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Literature, Politics, Aesthetics. Approaches to Democratic Disagreement

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  Jacques Rancière: Literature, Politics, Aesthetics: Approaches to Democratic DisagreementAuthor(s): Solange Guénoun, James H. Kavanagh and Roxanne LapidusSource: SubStance, Vol. 29, No. 2, Issue 92 (2000), pp. 3-24Published by: University of Wisconsin Press Stable URL: . Accessed: 05/07/2014 13:45 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at  .  . JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new formsof scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact  . University of Wisconsin Press  is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to SubStance. This content downloaded from on Sat, 5 Jul 2014 13:45:45 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions  Jacques Rancikre: Literature, olitics, esthetics: Approaches o Democratic isagreement interviewed y Solange Guinoun nd James . Kavanagh Pour ue l'invitation roduise uelque ffet e pensee, l faut ue la rencontre rouve on point e m6sentente. -La isentente 12) [In order or he nvitation o produce ome ffect f hought, he encounter ust ind ts point f disagreement.] The Principles f Equality, ducation and Democracy SG In reading your work, ne has the mpression hat you have had a kind of revelation r nuit de Pascal in encountering hat extraordinary nineteenth-century edagogue, Joseph acotot, o whom you have devoted a book, Le maftre gnorant 1987). JR It was not nuit de Pascal, but certainly n essential ncounter or re-asking he question of politics and equality. n fact, Joseph Jacotot proposed, n an ncredibly rovocative ay, wo radical rinciples hat laced the pedagogical paradigm alongside the progressivist ogic generally identified ith democracy. irst f all, equality s not a goal to be attained. The progressivists ho proclaim quality s the end result f a process of reducing nequalities, f educating he masses, etc., eproduce he ogic of the eacher who assures his power by being n charge f he gap he claims o bridge between gnorance nd knowledge. quality must be seen as a point of departure, nd not s a destination. We must ssume that ll ntelligences are equal, and work under his ssumption. ut lso, Jacotot aised radical provocation to democratic politics. For him, equality could only be intellectual equality among individuals. It could never have a social consistency. ny attempt o realize t socially ed to ts oss. t seemed to me that very form f egalitarian olitics was confronted y this hallenge: o affirm quality s an axiom, s an assumption, nd not s a goal. But lso to refuse partition etween ntellectual quality and social inequality; o believe that even if egalitarian ssumptions re alien to social logic and SubStance 2, 2000 3 This content downloaded from on Sat, 5 Jul 2014 13:45:45 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions  4 Jacques ancibre aggregation, hey can be affirmed here ransgressively, nd that politics consists f this very onfrontation. SG What strikes me is the way this has allowed you to intervene n the politico-socialist onjunction n the 1980s, n the ever-burning uestions f education nd teaching n France, nd thereby o carve ut a place for ourself vis-a-vis he two then-current orms f progressivism. JR The French ebate over democratic chooling was at that time-and still s-monopolized by two positions. On the one hand, the sociological tendency, nspired by Bourdieu, was calling into question forms of transmitting nowledge dapted o n audience f young heirs. t proposed to reduce scholastic nequality y adapting the style f the schools to the needs and styles of underprivileged opulations. On the other hand we saw the development f the so-called republican hesis, ummarized n Jean-Claude Milner's De l'cole, which made the universality f knowledge and its mode of diffusion he royal oad to democratization, nd denounced teachers nd sociologists s destroyers f republican chools. Jacotot's deas about intellectual mancipation laced back-to-back hese two positions, which based equality either on the universality f knowledge and the teacher's role, r on a science of the ocial arrangement or ransmitting knowledge. SG One of the striking spects of your work s that t presents oth a series f hifts rom ne discipline o another, nd the recurring uest for n object hat will cut across ll these disciplines. hus, you have passed from the poetics of knowledge in history, o literary riticism with your interpretation f Mallarm6's work, nd finally o the concept f iterature, and now you are concerned, mong other hings, with the aesthetic dea and with inema. While ll the ime ursuing, rom ne terrain o the other, an object hat elates o politics, s can be seen by most of your ubtitles: a mesentente. hilosophie t politique 1995), Mallarm6. a politique e la sirene (1996), La chair es mots. olitiques e l'ecriture 1998). Without mentioning Aux bords u politique, ublished n 1990, with he new, ompletely eworked edition ppearing n 1998. JR The question of politics nd the method of my shifts re closely linked o each other. or me, he political lways omes nto lay n questions of divisions nd boundaries. chose the title La nuit des proletaires or my SubStance # 2, 2000 This content downloaded from on Sat, 5 Jul 2014 13:45:45 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions  Interview 5 book on the mancipation f he worker n nineteenth-century rance ecause at the heart f this mancipation as the breaking f the natural ivision f time hat dictated hat workers must work by day and sleep by night nd have no time eft ver for hinking. he workers' mancipation ame about through orkers who decided to devote heir ights o other ctivities han sleep, to give themselves his time hat did not belong to them n order o enter nto world of writing nd thinking hat was not theirs. o take his into account, needed to break the boundary hat s supposed to separate genres-history, hilosophy, iterature, olitical cience. n principle, my workers elonged to social history. n other words, heir exts were read as documents xpressing he condition f workers, opular culture, tc. decided to read them n a different ay-as literary nd philosophical exts. Where thers were attempting o read about workers' roblems xpressed in the anguage of the people, saw, on the other hand, a struggle o cross the arrier etween anguages nd worlds, o vindicate ccess to the ommon language nd to the discourse n the community. s opposed to culturalism, which ought o restore popular ulture, valorized he ttitude f hose workers who challenged that so-called popular culture and made an attempt o appropriate nother's ulture i.e. that f the iterate ). he dea of a poetics of knowledge that would cut across all disciplines thus expresses very lose relationship etween ubject nd method. a nuit es proletaires as a political book in that t ignored he division between scientific nd literary r between social and ideological, n order o take nto ccount he truggle y which he roletariat ought o reappropriate for hemselves common language that had been appropriated y others, and to affirm transgressively he ssumption f equality. SG All of which ed you to redefine he role of spokespersons. JR In traditional ogic, the spokesperson s the one who express the thought, eeling, nd way of ife f a group. showed, on the contrary, hat a spokesperson s first f all the person who breaks his ogic of expression, the one who puts words nto irculation-that s, who uproots words from their ssigned mode of speaking or of being, ccording o which workers should speak n workers' tyle nd the masses should express hemselves in popular culture. he basic problem was to show that many fforts hat believe they respect thers' ifferences y entering nto their anguage and their ways of hinking, nly epeat lato's adage that ne should tay in his/her lace and do his/her wn thing. SubStance # 2, 2000 This content downloaded from on Sat, 5 Jul 2014 13:45:45 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
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