Highlighting the Importance of Education and Work in Rancière. An Encounter with: Jean-Philippe Deranty and Alison Ross (eds), Jacques Rancière and the Contemporary Scene: The Philosophy of Radical Equality

Highlighting the Importance of Education and Work in Rancière. An Encounter with: Jean-Philippe Deranty and Alison Ross (eds), Jacques Rancière and the Contemporary Scene: The Philosophy of Radical Equality

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     PhaenEx  8, no.1 (spring/summer 2013): 297-310 © 2013 Adam Burgos Highlighting the Importance of Education and Work in Rancière An Encounter with: Jean-Philippe Deranty and Alison Ross, eds.  Jacques Rancière and the Contemporary Scene: The Philosophy of Radical Equality . London and New York: Continuum, 2012. 269 pages.  A DAM B URGOS Given the recent proliferation of English-language commentary on the thought of Jacques Rancière , it is appropriate that the title of this recent collection pairs the philosopher‟s name with the “contemporary scene.” That there has been so much written about Rancière over the past few years necessitates a “lay of the land,” and in their selections fo r this volume Deranty and Ross offer such a view. As the subtitle suggests, the editors use their introductory chapter to position the collection around the performative nature of equality in Rancière‟s work:  Equality for Rancière cannot be demonstrated through induction or deduction; it can only  be verified locally and problematically in practice … in other words, the practical verification of equality aims to achieve „real life‟ effects, but in all necessity is also waged in discourse and in thought, and thus necessarily enrolls the theorist in its process. (1) This final point is one that I want to emphasize, as I believe it to be critical for philosophers and social theorists who assess, analyze, and extend of Rancière‟s philos ophy in our own work. In much of his writing Rancière is quick to criticize the entire history of political  philosophy. This can easily be read as a condemnation of theory in general, but that would put him in the strange position of a performative contradiction. It is true that Rancière never offers  - 298 -    PhaenEx  any kind of unified theory of politics or aesthetics, but his works always retain a theoretical component. The rejection of political philosophy plays a certain role for him, and is a rejection of a concrete history of a specific way of trying to explain or justify societal arrangements; it is not a rejection of any abstract theoretical category. 1  His works take up particular issues or localized  practices and attempt to see how equality can make itself manifest. Though Ranciére often leaves it implicit in his work, these localized interventions of his are sensitive to the role of the theorist and her role in shaping and constituting the situation itself. This is exactly the type of necessary demonstration of equality noted by Deranty and Ross in their introduction. It is illuminating to compare this collection with two other recent volumes of essays on Rancière‟s work,  Jacques Rancière: History, Politics, Aesthetics , edited by   Gabriel Rockhill and Philip Watts (2009), and  Reading Rancière , edited by   Paul Bowman and Richard Stamp (2011). The essays contained in these volumes cluster primarily around politics and aesthetics, with history present in a secondary role, and sociology making the occasional appearance. All of the contributions on offer in Deranty and Ross‟s text are of a high quality, but there are two elements of the present volume that make it stand out in comparison with these other new releases: the question of education and the significance of work. The first distinguishing feature of  Jacques Rancière and the Contemporary Scene is the inclusion of a discussion of education, a crucial element of Rancière‟s thinking that is often either ignored altogether or only attended to in a cursory way. Though only the focus of one essay, Caroline Pelletier‟s “No Time or Place for Universal Teaching: The Ignorant Schoolmaster and Contemporary Work on Pedagogy,” its placement between the first section of essays on aesthetics and the subsequent section on politics is instructive. Deranty and Ross make brief note of this in their introduction, drawing a parallel between, on the one hand, the fact that Pelletier‟s  - 299 - Adam Burgos essay comes at the midpoint of the volume, and on the other, their claim that the progression of Rancière‟s work hinges on the notion of “universal teaching” (see 8). This is an important insight  because it hints at the overall cohesion of Rancière‟s corpus in a way that doesn‟t get recognized enough. There is no essay on education in either of the two aforementioned collections on Rancière‟s work. Furthermore, of two recent monographs on Rancière‟s work there is only a discussion of education in one: Oliver Davis (2010) devotes ten pages in his introduction to the topic, while Joseph J. Tanke (2011) is altogether silent. The one exception to this trend is    Jacques  Ranciere: Education, Truth, Emancipation , by Charles Bingham and Gert Biesta (2010). My point is not in any way to condemn these other works. Rancière‟s writings have, since the mid 1990s, been dominated by the twin themes of politics and aesthetics, so it is no surprise that these two themes are responsible for the vast majority of the secondary literature. What I do want to insist upon, however, is the essential relevance of the education question to an understanding of how Rancière‟s writings fit together as a coherent whole. This is a point that Pelletier‟s piece implies through the paths of discussion that it opens to some of Rancière‟s other works. I will make some of these links explicit later when I turn to a fuller discussion of Pelletier‟s essay.   The second element that distinguishes Deranty and Ross‟s book comes at the end of the collection in Deranty‟s own contribution and    through Rancière‟s response to this piece. This is another element of Rancière‟s corpus that receives too little attention, although it is significant for a few reasons. Rancière‟s education was steeped in Marxism, so it is no surprise that the theme of work plays a role in his philosophy. He has, however, rejected much from his teacher, Althusser, most notably the notion of the intellectual vanguard. Since he has moved away from  being any kind of straightforwardly Marxist philosopher, however, his relationship to work he  - 300 -    PhaenEx   become less clear. Though he often references work in terms of the laborers that would be recognizable to orthodox Marxists, Rancière wants to broaden its meaning and significance. His rejection of the traditional Marxist notion of work is most obvious in the rejection of such Marxist standbys as false consciousness and conceiving of the proletariat as a class. Yet, work is a mainstay in his political writings up to the present day. Deranty‟s essay is an attempt to take stock of Rancière‟s consistent invocation of work in order to see if there is something mor  e to it than merely a series of loosely connected historical examples. He is investigating whether there is a robust concept of work. The first section of Contemporary Scene concerns Rancière‟s  relationship to aesthetics. The first two of these four essays focus on film, and are described by Deranty and Ross as “case studies of the visual arts” (8). J.M. Bernstein‟s “Movies as the Great Democratic Art Form of the Modern World (Notes on Rancière) ” argues for the equal validity of narrative and image (16). Though Bernstein affirms the democratic nature of film along with Rancière, his thesis pushes  back against Rancière‟s privileging of the image in much of his aesthetic writings. Lisa Trahair‟s “Godard and Rancière: Automatism, Montage, Thinking” then takes up the specific case of director Jean- Luc Godard‟s video essay  Histoire(s) du cinema . She challenges Rancière, on his own terms, to take account of the singularity of cinema as presented by Godard. That is, she wants to ask, how does the cinema think? (44). Dmitri Nikulin‟s “The Names in History: Rancière‟s New Historical Poetics” moves from film to a discussion of narrative more broadly. The essay takes up Rancière‟s project in The  Names of History to rethink the ways that we write the history of those who have been  previously excluded from it (67). This is a theme familiar from Rancière‟s better  -known political writings. That is, how do we account for new voices becoming audible and intelligible where  - 301 - Adam Burgos they were once silent or ostensibly absent? Nikulin uses the essay to make the case that “Rancière‟s new historical poetics supplies a new narrative that should justify those previously excluded from history by giving the dispossessed their place in history or, rather, making history the place for them” (84). The problem with this, on Nikulin‟s view, is that narrative is afforded  primacy over names. Instead, Nikulin argues, it is the proper names that “constitute the properly historical,” and that should be “preserved, organized [and] supplied and clarified by a narrative” (85). In making this move, Nikulin builds nicely upon Rancière‟s own insights in order to make his analysis even more democratic. The final essay on aesthetics is Alison Ross‟ “Equa lity in the Romantic Art Form: The Hegelian Background to Jacques Rancière‟s „Aesthetic Revolution.‟” Ross argues that Rancière is a critical heir to Romanticism, even while distancing himself from that movement through his emphasis on words over things. In marking this inheritance through reference to Hegel, she is able to make the case that Rancière‟s revision of Romanticism is able to give weight to certain forms of experience that would otherwise remain formless (98). Returning to the theme of education , Pelletier‟s analysis of trends within contemporary work on pedagogy underscores exactly how Rancière‟s thinking on education is able to tie together many other elements of his work. Pelletier‟s discussion of J.P. Gee‟s work with online gaming communities is one example that is representative of the overall methodology of the article. Gee makes the case for these online communities as being a step ahead of other ways of thinking about communities of learning because of what he calls “porous leadership” (10 7). This makes for a more active and critical learning environment, one without the formal distinction  between teachers and learners, and therefore no formal authority either. These communities work
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