FEW APHORISMS ARE MORE FAMOUS than the redoubtable “History repeats itself, the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce”—an observation typically attributed to Karl Marx. In fact, however, this assertion is merely a paraphrasing of the political philosopher. Opening his 1852 study of “bourgeois revolution,” The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, Marx writes: “Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.” What is obscured in the popularized adage, then, is the specifically theatrical character of Marx’s original formulation (along with some of its wry nuance). In addition to referencing two dramatic genres, tragedy and farce, he says that personages “appear,” as if they were making grand entrances on the world stage. And later in the same essay, Marx
Artforum print subscribers have full access to this article. If you are a subscriber, sign in below.