In origin, Socrates belonged to the lowest class: Socrates was plebs. We know, we can still see for ourselves, how ugly he was. But ugliness, in itself an objection, is among the Greeks almost a refutation. Was Socrates a Greek at all? Ugliness is often enough the expression of a development that has been crossed, thwarted by crossing. Or it appears as declining development. The anthropologists among the criminologists tell us that the typical criminal is ugly: monstrum in fronte, monstrum in animo. [“monster in face, monster in soul”] But the criminal is a decadent. Was Socrates a typical criminal? At least that would not be contradicted by the famous judgment of the physiognomist which sounded so offensive to the friends of Socrates. A foreigner who knew about faces once passed through Athens and told Socrates to his face that he was a monstrum — that he harbored in himself all the bad vices and appetites. And Socrates merely answered: "You know me, sir!" 
— Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols (1889)

“I don’t think it’s going too far to compare him to someone like Socrates or Plato, who were interested in truth. He also does another thing that Socrates did, which was to use the opponent’s own assumptions and presuppositions to then deconstruct them and show that they are, in fact, invalid. And Colbert does that better than anyone I’ve seen in this generation.”
— “Is Stephen Colbert the New Socrates,” TIME.com (July 11, 2012) 

If we look closely at discussions about these themes — Socrates, Socraticism, irony and maieutic — we will become aware of a pseudo-problem which is constantly cropping up. It consists of asking oneself whether Socrates actually held the ideas which have subsequently been attributed to him (him of whom we know nothing) after century upon century of transportations and interpretations. Sceptics like to see him as a perpetual doubter, and nothing but a doubter. Value philosophers find, a posteriori, that he was the instigator of value philosophers; while partisans of rational and logical concepts praise him as the inventor of the concept, formally categorized as such. For some, Socrates was the righter of wrongs, the ‘guardian of pure intellectuality’, and consequently the leading apolitical or antipolitical figure of his time. But equally one can maintain that ‘after Socrates politics becomes the jewel in philosophy’s crown’. Pedagogue? Corruptor of the young? Creator of philosophy as distinct from poetry, religion, politics, art — or antiphilosopher who refuted ontologies? ‘Solo dancer to the glory of God’? ‘Tragic hero’ (Kierkegaard)? Or purveyor of antitragic rationalism, harbinger of decadence (Nietzsche)? And what should we think of his ‘daemon’? God or devil? Soul or spirit? Genius of revolt, Promethean spirit? Inspired by the arcanum of mysticism? Religiosity or rationalism? Introversion or communication? Spiritiuality or rhetoric in the service of an ill-defined social practice? Birth of consciousness or death of spontaneity? Dreamer? Sophist? Ideologue? Philistine roué? Rake? Pure hero? Of Socrates everything can be said. 
— Henri Lefebvre, Introduction to Modernity (1962)  

What Stewart and Colbert do most nights is convert civic villainy into disposable laughs. They prefer Horatian satire to Juvenalian, and thus treat the ills of modern media and politics as matters of folly, not concerted evil. Rather than targeting the obscene cruelties borne of greed and fostered by apathy, they harp on a rogues’ gallery of hypocrites familiar to anyone with a TiVo or a functioning memory. Wit, exaggeration, and gentle mockery trump ridicule and invective. The goal is to mollify people, not incite them. 
— Steve Almond, “The Jokes on You,” The Baffler No. 20 (2012)


In memory of Michel-Rolph Trouillot
Thus the writer rises out of his national environment and gains universal significance.
- Edward Said, Culture and Imperialism  
First reading Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History last year I immediately appreciated the lucidity of Trouillot's prose in his call to hear what is silenced. Trouillot's work follows and expands on the history-from-below work of British Marxist historians like E.P. Thompson and the critical work of the Subaltern Studies group. In fact, Trouillot cites Subaltern Studies historian, Ranajit Guha along with Marx and Hayden White in the first half of his book. Turning to Trouillot's theoretical forebears before considering his excavation of Sans Souci, I think it is important to consider the form of Trouillot's history book. A relatively slim volume, Silencing the Past is not an exhaustive catalog of all the lost voices of the Haitian revolution--the lost humans of history--but rather, a critical intervention in the narrative. Tremendously conscious of the role narrative structure can play in any understanding of history, Trouillot's conversational style and his intercalary personal reflections serve to buttress the principle that permeates throughout his narration, the importance of context. The precariousness of memory, the unreliability of narrators, the curation of archives—oh my!—human history must be understood as a human creation if it is to be 'useful' (here I mean 'useful' in the context of a use-value determined by an ethical program in opposition to the present neoliberal capitalist order, lest you think I mean 'useful' as in 'profitable'). Such is an especially difficult task in many of the realms where history rears its powerful head. In the production of nationalist narratives of triumph and conquest, in the manufacture of racial difference and identity binaries, history can take the form of myth. 
In Gillo Pontecorvo's 1969 film Burn!, José Dolores, the indigenous resistance leader, is killed when landed capitalist collaborators usurp the anti-colonial struggle and his rebellion is crushed. I am reminded of Burn! by the story of Sans Souci. Pontecorvo's Dolores is hanged by the state, Trouillot's Souci, the person, is murdered by the rising monarch, the reactionary, the traitor to the revolution. The two Sans Souci ("without concerns" in French) palaces, one in Milot (Henry Christophe's) and the other in Potsdam (Fredrick the Great's), are the intriguing and posthumous reminders of a lost voice. As Trouillot struggles with the 'silenced' archives to resurrect the story of Souci (the person), the Haitian revolution is reimagined. That is to say, the common narrative of colonizer versus colonized begins to collapse as Haitian history is seen for what it is: tragic, hopeful, multifarious, heterogeneous, and unfinished. During the production of Burn!, following concerns that Franco's government would ban the film, the colonial power in the narrative was changed from the Spanish to the Portuguese (despite the fact that the Portuguese never held colonies in the Caribbean), a further reminder that the representation of history is fraught with ideological contestation.   
Trouillot's consideration of how the Haitian revolution was silenced in its present moment (and beyond of course, "ghosts that are best left undisturbed") by Western recorders compels me to reflect on our own present moment. It is apparent that if you surrender to the historical unconsciousness that dominates our present society's sense of itself (i.e. "American Exceptionalism") you are absolved from resisting the present; empty, homogenous time renders resistance futile. In the consciousness of the 'mainstream', Occupy Wall Street is a 'lost cause.' Nonetheless, other narratives are written and published on blogs, on Twitter, and by independent presses, including this narrative here. The rebellion continues because there is no mystical power that consolidates and erases with totality, and certainly no cabal or conspiracy (though, undoubtedly, an oligarchy), but there is human agency and hope. Trouillot's book is a powerful indictment of history, but one must not forget the potentially subversive power of history as well. In his narration of the San Domingo Revolution, The Black Jacobins, C.L.R. James did not just write an exquisite history (despite its silences) of Toussaint L'Overture's struggle, of the Caribbean, of modernity and transnationalism, but also a call for global revolution.