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Proletarian Nights: The Workers' Dream in Nineteenth-Century France

A classic text by Rancière on the intellectual thought of French workers in the 19th century.

Proletarian Nights, previously published in English as Nights of Labor and one of Rancière’s most important works, dramatically reinterprets the Revolution of 1830, contending that workers were not rebelling against specific hardships and conditions but against the unyielding predetermination of their lives. Through a study of worker-run newspapers, letters, journals, and worker-poetry, Rancière reveals the contradictory and conflicting stories that challenge the coherence of these statements celebrating labor.

This updated edition includes a new preface by the author, revisiting the work twenty years since its first publication in France.

Reviews

  • “With its innovative approach, Rancière's difficult and provocative interpretation is essential reading.”
  • “Rancière’s brilliant book … locates the nineteenth-century origins of European socialism not in the noble desire of artisans to control their own labor but in the utopian visions of working-class poets who wanted to be free of labor altogether ... This is a powerful, piercing, and radical argument ... Rancière has merged his philosophical and historical interests into a profound commentary on the possibilities of human freedom and of the violence done to those possibilities in freedom’s name.”
  • “Drury's translation puts it into English as directly and comprehensibly as possible. It's a difficult job to do well, and the translator's work goes a long way toward making the book more readable.”

Blog

  • 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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  • Save Those Who Weep

    Sophie Wahnich argues we need to expand the notion of civil war to include the whole set of social and political practices that destroy the social bond. Since market relations destroy sociability, we must unfailingly turn our attention to those who are falling through the cracks. First published in Libération. Translated by David Broder.  



    Eddie Constantine as Lemmy Caution in Alphaville (1965). 

    In Alphaville — imagined by Jean-Luc Godard in 1965 — the city’s all-powerful master Professor von Braun has abolished human feelings. A computer, Alpha 60, governs the whole city. The secret agent Lemmy Caution is charged with "destroying Alpha 60...and saving those who weep."

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  • Frédéric Lordon: ‘With Nuit Debout the fire didn’t catch hold’

    Frédéric Lordon is one of Nuit Debout’s leading figures. Although he speaks to the media very little, the economist and CNRS research director did agree to answer Bondy Blog’s questions for this extended interview. On the menu today: Nuit Debout, the death of Adama Traoré, and the legacy of Michel Rocard.

    Translated by David Broder. Interview by Jonathan Baudoin.


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Other books by Jacques Rancière