Loads of Learned Lumber

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

n + 1, Bourdieu, Rancière

JUST NOW GETTING around to  n + 1 number sixteen--struck by this statement at the end of the first paragraph of the opening piece: "Few things are less contested today than the idea that art mostly expresses class and status hierarchies, and only secondarily might have snippets of aesthetic value."

That sound right to me.  I can think of colleagues who would be willing to argue the superiority of Beer X to Beer Y, or the inferiority of this restaurant's taco compared to that restaurant's taco, yet would not under any compulsion concede that reading Proust is more worthwhile than watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

The author of this piece goes on to mention Foucault, saying his posthumous cultural stock price is a bit higher than that of Derrida--hard to argue with that, too. Even now you often see Foucault cited with the implicit assumption that if Foucault wrote something, it must be true; I notice this even with students who were born after Foucault died. Derrida's thought is still with us, but undergraduates seem more excited about Foucault's ideas--or at least about what they think his ideas were.

But Bourdieu, especially the essay on distinction, is the heavyweight on the question of  whether the aesthetic boils down to one more guise of class and power. And there is something liberating about this idea.

I would like to see a little more room made for the aesthetic, however, which is why I have been finding Rancière so compelling; he finds persuasive ways of talking about what is liberating in the aesthetic. And sure enough, who gets a quick little nod in the n+1 piece? Who but Rancière, for having pointed out that sociology, as the new boss, can sometimes be just as noxious as the old boss, aesthetics.

I think of n+1 as a bellwether of sorts, often in ways that dismay me, but if this piece indicates a Rancière groundswell on these shores...that would be good news.

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