Jacques Rancière, For Dummies

Davis8-17-1sBen Davis reviews Rancière's The Politics of Aesthetics, in artnet:

The Politics of Aesthetics is a quick and dirty tour of a number of these themes. It features five short meditations on various conjunctions of art and politics, plus a lengthy interview with Rancière by his translator Gabriel Rockhill titled “The Janus-Face of Politicized Art,” an introduction by Rockhill and a concluding essay by the art world’s other favorite quirky philosopher, Slavoj Zizek. It is a short but serious book and, in keeping with French intellectual practice, sensuously impenetrable, coming equipped with a glossary of terms for the uninitiated.

Politically, Rancière favors the concept of equality. “Politics exists when the figure of a specific subject is constituted, a supernumerary subject in relation to the calculated number of groups, places, and functions in a society” (p. 51). Translated into layman’s English, Rancière is saying that politics is the struggle of an unrecognized party for equal recognition in the established order. Esthetics is bound up in this battle, Rancière argues, because the battle takes place over the image of society — what it is permissible to say or to show.

Back-to-back with this “esthetics of politics,” in Rancière’s thinking, is a “politics of esthetics” itself. To unlock its nature, much time is spent picking over the idea of modernism and placing it within Rancière’s tripartite scheme of art “regimes.” This complex intellectual equation can be simplified substantially if one realizes that what he is doing is combining, in a clever way, art history with labor history.