Vision Quest

F. González-Crussí begins his latest reflective work, On Seeing: Things Seen, Unseen, and Obscene, with Jules Michelet’s anecdote of the 1791 massacre on the Champ-de-Mars. As it turns out, a boorish hairdresser, disgusted with the turn of events in France that was threatening the heads of the nobles, and thereby his livelihood, set out to lessen his woes by inviting an equally boorish old sailor to attend a public event. The occasion was a pageant celebrating the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille, replete with an elaborate “Altar to the Fatherland” and surrounding grandstands. The men, drunk and intending to grow more so, hid themselves under the stands and began to bore holes in the structure. Their purpose: to obtain a view of women’s bodies beneath their skirts. Unfortunately for them, their presence was discovered by an old woman. She alerted others, who made their way to the scene in short order, plucked the two men out, and demanded an explanation. What were two drunken royalists doing so close to the display, and why were they hiding under the stands? What followed-the misunderstandings, the furor, the attacks, the retaliation-became a catalyst in the French revolution and led to the Reign of Terror in which some twenty thousand people died. And all from an attempt to get a peek, to view the forbidden; all from simply trying to see.

González-Crussí, a professor emeritus of pathology at...

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About the Author

A. G. Harmon teaches at the Catholic University of America. His A House All Stilled (UT Press) won the Peter Taylor Prize for the novel in 2001.