One of the leading philosophers of our time still writing is Jacques Ranciere. Born in Algiers in 1940 Ranciere was a student of Louis Althusser’s in France in the 1960s when he made a major contribution to the collectively written Reading Capital which changed the landscape of modern Marxist theory around the globe. Ranciere contributed the formidable chapter The Concept of Critique and and the Critique of Political Economy which was published in English by Verso as part of the new Complete Edition of Reading Capital in 2015. Ranciere then wrote, with a considerable flourish and scathing disrespect for his previous master, his first original book called Althusser’s Lesson which was published in France in 1974. Forget Althusser?! In 2017 Bloomsbury published an English translation in paperback which is a must read for today’s political theorists. In it Ranciere recalled that one lesson of Louis Althusser was (aimed at those involved in political combat) ‘learn to wait, to step back, learn to take the time of theory’. Learn to take the time of theory – Theoretical Times anyone? This important text ranged over the lessons of May 1968, Althusser’s entire theoretical and political enterprise, and the reasons for Ranciere’s own break from Althusserian politics by the early 1970s. It is a very powerful read in today’s politics where democracy seems like a game and ‘dissent’ is simply ignored by the powers that be.
Accelerated culture has stumped many of the theorists born in the early decades of the twentieth century. But Ranciere is still relevant in this context. In books like The Future of The Image and The Lost Thread: The Democracy of Modern Fiction Ranciere constructs an aesthetics and politics of art which links the modernism of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries with the modernity of the twenty first. He is fiercely anti-representational and revolutionises our thinking about the ‘cultural turn’ . It is, as Ranciere has put it, as if we have experienced a kind of ‘lost thread’. We are, in an era of global digitisation, as Ranciere has reminded us today looking back on the end of the image; indeed, he claims that ‘the end of the images is behind us’. Digitisation with its never ending mantra of ‘digitise-upload-share’ has created a ‘mourning’ for the ending of a previous system of producing images which resonates with the age of acceleration which we have now entered. His political essays, collected as Moments Politiques: Interventions 1977-2009, acutely chart the critical debates of our time from The Idea of Communism through the Immigration Question and the Front National to 9/11 as the Rupture of the Symbolic Order.
Jacques Ranciere is one of the major contemporary theorists featured in my book Theoretical Times, mainly written from this original blog. Slavoj Zizek, another of the main featured theorists, has proclaimed that ‘Ranciere’s writings offer one of the few consistent conceptualisations of how we are to continue to resist’. Alain Badiou, another of the main featured theorists in the book and also another famous student of Louis Althusser, wrote an essay in 2009 called ‘The Lessons of Jacques Ranciere’ which assessed Ranciere’s own trajectory since his Althusserian days especially in his theorisation of power, justice and dissent. On politics, aesthetics and law, Ranciere as a theorist is as important as ever for our contemporary debates. In the excellent Nomikoi Critical legal Thinkers series there will be published a brand new Routledge volume of edited essays on Ranciere and Law by early next year. The cutting edge volume of essays is edited by Monica Lopez Lerma and Julen Etxabe, both at the University of Helsinki in Finland, and the subject matter goes across the spectrum from constitutional law to legal subjectivity and legal modernity. The writers in the book generate a new Rancierian Jurisprudence from both a reading of Jacques Ranciere’s multiple texts from the 1960s to the present day where there are occasional references to ‘law’ and ‘police order’, and an implied and inferred new theoretical landscape for law and socio-legal studies for what a future Ranciere Jurisprudence would look like.