Academic journal article Journal of Literary Studies

Literature after Ranciere: Ishiguro's When We Were Orphans and Gibson's Neuromancer

Academic journal article Journal of Literary Studies

Literature after Ranciere: Ishiguro's When We Were Orphans and Gibson's Neuromancer

Article excerpt


In this article the implications of Jacques Ranciere's far-reaching notions of "the distribution of the sensible", "dissensus" and the "three regimes of art" (particularly for literature) are explored. Kazuo Ishiguro's roman noir entitled When We Were Orphans and William Gibson's dark science fiction novel Neuromancer are examined to demonstrate the novelty of Ranciere's thought, in terres of which the cherished categories of literary orthodoxy are surpassed. Specifically, Ranciere challenges the usual distinction between premodern "representational literature" and modern self-referential literature, and introduces a radically historical manner of appropriating the art and literature of an era. His distinction between three regimes of art (the "ethical regime of images", the "representative regime of the arts" and the "aesthetic regime of art") are fundamental in understanding the capacity of art and literature to contribute discursively to the "(re)distribution of the sensible", or the symbolic (re)configuration of social and political space, by disrupting the conventional space of the "sensible" through "dissensus".


In hierdie artikel word die implikasies van Jacques Ranciere se verreikende idees van "die verspreiding van die waarneembare", "dissensie" en die "drie kunsstelsels" (veral ten opsigte van die literatuur) verken. Kazuo Ishiguro se roman noir When We Were Orphans en William Gibson se donker wetenskapfiksieroman Neuromancer word ondersoek om die nuutheid van Ranciere' se denke aan te toon, waarvolgens die gekoesterde kategoriee van literere ortodoksie oortref word. Ranciere bevraagteken spesifiek die gewone onderskeid tussen premodeme "verteenwoordigende literatuur" en moderne selfreferensiele literatuur, en stel 'n radikaal historiese manier bekend om sigself die kuns en literatuur van 'n era toe te eien. Sy onderskeid tussen drie kunsstelsels (die "etiese stelsel van beelde", die "verteenwoordigende stelsel van die kunste" en die "estetiese stelsel van kuns") is noodsaaklik om die kapasiteit van kuns en literatuur te begryp om diskursief by te dra tot die "(her)verspreiding van die waarneembare", of die simboliese (her)konfigurering van sosiale en politieke ruimte, deur die konvensionele ruimte van die "waarneembare" deur middel van "dissensie" te ontwrig.


In this article, I would like to explore the theoretical fecundity of Jacques Ranciere's philosophy of art, including literature. A brief characterisation will provide the setting to come to grips with two novels selected to demonstrate his radicalisation of a historical perspective on--or perhaps rather, from within--literature and art, but in such a way that these cultural practices are never seen in isolation from the philosophy or theory that frames them contemporaneously. In this manner the two distinct practices are understood as being related, the one (art) constituting the condition of comprehensibility of the other (philosophy) and vice versa (Rockhill 2011: 5). From this it should already be apparent that Ranciere thinks in a novel, historicising manner--not in the naive manner that reduces artworks and literary texts to the empirical conditions of their production, in this way turning them into a mere document of historical happenings, but in a manner that recognises their historical contingency without relinquishing their intelligibility.

The intelligibility of works of art and of literature is therefore made possible, for Ranciere, in the first place, by the "horizontal" relation between these works, on the one hand, and the contemporaneous philosophical-theoretical works discursively articulating their conditions of comprehensibility, on the other. But secondly he recognises another, diagonal plane of historical significance, which cuts across the horizontal plane and instantiates or sets in motion what Rockhill (2011: 6-7) calls a process of "historical cross-fertilisation"--what Ranciere "has elsewhere referred to as the complex intertwining of the horizontal and the diagonal dimensions of history". …

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