Skip to Content

Beheading the Saint: Aesthetic Revolt and the Remaking of National Identity in Quebec, 1960-69

Friday, September 14, 2012
12:00 AM
1014 Tisch Hall

Based on archival and ethnographic data, this article analyzes the iconic making, iconoclastic unmaking and iconographic remaking of national identifications. The window into these processes is the career of Saint John the Baptist, patron saint of the French Canadians and national icon from the mid-19th century until 1969, when his statue was beheaded by protesters during the annual parade in his honor in Montreal. Relying on literatures on visuality and materiality, I analyze how the saint and his attending symbols were deployed in processions, parades and protests. From this analysis, I develop the sociological concept of aesthetic revolt, a process whereby social actors rework iconic symbols, redefining national identity in the process. The article offers a theoretical articulation and an empirical demonstration of how the context, content and the form of specific cultural objects and symbols—national icons—are intertwined in public performance to produce eventful change, and show why and how the internal material logic and the social life of these icons shape the articulation of new identities.

Speaker: