Mute Speech: Literature, Critical Theory, and Politics (New Directions in Critical Theory)
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Jacques Rancière has continually unsettled political discourse, particularly through his questioning of aesthetic "distributions of the sensible," which configure the limits of what can be seen and said. Widely recognized as a seminal work in Rancière's corpus, the translation of which is long overdue, Mute Speech is an intellectual tour de force proposing a new framework for thinking about the history of art and literature. Rancière argues that our current notion of "literature" is a relatively recent creation, having first appeared in the wake of the French Revolution and with the rise of Romanticism. In its rejection of the system of representational hierarchies that had constituted belles-letters, "literature" is founded upon a radical equivalence in which all things are possible expressions of the life of a people. With an analysis reaching back to Plato, Aristotle, the German Romantics, Vico, and Cervantes and concluding with brilliant readings of Flaubert, Mallarmé, and Proust, Rancière demonstrates the uncontrollable democratic impulse lying at the heart of literature's still-vital capacity for reinvention.
fiction, whose only concern is to represent and please, depends upon another order, another scene of speech that provides it with a norm. In this “real” scene, it is not only a matter of pleasing by means of stories and discourses, but of educating minds, saving souls, defending the innocent, giving counsel to kings, exhorting the people, haranguing soldiers, or simply excelling in the sort of conversation that distinguishes men of wit. The system of poetic fiction is placed in the dependence of
a hillside by Marguerite Audoux and a prairie by Tolstoy can be relined into a single frame.13 These examples should suffice to show how frivolous it is to oppose art for art’s sake and the writer’s ivory tower to the hard laws of social reality, or the creative power of works to the cultural and sociological relativization of literature and art. Literature and civilization are terms that imposed themselves simultaneously. Literature considered as the free creation of individual genius and
the contrary, it is a determinate relation between language and what it says. In opposition to any principle of indifference, poetry is characterized by its motivation, by its resemblance to what it says. Unlike the free artist, the poet cannot express something other than what he expresses and cannot express it in another mode of language. Vico’s comparisons with the language of the deaf and dumb posed the paradox once and for all: Poetry is a language insofar as it is the deficiency of
analogy: the unity of the manifestations of art as modes of language. The problem here is that language was precisely in the process of withdrawing from this unifying function. At the very moment where poeticity was being affirmed as the original mode of language, the science of language abandoned reveries about origins and freed the space of language from its intrication with the space of things.19 The new idea of art as language, borrowed from what used to be called “philology,” made the
pleasurable. It is the spectator, or at least a certain kind of spectator, who can judge if a particular work is successfully “appropriate.” Therefore, as we will see, a relationship of equality exists between the author, the character represented, and the spectator. The privileged spectators within the representative framework are men and women of action, and more specifically those who act through speech: generals, orators, princes and princesses, lawyers, etc. The public is made up of people