Rancière's running theme in The Emancipated Spectator is this: people aren't stupid. They're not "dupes" of some system of control; they can very well read into their circumstances, and the human capacity for knowledge of such circumstances should not be limited by finger-wagging (and self-serving) intellectuals who, having once scoffed at a society of the spectacle overrunning the populace, now scoff at the belief in the society of the spectacle (as residing, now in a range of popular-culture and business management segments of society). Rather than being content, as are Boltanski and Chiapello, to demonstrate how "the artistic critique" took root in business cultures (admittedly, a line of argument, in congruence with Virno, that I continue to find compelling), Rancière argues that such unveiling merely repeats a cycle in critical thought, and, worse, a pernicious tradition of treating spectators, and students, as ignoramuses (a favorite word of Rancière's).
I'm not sure that Rancière is not participating in one more version of "after critical theory," but I appreciate the radically democratic impulse of his writing. He calls for an end to the always-new, but his thought nevertheless folds into the same cycles of novelty that power academic, artistic, and consumer discourses. It's all fine and good to declare that we should stop assuming positions of critical authority (and admittedly, such positions are tedious), but how might this look? And why wouldn't it fold into these cycles of novelty?
This is worth thinking about in terms of the post-sixties avant-garde that took shape in the early moments of Reagan and Thatcher, and it's a good reminder to resist the temptation to see the artists and writers of this era as benighted, fooled by their love of Barthes and Baudrillard into believing in false outsides.
Thank You and Farewell
2 years ago