The Emancipated Spectator
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The theorists of art and film commonly depict the modern audience as aesthetically and politically passive. In response, both artists and thinkers have sought to transform the spectator into an active agent and the spectacle into a communal performance.
In this follow-up to the acclaimed The Future of the Image, Rancière takes a radically different approach to this attempted emancipation. First asking exactly what we mean by political art or the politics of art, he goes on to look at what the tradition of critical art, and the desire to insert art into life, has achieved. Has the militant critique of the consumption of images and commodities become, ironically, a sad affirmation of its omnipotence?
to continue: ‘You must go on, Abe. You have to.’ But if he has to, it is not in order to reveal an unknown truth with which those who deny it must be confronted. And in any event, he – he too – will not be saying what happened in the gas chamber. He has to simply because he has to. He has to because he does not want to do it; because he cannot do it. It is not the content of his testimony that matters, but the fact that his words are those of someone whom the intolerability of the event to be
his prey. The fate of the image and of the photographer illustrates the ambiguity of the dominant regime of information. The photograph earned the Pulitzer Prize for the man who had gone into the Sudanese desert and brought back such an arresting image, so apt to shatter the wall of indifference that separates the Western spectator from these distant famines. It also earned him a campaign of indignation: was it not the act of a human vulture to have waited for the moment to take the most
form of ignorance and a form of knowledge, a path that constantly abolishes any fixity and hierarchy of positions with their boundaries. What is the relationship between this story and the question of the spectator today? We no longer live in the days when playwrights wanted to explain to their audience the truth of social relations and ways of struggling against capitalist domination. But one does not necessarily lose one’s presuppositions with one’s illusions, or the apparatus of means with
two key features. On the one hand, each assumes the appearance of a form, an attitude, an arrested gesture. Each of these gestures in a way retains the power Balzac conferred on his marquise – that of condensing a story into a painting – but also that of triggering another story. Each of these snapshots can then be peeled off its particular support, slid into another or be coupled with another: the film shot with the painting, the photograph or the news clip. This is what Godard calls the
demonstrators. The photograph thus suggests to us that their march is itself a march of image consumers and spectacular indignations. This way of reading the image is in tune with the installations that have made Josephine Meckseper famous. On view today in many exhibitions, these installations are small showcases, similar to commercial or advertising display cases, in which, as in the photomontages of the past, she assembles elements that are supposed to belong to heterogeneous universes. For