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Introduction to Jacques Rancière (2 part course)

Lecturers: Robert Boncardo, Gene Flenady, James Muldoon and David Sweeney

Originally Taught: Summer School 2014

The contemporary French philosopher Jacques Rancière is amongst the most important thinkers writing today. His work, characterized by a rare mixture of polemic and conceptual clarity, has for forty years now inspired renewed ways of thinking about topics as diverse as democracy and pedagogy, modern literature and film.

This course will be an introduction to all of his major works, concepts and the polemical interventions he has engaged in and the debates that they have sparked. Across two weeks of ten lectures (the first week being devoted to Rancière’s more properly political work, the second to his aesthetics, with students having the option of doing either one or both weeks), the course will involve five different presenters offering clear and comprehensive considerations of the diverse topics to which Rancière has turned his attention.

The first week of the course will be concerned with Rancière’s more exclusively political work. From his fiery break with Althusser and structuralist Marxism in Althusser’s Lesson (1974), the first five lectures will track Rancière’s quite singular trajectory through his writings on French workers’ history in Proletarian Nights (1982) and in the journal Révoltes Logiques, to his radical re-reading of seminal texts of philosophy, from Plato to Sartre, in The Philosopher and his Poor (1983), and finally to his mature political thought, expressed in Disagreement (1995), and to his many interventions following this, particularly into debates on democracy in Hatred of Democracy (2006). We will also consider Rancière’s unique perspective on pedagogy and its relation to equality and emancipation in The Ignorant Schoolmaster (1987).

In the second week we will turn our attention to Rancière’s writings on aesthetic topics. Beginning with his work Mallarmé (1996), but also looking back to his book on the poetics of knowledge, The Names of History (1994), we will cover the main stages and concepts of Rancière’s reading of modern art and its predecessors, which he formulates in seminal works such as Mute Speech (1998) and The Politics of Aesthetics (2004). At the centre of these five lectures will be Rancière’s division of the history of Western artistic production into three regimes: the ethical regime of images, formulated first by Plato, the representative regime of art, whose paradigm is Aristotle’s Poetics, and finally the aesthetic regime of art, which brings us to modernity and to the knot of problems that contemporary art continues to deal with. But we will also be attentive to how these broad classificatory schemas are fruitfully put into play by Rancière, in particular in his readings of modern literature (from Flaubert to Proust, Balzac to Brecht) and film.

Course Schedule for Part One: Politics

Lecture 1: Rancière’s formative years and the break with Althusser: from Reading Capital to Althusser’s Lesson

Recommended reading:

  • Montag, W., ‘Rancière’s Lost Object’, in Cultural Critique, Vol. 83, (2013), pp. 139-155
  • Rancière, J., ‘The concept of ‘critique’ and the ‘critique of political economy’ (from the 1844 manuscripts to Capital’ in Economy and Society, Vol. 5, No. 3 (1976), pp. 352-376
  • Rancière, J, ‘How to use Lire le Capital’, in Economy and Society, Vol. 5, No. 3 (1976), pp. 377-384
  • Rancière, J., Althusser’s Lesson, (Verso, 2011)
  • Rancière, J., ‘On the theory of ideology: Althusser’s politics’, in Althusser’s Lesson, (Verso, 2011)

Lecture 2: The turn to worker’s history: Proletarian Nights and Révoltes Logiques

Recommended reading:

  • Rancière, J, Staging the People: the proletarian and his double, (Verso, 2011)
  • Rancière, J., The intellectual and his people: Staging the people, Volume 2, (Verso, 2012)
  • Rancière, J., Proletarian Nights: The workers’ dream in Nineteenth century France, (Verso, 2012)
  • Sewell, W. Jr., ‘Response to J. Rancière, “The Myth of the Artisan”’, International Labor and Working Class History, 24 (Fall, 1983), pp. 17-20

Lecture 3: Rancière’s mature political thought: from The Philosopher and his Poor to Disagreement and Hatred of Democracy

Recommended reading:

  • Chambers, S., The Lessons of Rancière, (Oxford University Press, 2012)
  • Rancière, J., On the Shores of Politics, (Verso, 1995)
  • Rancière, J., Disagreement: Politics and Philosophy, (University of Minnesota Press, 2004)
  • Rancière, J., The Philosopher and his Poor, (Duke University Press, 2004)
  • Rancière, J., Hatred of Democracy, (Verso, 2009)

Lecture 4: Rancière’s mature political thought cont.

Lecture 5: Rancière and education: The Ignorant Schoolmaster

Recommended reading:

  • Bingham, C., Biesta, G., Jacques Rancière: Education, Truth and Emancipation (Continuum, 2010)
  • Rancière, J., The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons in intellectual Emancipation, (Stanford University Press, 1991)
  • Rancière, J., The Philosopher and his Poor, (Duke University Press, 2004)
  • Rancière, J., ‘On Ignorant Schoolmasters’, in Jacques Rancière: Education, Truth and Emancipation (Continuum, 2010)

Course Schedule for Part Two: Aesthetics

Lecture Six: Introduction to Rancière’s aesthetics: from The Politics of Aesthetics to Aesthetics and its Discontents and Aesthesis.

Recommended reading:

  • Deranty, J-P., ‘Regimes of the arts’, Jacques Rancière: Key Concepts, (Acumen, 2010)
  • Rancière, J., The Politics of Aesthetics, (Continuum, 2004)
  • Rancière, J., Aesthetics and its Discontents, (Cambridge, 2009)
  • Rancière, J., Mute Speech: Literature, Critical Theory, and Politics, (Columbia, 2011)

Lecture Seven: Introduction to Rancière’s aesthetics, cont.

Lecture Eight: Rancière and literature: Mute Speech, The Flesh of Words, Mallarmé, The Politics of Literature

Recommended reading:

  • Ross, A., ‘Expressivity, literarity, mute speech’, Jacques Rancière: Key Concepts, (Acumen, 2010)
  • Rancière, J., The Flesh of Words: The Politics of Writing, (Stanford, 2005)
  • Rancière, J., Mallarmé: the Politics of the Siren, (Continuum, 2011)
  • Rancière, J., Mute Speech: Literature, Critical Theory, and Politics, (Columbia, 2011)

Lecture Nine: Rancière and literature cont.

Lecture Ten: Rancière and film: Film Fables

Recommended reading:

  • Guénoun, S., ‘An interview with Jacques Rancière : Cinematographic Image, Democracy, and the ‘Splendour of the Insignificant’, Sites: The Journal of Twentieth Century Contemporary French Studies, Vol. 4, No. 2, (2000), pp. 249-58

- Rancière, J., Film Fables, (Oxford, 2006)

More recommended reading:

Level of Difficulty: The course will appeal to all students with an interest in Rancière’s work, from those who have a scholarly concern with it to those who simply wish to discover a new continent of thought. It will also appeal to students of political philosophy, of theories of education, and of aesthetics.