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  • Art, Politics and Rancière: Broken Perceptions by Tina Chanter
  • Sudeep Dasgupta (bio)
Tina Chanter, Art, Politics and Rancière: Broken Perceptions London and New York: Bloomsbury, 2018, 180 pp. isbn: 978-1-4725-1056-3

Subtitled Broken Perceptions, Tina Chanter's latest book breaks into Jacques Rancière's influential articulation of the relation between art and politics by reframing it from the perspective of gender and race. Chanter maps and exploits "the symptomatic cracks in his prose" (2018, 23) to productively lead the reader to a deeper understanding of how "political theory and aesthetics remain entrenched in damaging racialized and gendered assumptions" (24). Given that traditional understandings of aesthetics are notoriously sexist, a feminist critique of aesthetics does two things: it asks how considerations of gender and race are intrinsic to philosophical understandings of aesthetic experience, but also how the work/labour of art can displace constructions of gender and race. Chanter notes "it is not that Rancière entirely neglects feminism … unlike most of his contemporaries he includes examples of feminist and race struggles. … At issue is how he frames women and feminism, how and where women and racial minorities enter into his texts and whether they might enter differently" (22, emphasis added). Answering this question could help "apply Rancière's dissensual politics to the difficult work of intersectional politics" (24), she argues. Chanter describes the book as "the balancing act of the schizophrenic" (22) as she shuttles between identification with Rancière's work and disidentification from it (24). The chapters constellate philosophical [End Page 144] arguments and analysis of artworks to reconfigure Rancière's oeuvre from a feminist perspective.

Chapter 1 (the longest chapter in the book) powerfully stages the purpose, focus, and argument of the chapters that follow by asking, "is Rancière complicit with Flaubert in putting Emma to death, symbolically killing off women—and their associated Oriental counterparts—before their voices can be heard as political speech?" (11). The reference here is to Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary, Rancière's reading of which has been central to linking aesthetics and politics. Chanter describes Rancière's reading thus: "Flaubert's art is neither individuated, nor does it concern subjects who act in plots (art is not what Aristotle thought it was), nor is it about consumerism, nor about ends and desire (art is neither/nor of Kant's aesthetic idea)… It concerns "the impersonality of the flow of sensations" (Rancière 2008, 189). How do art, politics and Rancière intersect through gender? First, Flaubert rejects the Aristotlean conception of art as the plot-driven development of important events through his detailed descriptions of insignificant details. Second, Emma equates the fictional world of the sentimental novels she reads with real life, with fatal consequences for herself, while allowing her creator Flaubert to demonstrate the disorder produced by errant words moving across social borders they were not meant to cross. Since aesthetic judgment in Kant is indifferent to an object's social use, signification and destination, Emma's misguided appreciation of words exemplifies the capacity of anyone to make what she wants of the words she encounters. Chanter insists, however, that "it is precisely a gendered dynamic that structures the symbolic divide Flaubert exploits between kitsch embodied by Emma, and art embodied by the artist (Flaubert)" (8). In Rancière's reading, however, "the specificity of gender [is erased] by making it equivalent to class" (8). Why? Chanter argues that for Rancière it "is not 'the claim for [gender] identity' that matters" because the "logic of emancipation … must rely on something other than identification" (4). For Rancière, the affirmation of an ascribed gender identity reaffirms the "police order" that "pins bodies to 'their' places and allocates the private and the public to distinct parts" (Ranciere 2010, 139). Political emancipation, on the other hand, is furthered precisely by disidentification through the exercise of a capacity considered impossible for the given identity. Chanter notes the importance of disidentification in Rancière's understanding of politics, as we shall see later in the book. The tension between claims of identity and the power of disidentification, however...


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pp. 144-150
Launched on MUSE
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