This chapter serves as the starting point for tracing the idea of the total work across the nineteenth century from the French Revolution through to the Wagnerism of the fin de siècle. Specifically, it explores Rousseau’s critique of representation in the theatre and in politics. His antitheatrical ideal of the popular festival inspired French revolutionary attempts to make such festivals central to the new civil religion of the nation. It argues that the idea and the practice of the total work of art will be driven by the same sublime imperative of transcendence as the Jacobin festivals and will confront the same dilemmas. In searching for transcendence, the revolutionary festivals were forced to reproduce the two inescapable dilemmas of representation. The one is political and can be phrased in the following fashion: do the people make the festival or does the festival make the people? The second is theatrical: how can the public festival escape spectacle if it is already itself a spectacle? In each case there is an appeal to the sublime in order to transcend these contradictions.
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