mimetic rivalry and the function of the scapegoat in the contagion of violence, as well as by Bataille’s notion of sumptuary expenditure and, as he says, the “necessarily contagious and activist character of representation.”

Much of this is summarized in my 1989 lecture, “Decapitation, Criticism and Terror,” for the journal Public, and published there in 1990.


Image: John Kennedy Campaigning in California, 1960, photo: Stanley Tretick