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  • 8/2/2019 Ranciere Interview



    peter hallward

    Jacques Rancire retired from teaching philoso-phy at the University of Paris VIII (Saint-Denis)in 2002. In most of his otherwise varied projectshe seeks to overturn all imposed forms of classi-fication or distinction, to subvert all norms of

    representation that might allow for the stabledifferentiation of one class of person or experi-ence from another (workers from intellectuals,masters from followers, the articulate from theinarticulate, the artistic from the non-artistic,etc.). As a general rule, Rancire believes that itis in the moments when the real world waversand seems to reel into mere appearance, morethan in the slow accumulation of day-to-dayexperiences, that it becomes possible to form ajudgement about the world.1

    As a student at the cole Normale Suprieurein the 1960s, Rancire was influenced byAlthusser and wrote an important section ofReading Capital in which, like Althusser, hedistinguished between the necessarily deludedexperience of social agents and the quasi-scien-tific authority of theory (exclusively able tograsp, for instance, the mechanics of productionor commodification). It is hardly an exaggera-tion to say that everything else Rancire has

    written rejects this distinction and all its impli-cations. Outraged by Althussers distance fromthe political mobilisations during and after1968, and suspicious of the ever-widening gapbetween theory and reality he found in the workof his fellow soixante-huitards, Rancirepublished a spectacular critique of his formerteacher in 1974. Turning instead to Foucault formethodological inspiration, Rancire foundedthe journal Les Rvoltes Logiques in 1975,

    dedicated to recasting the relation between workand philosophy, or proletarians and intellectu-als, in such a way as to block any prescriptiveappropriation or representation of the former bythe latter.

    Like Foucault, Rancire has applied the workof de-normalisation or de-classification on a

    number of successive though overlapping fronts,which for the sake of analysis might be distin-guished as philosophical, pedagogical, historio-graphical, political, sociological, and aesthetic.

    Rancires general argument with philosophy,most substantially stated in Le Philosophe et sespauvres (1983), concerns its inaugural attempt todistinguish people capable of genuine thoughtfrom others who, entirely defined by theireconomic occupation, are presumed to lack the

    jacques rancire

    translated by forbes morlock



    an interview

    ISSN 0969-725X print/ISSN 1469-2899 online/03/020191-21 2003 Taylor & Francis Ltd and the Editors ofAngelakiDOI: 10.1080/0969725032000162657

    A N G E LA KIjou rnal of the theoretical human it ies

    volume 8 number 2 august 2003

  • 8/2/2019 Ranciere Interview


    ability, time and leisure required for thought.The paradigm here is Platos division of societyinto functional orders (artisans, warriors, rulers),such that slaves, or shoemakers, for instance, areforever banished from the domain of philosophy.

    To each type of person, one allotted task: labour,war, or thought. Hence the importance of exclud-ing those who, by seeking to imitate a type otherthan their own, threaten to cross these functionallines. Rancire finds echoes of both this divisionand this exclusion in the work of Marx, Sartreand Bourdieu.

    In pedagogical terms, Rancires argument (inThe Ignorant Schoolmaster, 1987) targets anyattempt to conceive of education in terms of thegeneralised classification of children, i.e. interms of a process that leads them from initialpostures of submission and docility towards rela-tive security precisely in so far as they come toaccept their suitably sanctioned place. Inspiredby the maverick example of Joseph Jacotot(17701840), Rancires guiding pedagogicalprinciple is that all people are virtually capableof understanding what others have done andunderstood []. Equality is not a goal to beattained but a point of departure, a supposition

    to be maintained in all circumstances.2Everyone has the same intelligence; what variesis the will and opportunity to exercise it. On thebasis of this supposition, superior knowledgeceases to be a necessary qualification of theteacher, just as the process of explication (withits attendant metaphors that distinguish childrenas slow or quick, that conceive of educationaltime in terms of progress, training and qualifica-tion) is exposed as the dominant myth of peda-

    gogy.When Rancire turns to the writing of history,it is in order to expose the way historians fromMichelet to Braudel have likewise presented apicture of the world in which each individual isset in their appropriate place, in which anyparticular voice becomes audible in so far as itarticulates the logic associated with that place. InMichelets histories, in keeping with a principlethat still dominates the discipline as a whole,everything has a meaning to the degree thatevery speech production is assignable to thelegitimate expression of a place: the earth that

    shapes men, the sea on which their exchangestake place, the everyday objects in which theirrelations can be read 3 What is banished fromthis territorialising conception of history is thevery possibility of heresy (heresy understood as

    the dis-placing of the speaker and dis-aggregationof the community4), in particular that moderndemocratic heresy incarnated by the arrivalupon the historical stage of a popular voice thatrefuses any clear assignation of place, the voiceof the masses of people who both labour andthink a voice noticeably absent, Rancireobserves, from the Annales-inspired conceptionof history.

    It is precisely this heretical conception ofpolitical speech that informs Rancires mostprogrammatic work to date: Disagreement(1995). The supervision of places and functionsis the business of what Rancire calls thepolice; apoliticalsequence begins, then, whenthis supervision is interrupted so as to allow aproperly anarchic disruption of function andplace, a sweeping de-classification of speech. Thedemocratic voice is the voice of those who rejectthe prevailing social distribution of roles, whorefuse the way a society shares out power and

    authority, the voice of floating subjects thatderegulate all representations of places andportions.5

    Applied in sociological terms, Ranciressubversion of classes and norms applies as muchto Marxist attempts to squeeze the complexity ofworkers experience into the theory-certifiedsimplicity of the proletariat as it does to nostal-gic attempts to preserve a traditional workingclass identity. The Nights of Labor (1981),

    Rancires first (and still most) substantial book,a record and analysis of proletarian intellectuallife in the 1830s and 1840s, undercuts any effortto preserve popular, plebeian or proletarianpurity and, in the absence left by the disap-pearance ofthe authentic working class, clears aspace for the emergence of unauthorised combi-nations and inventions transposed utopias,reappropriations of literary forms, worker-runnewspapers and nocturnal poetry societies, trans-occupational associations, etc.6 The workersrecorded by Rancire complain less about mate-rial hardship and more about the predetermined

    politics and aesthetics

  • 8/2/2019 Ranciere Interview


    quality of lives framed by rigid social hierarchy.Perhaps the truly dangerous classes, heconcludes, were not so much the uncivilisedones thought to undermine society from belowbut rather the migrants who move at the borders

    between classes individuals and groups whodevelop capabilities of no direct use for theimprovement of their material lives, and whichmight in fact make them despise materialconcerns.7

    It is only a small if not imperceptible shiftfrom here to an interest in the attempt, whichRancire names the aesthetic revolution, tomove from a rule-bound conception of art preoc-cupied with matching any given object with itsappropriate form of representation (the basis fora secure distinction of art from non-art) to aregime of art which, in the absence of represen-tational norms, embraces the endless confusionof art and non-art.8 In this aesthetic regime(whose origins Rancire traces to Schiller, firstand foremost), genuine art is what indistin-guishes, in newly creative ways and with theresources peculiar to a specific artistic practice,art and the other of art examples includeBalzacs application of epic modes of description

    to the banalities of everyday life, or Flaubertsextension of an aristocratic conception of style toa democratic equality of subjects, orMallarms blending of the most subtle move-ments of syntax with a general reframing of thehuman abode. Rather than the author of apurely intransitive or hermetic discourse,Mallarm figures here as the writer whoconceives of poetry as both the purest possibleexpression of language and as caught up in the

    rituals of private, collective and industrial life (inthe tiny movements of a dancer, the fluttering ofa fan, the fireworks of Bastille Day, and so on,all part of that celebration of the ordinary whichcomes to replace the forlorn ceremonies ofthrone and religion).9 Orthodox modernism, bycontrast, in its determination to restore a strictbarrier between (non-representational) art andnon-art, can only figure here as complicit in theperpetual attempt to restore traditional hierar-chies, to return things to their officially autho-rised place, to squash the insurgent promise ofdemocracy.


    1 Jacques Rancire, Nights of Labor19.

    2 Rancire, Le Matre ignorant 9, 229.

    3 Rancire, Names of History65. Michelet invents

    the art of making the poor speak by keeping themsilent, of making them speak as silent people, in

    so far as only the historian or an