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In an interview titled “The Janus-Face of Politicized Art,” Jacques Rancière describes his methodology as follows: “I always try to think in terms of horizontal distributions, combinations between systems of possibilities, not in terms of surface and substratum. Where one searches for the hidden beneath the apparent, a position of mastery is established. I have tried to conceive of a topography that does not presuppose this position of mastery.” The aim is to construct “little by little, an egalitarian or anarchist theoretical position that does not presuppose this vertical relationship of top to bottom.”
In this essay, I ask, first, how we can theorize the two methodologies that Rancière opposes in view of actual practices of aesthetic education. To further this theoretical reflection, I continue with some reflections on a graduate student seminar on aesthetics and politics that I taught in the Master’s Program in Aesthetics and Politics in the School of Critical Studies at the California Institute of the Arts. Rancière’s work was one of the main inspirations for this program, and I reflect in this essay on how the methodology of horizontal distributions is played out in the aesthetic education that the program offers. In the third and fourth parts of this essay, I explore the ways in which these different methodologies circulate in what I am calling in my title two “scenes of aesthetic education”: the first is Oedipus’s confrontation with the Sphinx in Sophocles’s famous play; the second is Jean-Luc Godard’s discussion of the shot reverse shot film technique in his film Notre Musique. Each of these scenes enables one to understand much about Rancière’s methodology and its importance for aesthetic education.