Loads of Learned Lumber

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Jacques Rancière, _Aisthesis: Scenes from the Aesthetic Regime of Art_ (tr. Zakir Paul)

MODELLED ON AUERBACH's Mimesis, a daunting predecessor if there ever was one, Aisthesis is fourteen essays unpacking a historical range of passages of (mainly) art criticism, from Winckelmann to James Agee's Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, as Auerbach unpacked passages from a historical range of fictional narratives from Homer to Virginia Woolf. As Auerbach's unifying idea was the unfolding development of the ways fiction represents experience, so Rancière's in the unfolding development of what he has called, in a series of texts, the "aesthetic regime"in art.

The aesthetic regime kicks in during the mid-to-late 18th century and continues today, Rancière argues. Its two leading traits are (a) that the objects represented in art or literature are no longer deemed worth representing because they are distinctively noble, or deserving of admiration or reverence, or peculiarly important, but for quite other reasons, and (b) that the representation of the object is no longer valued according to the artist's skill in elevating or or idealizing the object.

So, over the last 250 years, we have an ever-expanding universe of what artists may decide to represent, and diminishing expectations as to what level or what kinds of skill/craft/dexterity/mastery of technique need be demonstrated.

As I have already noted quite a few times in this blog, I find this completely and utterly persuasive. I am, shall we say, totally on board the good ship Rancière, and the idea of "the aesthetic regime" has become my default lens for a few years now.

I would not hesitate to recommend Aisthesis to anyone interested in getting acquainted with Rancière. Grounded as it is particulars and structured as it is in a series of well-turned essays, it would make a relatively manageable entry point. For anyone mainly interested in the broader concept of the aesthetic regime, though, I would probably recommend the swifter and pithier Le Partage du Sensible.

Aisthesis has a fine essay on Whitman, but I found myself wishing Rancière or someone with his chops would take a closer look at my man Yeats. What Rancière says here about Gordon Craig and Meyerhold, Maeterlinck, and Mallarmé suggests that he has ahold of one of the great keys to how 19th century art became 20th century art, and I think his ideas would immensely clarify how the reed-throated whisperer became the author of The Tower. For that matter, insofar as anglo-american poetic modernity (Pound, Eliot, Moore, Williams) had a lot to do with discovering what poetry did not have to do and did not have to represent in order to be poetry, a Rancière-inspired survey of Imagism et al. would tell us a great deal.

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