My Wellesley

Iconoclasm and The Cultural Revolution

December 4, 2019

A look at the history of Anglo-American iconoclasm and contemporary “progressive” iconoclasm in the U.S. with Harvard professor of English James Simpson, discusses how the standard liberal view is that iconoclasts are somewhere else and “them.” “They” are vandals in other parts of the globe who destroy art (e.g. ISIS; China’s cultural revolution). The history of Anglo-American iconoclasm tells a slightly less comfortable story of iconoclasts having been us and here (England experienced a century of legislated iconoclasm of every religious image between 1538 and 1644; it exported distrust of the image to New England). Simpson also turns to perhaps the least comforting instances of iconoclasm, by looking to contemporary “progressive” iconoclasm in the United States, where we see that the iconoclasts are us and now.

Dr. James Simpson
Dr. James Simpson
Professor of English, Harvard University