Excerpt: ‘The Intellectual and His People’ by Jacques Rancière


From Chapter 6: Factory Nostalgia (Notes on an Article and Various Books)”:

All those big posters stuck on the walls, showing a strapping worker rising to the sky against a background of factories, dissolve into shreds, in the sun and in the water. Masino furious at seeing his face so proud upon the walls of the streets, while he has to go out looking for work.

– Pavese, ‘Idleness’

But the worst enemy was the people. They didn’t want to be people. ‘People yourself!’ they said to Monsieur Beaulieu. We’re just as good bourgeois as you.

– Romain Rolland, Le Théâtre du people

‘I don’t see myself as a prole. And I don’t see myself as a super- intellectual, not like a student. I’m not . . . Well, I’m here’, Christine says on the steps of the Beaubourg Centre. And Eric explains, ‘We walk about one way and another, sit on the benches and watch people pass by.’

The mute voice of a subjectivity seeking to assert itself in the abbreviations of a rarefied vocabulary? A look returned from the great voyages of proletarian self-consciousness to the zero degrees of palpable certainty: ‘That’s it, we’re here, it’s like that?’ Or rather a new trick of the dialectic that underpins the look of the observer in this apparent return to the simplicity of its origins, that little nothing that, at its birth, is identical with its being?

Beaubourg, according to popular wisdom, is like a factory. Is that the reason why this is the place to come today, to seek among these ‘non-workers of the non-working class’ those voices of alienation and rebellion that Sorbonne students looked for at Billancourt twelve years ago? At that time, as a bourgeois break- ing ranks and an activist breaking with gauchisme, this was where he saw the miracle: the working class, the concept in flesh and blood. Enough to sicken those petty bourgeois whom Marcuse, Gorz, Mallet and Belleville had led to dream of a new class of auto- mated white-collar workers, or manual workers trapped by credit and bourgeois comfort. A CGT secretary who hailed from the old Faubourg Saint-Antoine had turned the key to the fortress: the key of the evident identity of the worker in his labour and his struggle.