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Jacques Rancière - Biography

Jacques Rancière (b. 1940 in Algiers) is Professor Emeritus at the Université de Paris (St. Denis). He first came to prominence under the tutelage of Louis Althusser when he co-authored with his mentor Reading Capital (1968). After the calamitous events of May 1968 however, he broke with Louis Althusser over his teacher's reluctance to allow for spontaneous resistance within the revolution. Jacques Rancière is known for his sometimes remote position in contemporary French thought; operating from the humble motto that the cobbler and the university dean are equally intelligent, Jacques Rancière has freely compared the works of such known luminaries as Plato, Aristotle, Gilles Deleuze and others with relatively unknown thinkers like Joseph Jacototy and Gabriel Gauny.

For Jacques Rancière, the idea of equal intelligence shines a light on the status of political equality; ordinary people should have a presumption of intelligence, in the same way we offer a presumption of innocence. Like a compassionate Plato (rather than the insecure, bullying Plato we see in the Meno), Jacques Rancière simply believes that everyone can think. The original wrong, according to Jacques Rancière, occurs when we hear the roaring of the masses in place of people speaking.

There is, in Jacques Rancière's vision, a surprising level of trust in the word and the image, one of an almost anti-hermeneutical structure. Jacques Rancière is confident in language as a structure for identifying things and events in the world, while at the same time identifying that distance between words and things. Democracy then is the experience of the distance of things; man acts as though his voice can be heard, but is always a proper distance from it. The problem, then, is not knowing what you are doing; the problem is to think about what you are doing, to remember yourself.

Jacques Rancière's books have covered pedagogy, the writing of history, philosophy, cinema, aesthetics and contemporary art. His critics have had a hard time defining him, placing him at different points as a philosopher, a literary critic, an art theorist and a Marxist. In Jacques Rancière's words, thought is just an expression of a condition, and his work does not belong to a discipline because it belongs to an attempt to break the borders of a discipline. Therefore like Michel Foucault, Jacques Rancière has returned to the archives in order to, in a sense, re-examine the practices of historiography pitting the ideas of Plato on labor time against the writings of a nineteenth-century worker about his own sense of time.

In The Future of the Image (2007), Jacques Rancière argues that, through the image, art and politics have always been intrinsically linked. Drawing on a series of art movements, filmmakers like Godard and Breson, as well as theoreticians such as Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze, Theodor Adorno, Roland Barthes, Jean-François Lyotard and others, Jacques Rancière claims that artists and theorists often suffer from mystical tendencies. Jacques Rancière believes that there is a bold choice to be made in art; either it can reinforce a move towards radical democracy, or it can remain mired in reactionary mysticism. Jacques Rancière argues against the idea that a revolutionary act is located within the art work itself; instead he argues that the revolution exists prior to the work of art. Revolutionary impetus exists rather in the worker's emancipation, in his chance to view a work of art versus work in itself. Jacques Rancière writes that what happens in the aesthetic regime of art is that artists create objects that escape their will.

Jacques Rancière's translated works are, among others: Reading Capital (1968), The Nights of Labor: The Workers' Dream in Nineteenth-Century France (1989), The Ignorant Schoolmaster; Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation (1991), The Names of History; On the Poetics of Knowledge (1994), On the Shores of Politics (1995), Disagreement: Politics and Philosophy (1998), The Politics of Aesthetics: The Distribution of the Sensible (2004), The Future of the Image (2007), Hatred of Democracy (2007), and The Aesthetic Unconscious (2009). His most recent title, The Emancipated Spectator, was released in November, 2009.

Jacques Rancière is a professor of philosophy at the European Graduate School in Saas-Fee, Switzerland, where he conducts an Intensive Summer Seminar.