Brian O’Keeffe


Jacques Rancière  and the adventures of critical thought.


The objective of my paper is to gain some modest purchase on Jacques Rancière’s conception of ‘critical art’ and relate this to the question “Is there criticism after critique?” we are collectively tasked to address at the SCE Winter Institute. In Rancière’s essay “The Misadventures of Critical Thought,” he offers a provocative survey of those ‘misadventures’ and indeed paints a rather dismaying portrait of criticism’s impotence. But there is an alternative proposed, having to do with a re-formulation of the politics of art – a reformulation that would, so Rancière believes, retrieve the long-lost point of critique. It is an essay that offers much food for thought, but it is problematic enough (or polemical enough) to demand a critical reading of its own. What I seek to offer is a close commentary of this essay, supplemented with references to other texts by Rancière (especially “Aesthetic Separation, Aesthetic Community”), that will do essentially two things, one major, one minor. In a minor vein, I will seek to discuss his recourse to 19th-century French literature (this is my own field of expertise), and in a major vein, to explore Rancière’s position in the contexts of what, for literary criticism more generally, are now the contexts of Post-Theory. Does Rancière offer theoretically-informed literary criticism anything new? Is there anything that literary criticism has yet to do as a critical or theoretical enterprise? Does Rancière re-dedicate us to our task, or offer just another rehearsal of that particularly stymied form of critical activity – the ‘critique of critique’?