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The Emancipated Spectator

The foremost philosopher of art argues for a new politics of looking.
The theorists of art and film commonly depict the modern audience as aesthetically and politically passive. In response, both artists and thinkers have sought to transform the spectator into an active agent and the spectacle into a communal performance.

In this follow-up to the acclaimed The Future of the Image, Rancière takes a radically different approach to this attempted emancipation. First asking exactly what we mean by political art or the politics of art, he goes on to look at what the tradition of critical art, and the desire to insert art into life, has achieved. Has the militant critique of the consumption of images and commodities become, ironically, a sad affirmation of its omnipotence?

Reviews

  • “In this follow-up to his fruitful The Future of the Image, French philosopher Rancière argues forcefully against familiar critiques of the "spectacle" ... This persuasive argument is fleshed out through close readings of art, ­photography, literature and video installation, and a drily amusing analysis of leftwing "melancholy" and "rightwing frenzy" in critiques of ­capitalism.”
  • “What we see here is Ranciere developing a unique voice as a political theorist.”
  • “French philosopher Jacques Ranciere is a refreshing read for anyone concerned with what art has to do with politics and society.”
  • “Ranciere's writings offer one of the few conceptualizations of how we are to continue to resist.”
  • The Emancipated Spectator is intended to improve our comprehension of art and deepen our grasp of the politics of perception ... [it has an] impressive concern with the political analysis of art and the use of imagery”
  • “What we are given is, above all, a figure of the spectator whose capacities to sense and think are greater than we have been prepared to conceive.”
  • “His art lies in the rigor of his argument—its careful, precise unfolding —and at the same time not treating his reader, whether university professor or unemployed actress, as an imbecile.”
  • “In the face of impossible attempts to proceed with progressive ideas within the terms of postmodernist discourse, Rancière shows a way out of the malaise.”
  • “It’s clear that Jacques Rancière is relighting the flame that was extinguished for many—that is why he serves as such a signal reference today.”

Blog

  • Subversive Pasolini: La Ricotta and The Gospel According to Matthew — a conversation between Nina Power and Geoffrey Nowell-Smith

    This dialogue between Nina Power and film historian Geoffrey Nowell-Smith took place in 2012-13. It was due to be published by a film magazine, but fell through for reasons beyond the control of the authors. It first appeared online at Ninapower.net.


    La ricotta (1963).

    Geoffrey Nowell-Smith
    : Pasolini has often been described as a Catholic Marxist but his Marxism was always unorthodox and he was never a Catholic although brought up in an environment permeated by the imagery and values of Italian Catholicism. Like most people on the left in Italy in the 1950s he was strongly anti-clerical (not surprising given the profoundly reactionary role played by the Catholic Church in Italy in the period) and it is only in his poetry that another side of him appears — an identification with suffering as experienced by the oppressed and potentially embodied in the figure of Christ. Then in 1958 the election of Pope John XXIII was a massive force for change — in Italian society, in the Church, and in Pasolini himself. Catholicism became something to engage with — as myth (in the noble sense of the word), as culture, as ideology, as a political force that was not necessarily quite so reactionary as it had been or seemed to be throughout most of preceding Italian history.

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  • Representation Against Democracy: Jacques Rancière on the French Presidential Elections

    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.

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  • Verso's Art and Aesthetics Bookshelf


    Portraits: John Berger on Artists
     
    by John Berger. Edited by Tom Overton

    “A volume whose breadth and depth bring it close to a definitive self-portrait of one of Britain’s most original thinkers” – Financial Times

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Other books by Jacques Rancière Translated by Gregory Elliott