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CIDRAL Theory Intensive: Tristan Burke on Jacques Rancière: 'The Politics of Aesthetics'

Starts: 14:00 29 November 2017
Ends: 16:00 29 November 2017
What is it: Seminar
Organiser: School of Arts, Languages and Cultures
Who is it for: University staff, Adults, Current University students

This event is part of CIDRAL's programme for the 2017/18 academic year, 'Constraints of Creativity'.

Tristan Burke (University of Manchester) will lead a theory intensive for postgraduate students on the work of Jacques Rancière.

Jacques Rancière’s work has revolutionised recent thinking about politics, aesthetics and the relationship between these two arenas of thought. In his mature work, he has elaborated the notion of the ‘distribution of the sensible’, a term he uses for the system of sense perception that discloses the world to subjects, allowing subjects to take part in the world and for it to be experienced and shared in common. The distribution of the sensible, however, also allots different possibilities of sense perception to different people based on political power and thus allows those in power to depict their exercises of power as self-evident necessity and delimits the ability to imagine the world otherwise.

Given that politic possibilities are defined by sense perception, for Rancière politics is an inherently aesthetic practice, and the arts are a privileged site for disrupting the distribution of the sensible and imagining the world as it could otherwise be. Rancière rejects the notion that this potentiality of art is the preserve of a special caste of interpreters versed in a hermeneutics of depth, but rather that the arts posit a radical equality that allows anyone to change the world. Politics, too, must begin with a postulate of radical equality to challenge any distribution of the sensible that apportions more power over the perceptible world to some more than others.

Throughout this analysis, Rancière challenges some of the most fundamental categories for thinking about art, questioning notions of a modernist or post-modernist break, challenging the notion that a purely self-referential art exists, and rejecting theories of aesthetics, particularly those of the Frankfurt School and post-structuralism, that are defeatist about the possibilities of art, posit a political inevitable for certain forms or seek to enshrine new rules about its proper practice. Rancière’s work has proved particularly influential in the study of literature, film, the visual arts, political theory and pedagogy and has influenced contemporary thinkers including Judith Butler, Simon Citchley, Kristin Ross, Slavoj Zizek, Todd May and Jodi Dean.

This theory intensive will sketch the history of Rancière’s work and his theories of politics, before discussing in more depth the relations between politics and aesthetics. It will seek to define several of Rancière’s key terms as the basis for discussion. In the spirit of Rancière’s own scepticism about politics of explication and exegesis, I hope to then open up to a group discussion of Rancière’s thought and how it can be useful to the concerns and interests of participants in the theory intensive.

Readings for the session can be found below. For those unfamiliar with Rancière’s work I recommend reading ‘The Distribution of the Sensible’ first.

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