This chapter is a series of invitations to reflection about the relationship between the verbal and the visual orders of representation and their possible connection to a parallel, sometimes overlapping set of gender categories. I start with the observation that the French Revolution fostered a proliferation of signs, in which the political and the artistic were interwoven. I move from there to an examination of the implicit hierarchy of orders of representation and then to a brief consideration of the role of gender in helping to establish or at least solidify this hierarchy.
Every great revolutionary upheaval has its semiotic side in which art and politics are mixed. We need think only of the films of Eisenstein or Chinese revolutionary posters to make the point. But there are significant ways in which the French Revolution inaugurated the modern revolutionary obsession with the sign, especially the visual sign. The American Revolution, its contemporary counterpart, did not foster the same kind of proliferation of the sign. Admittedly, this is a comparison that is very difficult to quantify, and one might want to argue on ontological grounds that life everywhere is always in the same degree semiotic because it is always every instant permeated by signs and symbols. I am not being less symbolic here writing in the familiar, all too dry academic tones, than the French were when they were celebrating the Festival of Reason. Symbolic is not synonymous with interesting or even artistic! Nevertheless, both for contemporaries caught up in it and for those who tried to make sense of it afterward, the French Revolution had the effect of making the importance of the sign more conscious, more visible, as it were. This self-consciousness about the sign was related to a greater and more general self-consciousness about the organization of society and social relationships. 1
The Americans did invent a seal for their new republic, and they had to put something on their money. Yet, the American symbolic effort was different in character from the French. First of all, much of the American