1959

Why 52?

[ Floodland | Dominion / Mother Russia ]

A recurring question on the Dominion mailing list and other forums where the Sisters are discussed is that of the meaning of the phrase "the 52 daughters of the revolution". In the first of a series (maybe) of pages focussed on specific lyrics, we ask: 'why 52?'

A posting to Dominion from the uncannily well informed Edward Bax on the subject of Mother Russia contained the following:

...The 52 daughters of the revolution are surely American. Firstly, (POI:) we have an organisation called the Daughters of The American Revolution (dedicated not so much to liberty, equality and brotherhood as twinset, pearls and aquiring more of the same). Secondly, we're talking *52* daughters. Go figure, by the dawn's early light.

Erm, quite. Erm, hang on. 52 daughters? There are only 50 States in the Union, which leaves us in something of a quandary. There are a number of conclusions which we can therefore consider:

Eldritch made a mistake

Unlikely, but amusing, so we like to consider it as an option. Alternatively perhaps, he was stuck for an extra syllable in the line, and hoped nobody would notice.

There are 52 States

Sort of. If you count Washington DC and Puerto Rico as additional States (or Puerto Rico and Guam or the US Virgin Islands, or possibly DC plus the UK, or Canada, or any other place that is regularly considered to be annexed by America). However there's an unhappy inexactitude in this. It's unclear where one should stop in adding additional states, and why in that case you should settle on the answer '52'. Again, the necessities of scanscion might come into play, but that's hardly an excuse.

It's not a direct reference to America

The Bax quote makes it fairly clear that the line should be understood as being about the States; but may there is a disingenuity in this. People have suggested various other connections - the number of Soviet republics for example - but none of these have been convincing, or, so far as we can tell, based in fact. Two or three possible lines of symbolism are called to mind, which could arguably fit the line, but not terribly persuasively. Firstly, the claim in the main section that Ronald Reagan - the Gerontion who stars in the song - was elected to the 52nd term of Office as President (but not the 52nd President). Well, maybe - but it looks to me like you'd need to tweak the running order a bit I'm not able to get to 52! Assuming for a moment that it's true, this is interesting, and the only cause for hestitation in pursuing this is that it seems more than a little obscure. Eldritch's references lyrics do not seem to explicitly indulge in obscurantism for the sake of it, yet this is far from obvious even to the well read listener (Unless, of course, you think that it is...). Alternatively, as suggested in the main section, one thinks of the 52 playing cards in a deck, and of the various other gambling themes that have been developed in the song. This has an attractive consistency, but the links to the Daughters of the Revolution seem to be tangential at best. Finally, one might think of the 52 weeks of the year. The song makes much of the view of human civilization as ephemeral, with each cycle getting what's coming to them, whether it be through the shifting sands of time and the desert, which did for Ozymandius, or the nuclear oblivion which overshadows the whole of Floodland. So perhaps there's a reference to ephemerality and the short-termism implicit in monetarist capitalism. However, we return to the problem that none of these lines of thinking appear to be as simple and complete - and ultimately rewarding - as the obvious reading of a direct reference to the United States. Which brings us reluctantly back to one of the other conclusions. Hmmm.


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