NOTES ON : Bosteels B (2011) Reviewing Rancière. Or, the persistence of discrepancies. Radical Philosophy 170: 25--31.

by Dave Harris

[NB R= Rancière, LA =Althusser]

Althusser's Lesson has been relatively neglected, although you can see it as about LA as the opposite of the ignorant schoolmaster. [NB apparently R's contribution to Reading Capital had actually been removed 'for being "too structuralist"' (25)].  Can the book be seen as part of an overall trajectory leading to the later work, or is it an odd polemic, even though he has some self critical bits?  For some fans, the book anticipates some of the later work about equality of intelligences, for example, for others it is the necessary work of breaking with an earlier dominant tradition.

R himself denies that it is a polemical settling of scores, and alludes to his later work, especially about equal capacity and the dynamics of emancipation.  Although it is also possible to see an underlying 'fidelity' to LA that helps ground the later stuff on emancipation.

Althusserianism generally had difficulties.  Badiou as well as R broke away, and both criticize especially the notion of ideology in general [Badiou's book Of Ideology is the reference here].  Both were inspired by maoism and May '68, and both see LA as attempting to restore order in a revolutionary guise.  LA is seen as an example of how subversive thoughts are recuperated, especially in his discourse as domination.  Balibar on the other hand remained faithful.

Are Badiou and R post- or ex- Althusserians?  The former implies that there is something in L A.s work that has nevertheless produced some radical and emancipatory thought.  Similarly, can we abandon the whole of L A.s thought, and read it entirely as a conservative attempt to restore order after May '68—or is there some 'rational kernel' in it, in the core texts, nonetheless? Of course, LA himself would reject this metaphor of the relation between Marx and Hegel, since it remains in Hegel's thought.

Specifically, can 'structural causality' be seen as underpinning the emancipatory practices of Badiou and R?  Do their writings actually only serve to address 'the gaps and discrepancies in the structure' as theorized by LA?  [It seems that R is universally liked, but Badiou has provoked 'sheer hatred and vitriol' in books by Kacem (2011) and Laruelle (2011)].

One of R's main objections is to LA's split between science and ideology, with the latter as necessary misrecognition.  Only philosophers can see this line.  R rebukes LA for rejecting concrete analyses of ideology, and turning instead to metaphysical oppositions.  This reproduces the older metaphysical tradition of the realm of the true and the false, and this obliterates any struggles over this boundary.  Similarly, instead of analyzing actual struggles between and among ideologies, especially those in the modern university, LA talks instead of a general epistemological break.  Actually, science can be split into bourgeois and proletarian forms, instead of being generalized.  In this way, LA has confirmed those intellectual hierarchies and inequalities challenged by May '68, and has done so with the support of metaphysics.  In this way, LA's metaphysics is inextricably connected with revisionism, not to the development of revolutionary truth: the particular split between science and ideology actually reinforces bourgeois ideology, especially its split between knowledges and its revisionism.

The split is also used in the service of preserving inequality between knowledge and the lack of knowledge found in pedagogy, and it is this that betrays May '68.  R refers to this as LA's 'academic ideology'(28), and sees it again as connected to his metaphysics, and revisionist.

LA's subsequent self criticism is inadequate.  Even talking about class struggle in theory retains the pedagogical hierarchy and the right only for proper theorists to arbitrate about the correct location of words like 'man' or 'the masses'.  Actual struggles are still avoided.  It is the lone heroic theorist who carries on the struggle, and this means LA can stay in the Party as a tame and still privileged philosopher.

There are some anticipations of later work. R claims to have invented the notion of an ideological state apparatus in his Appendix.  He used it to identify a blind spot in LA's pedagogy, to move away from an abstract notion of ideology and to locate ideology in institutions, including universities.  [I think, though that R says this notion is used by LA to dismiss the views of students as victims of the university apparatus – it is clearly a two edged move]. R also claims the paternity of other concepts such as '"metonymical causality"'.

There is also the opposition between police and politics developed as an accusation against LA that he wants to police theoretical statements [instead of developing a politics of theoretical statements]. R also interprets the notion that the masses make history in maoist terms, where it becomes a new notion of the equality of intelligences, since the masses do not need to rely on specialists cardres.  [Although didn't Mao also says that we learn from the people, but we have to clarify their ideas and return them to the people?]. R introduces the notion of the politics of philosophy which will reappear in The Philosopher and His Poor [partial notes here -- the chapter on Bourdieu]  and introduces the notion of partitioning of the sensible that was to arise in the work on art.

Despite these breaks with the past and anticipations, R's Lesson offers an excellent analysis of the conjuncture following 68, and political options available.  When analyzing the conjuncture, we get first hand insights, and details of the maneuverings inside the PCF.  He unravels authoritarianism, and not only in LA.

He claims to be developing Foucault's methods.  A certain nominalism renders discourses and ways of conceiving of them as plural—they can be no such thing as the science or the ideology, but only 'a multiplicity of discourses within specific institutional settings'(29).  It follows there is not a single logic in Capital, and draws attention to Marx's multiple discourses, some of them used strategically, and having their own effects.  However, there is also 'the specific system of power relations', developed in specific apparatuses, which makes ideological domination possible.  This should be seen as controlling access not to truth, but to relationships of power and knowledge.  Thus Foucault influences R, especially his 'methodology and playfully self reflexive personality…  [which]…  constantly questions the place from where he speaks' .

Yet there are still signs of LA's influence, particularly since '[Foucault's] Archaeology…  Is actually written under the influence of Althusserianism' [apparently the intro and conclusion, which feature interviews, reworked 'the author's response to a questionnaire from the Cercle d'Epistemologie at Rue d'Ulm'].  LA's notion of the uneven development of a structure could be seen as compatible with post structuralism, especially if the forces producing this uneven development are internal.  LA uses the term 'decalages' to refer to these dislocations or discrepancies.  R depends on there being discrepancies in social order and art objects which accounts for their disrupting potential, although he prefers terminology such as écart, a gap or distance.  Yet nevertheless there is a 'lasting debt to Althusser's legacy'.

R and the others want to see this gap or excess in terms of producing subjectivization or subjectification, whereas LA insists that these are just formal effects of a structure.  Such discrepancies require a subjective intervention for R and the others, however, rather than a positivist description which supports the status quo.  Yet the possibilities of the 'transformative interpretation of the subject is already at work in the "mystical shell" of Althusser's analysis of the structure'(30)

R sees political subjectification arising from a gap between a given social identity or police order and itself [apparently in Disagreements].  This in turn depends on what opens this gap up.  We are told that literature often establishes the gap between things and words, and this can transfer to politics, especially in contrasting formal policies of equality with actual conditions.  R goes on to defend the use of vulgar or awkward words, such as 'people, poor, revolution' because they are also introduce a useful gap in politics and counter authorized social differences, such as those between the proletariat and the people. Political philosophy constantly tries to cover this gap, to stabilize the notion of the political, to deny its 'constitutive impropriety' (31).  This replaces politics with philosophy.

R's eventual change of interest [?] from politics to aesthetics can also be explained in Althusserian terms.  Apparently, LA already tried to talk about internal distanciation as enabling 'the specific rapport between art, science and ideology'[the reference is to the Letter on Arts in Lenin and Philosophy.  The context seems to be that science and art emerge after thinkers distance themselves from the ideology which originally constrained them, but also developed them—related to Marxism this is a big theme in Reading Capital].  It is possible that R's extension of this argument to a general reliance on gaps and distances runs the risk of an Althusserian counter—what this gap ultimately produces is 'the unconscious inscription of a subject in ideology—above all, the ideology of freedom itself'.  This is one of the accusations that R levels at LA after all—that he is exploiting the bourgeois freedom of the intellectual and the university, where any sort of activity is excepted as long as it does not challenge the functioning of the institution.

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