For the philosopher Jacques Rancière, France’s strange presidential election campaign is no surprise. He thinks that a French system that entrusts all power to professional politicians mechanically churns out candidates who claim to represent a "clean break." Éric Aeschimann spoke to Rancière for the 9–15 March 2017 edition of L’Obs. Translated by David Broder.
Emmanuel Macron at a March 2017 press conference.
From François Hollande’s decision not to stand, to François Fillon’s legal woes, the current presidential campaign has been a succession of dramatic twists. And you, Jacques Rancière, are a unique observer of this spectacle. For years you have denounced the impasses of representative democracy, which you see as incapable of producing a genuine democracy. How would you analyse what is happening?
"Representative democracy" is a more than ambiguous term. It conveys the false idea of an already-constituted people that expresses itself by choosing its representatives. Yet the people is not a given that pre-exists the political process: rather, it is the result of this process. This or that political system creates this or that people, rather than the other way around. Besides, the representative system is founded on the idea that there is a class in society that represents the general interests of society. In the minds of the American founding fathers, that was the class of enlightened landowners. This system creates a people that identifies its legitimate representatives as coming from within this class, periodically reconfirming as much at the ballot box. The representative system gradually became an affair for professionals, who then reproduced themselves. But in so doing this system generated its own reverse, the mythical idea of a people not represented by these professionals and aspiring to provide itself with representatives who really do incarnate it. This is the piece of theatre — of constantly declining quality — that each election now reproduces.
In the following interview, author of Aisthesis: Scenes from the Aesthetic Regime of Art Jacques Rancière speaks with Anna Wójcik about the politics of art, the meaning of democracy, and the state of art today. Does contemporary art still have the potential to disrupt society and 'redistribute the sensible'?
Paul McCarthy's 'L'Arbre' - provocative or commodified?
The Vertigo Effect, a series of more than 25 films marked, in one way or another, by Alfred Hitchcock's 1958 classic, commenced last night at BAM. Below, we present Jacques Rancière's essay on the film from Intervals of Cinema, which casts back to Vertov's Man With the Movie Camera to uncover the faultline Hitchcock's work straddles.
Understanding the art of moving images means first understanding the relation between two movements: the visual unrolling of images specific to cinema; and the deployment and dissipation of semblances more broadly characteristic of the narrative arts. In the western tradition, the second aspect is dominated by the Aristotelian logic of inversion. The plot is a sequence of actions that seems to have a certain meaning and lead towards a certain end. But as the sequence unfolds, expectations are dashed: the alliance of causes produces an entirely different effect from the one anticipated; knowledge becomes ignorance and ignorance knowledge; success changes to disaster or misfortune to happiness. How can the unrolling of moving images be married to that particular logic for unveiling the truth behind appearances? I would like to show that the most perfect synchronization of the two movements includes a fault. And I will attempt to understand the philosophical meaning and political weight of that fault. So I will talk about the relation between vision, movement and truth. And by the same token I will have to talk about the relation between cinema, philosophy, literature and communism.
Democratic malaise, political disarray and panic: a year after Francois Hollande’s election, things aren’t looking good. Jacques Rancière and Pierre Rosanvallon, two major thinkers and theorists of democracy, attempt to understand our moral and political predicament.
From the 7 May 2013 print edition of Le Monde
Jacques Rancière is Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at the University of Paris-VIII. His books include On the Shores of Politics, Short Voyages to the Land of the People, The Nights of Labor, Staging the People, and The Emancipated Spectator. His next book, Aisthesis, is out in June by Verso.
Pierre Rosanvallon is a French center-left thinker, previously involved with François Furer in the Fondation Saint-Simon. His books in English include, amongst others, Democratic Legitimacy: Impartiality, Reflexivity, Proximity; Democracy Past and Future; and The Demands of Liberty. In 2002 he founded the République des Idées.
How did you make democracy and equality the central axes of your political concerns, inquiries and research ?
Pierre Rosanvallon: I became a full timer for the CFDT [union federation] when I finished at the HEC [business school] just after May ’68. At that time I began to read an enormous amount on the history of the workers’ movement. I had made contact with a publisher, Léon Centner, who had issued an impressive collection of hundreds of pamphlets on the building of the workers’ movement, Les Révolutions du XIXe siècle [‘The Revolutions of the Nineteenth Century’] in 48 volumes. Having got the CFDT to buy the lot, I dived into reading them. From that point on, I knew well that it is impossible to understand the tasks of the present – the project of self-management then being central – without a long-term perspective on the questions in hand. I wanted, besides, to understand the disorderly phenomena of democracy. To know why the structures of collective organisation did not work as well as expected. All these questions on the organisation of democratic life made for my first field of studies.