Friday, July 02, 2010

May, Todd. Review of Jacques Ranciere, DISSENSUS. NDPR (July 2010).

Ranciere, Jacques.  Dissensus: On Politics and Aesthetics.  Ed. and trans. Steve Corcoran.  London: Continuum, 2009.

Whenever a French philosopher begins to become fashionable, one can expect a growing cascade of translations of his work. Not only will the major and minor texts appear, but also various sorts of collected writings. The general purpose of the latter is often ostensibly to provide an introduction to the thinker's work, but many of these collections often turn out to be hodge-podges of writings with no coherent internal connection whose real goal is to shore up the failing fortunes of a small press.

This is emphatically not the case with the collection under review. Steven Corcoran has provided a timely and coherently organized collection of Rancière's short writings, one that can stand as a solid introduction to the author's thought. Corcoran comes to the task already conversant with Rancière's work, having translated two other works of Rancière's, Hatred of Democracy and Aesthetics and its Discontents, as well as a number of books by Rancière's intellectual colleague Alain Badiou.

Constructing an introduction like this one to Rancière's work presents a singular challenge. One can mark two distinct but related periods in his "mature" work, which cover two distinct but related themes: politics and aesthetics. The former period might be said, a bit arbitrarily, to begin with the 1987 appearance of The Ignorant Schoolmaster, and culminates with Disagreement, published in 1995. The latter period perhaps starts with the 1998 publication of Silent Speech (forthcoming in English) and continues to the present day. Such a dating is a bit arbitrary, however, since there are aesthetic writings from before 1998 and political writings from after that date. There is a distinct shift of emphasis that occurs in Rancière's writings around the late 1990's, however, and the task of a good collection would be to capture both periods and the thematic interaction between them. The writings gathered here, which date from 1996 to 2004, perform both tasks admirably. . . .

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