Thursday, December 8, 2011


Chiming in with AR’s post, I have been thinking about Rancière’s emancipated spectator in relation to Godard. One of the interesting threads that came up in the class discussion was whether Rancière might be considered post-modern. While I don’t want to and probably can’t offer a complete argument one way or another, I would like to spelunk one important crevice along this fault line. 

Like many post-structuralist arguments, Rancière’s argument for the emancipation of the spectator is based in the rethinking of (deconstructing) a series of apparent oppositions. This is where he discusses the binaries of activity/passivity, viewing/knowing, appearance/reality to suggest that they are perhaps not really so diametrically opposed and that someone who appears passive can really be very active in that their observation is a part of their way of knowing and that the mere appearances they are observing can tell them many things about the world. 

Simultaneously, however, Rancière makes the case for the importance of the impenetrably garrisoned individual. This, I maintain, proclaims loudly against the pomo annihilated subject. Does Rancière’s argument go this far? I think it might. While we must submit to a vast blurring of boundaries it is only through the “irreducible distance” between the viewer and the viewed that we are capable of composing these, our own poems out of the timber of the forest of signs and facts – a notion that is the foundation of the possibility of emancipation for Rancière. 

Godard on the other hand, believes that “in the cinema, we do not think, we are thought.” For Godard, Rancière's one irreducible distance is abolished by the very nature of cinema. The viewer and the viewed are one. He wants to make us think, it’s true. In fact, according to this argument, he wants to "think us" – a totalitarian proposition if I ever heard one. Of course, I don’t think Godard really wants to be a totalitarian, he wants us to be free, but his epistemology is opposed to the realization of this goal. He seems to be operating under the New Hampshire state motto, but read as an imperative: Live Free or Die!

-Jerry Prokosch

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