Literature, Critical Theory, and Politics
Jacques Rancière has continually unsettled political discourse, particularly through his questioning of aesthetic "distributions of the sensible," which configure the limits of what can be seen and said. Widely recognized as a seminal work in Rancière's corpus, the translation of which is long overdue, Mute Speech is an intellectual tour de force proposing a new framework for thinking about the history of art and literature. Rancière argues that our current notion of "literature" is a relatively recent creation, having first appeared in the wake of the French Revolution and with the rise of Romanticism. In its rejection of the system of representational hierarchies that had constituted belles-letters, "literature" is founded upon a radical equivalence in which all things are possible expressions of the life of a people. With an analysis reaching back to Plato, Aristotle, the German Romantics, Vico, and Cervantes and concluding with brilliant readings of Flaubert, Mallarmé, and Proust, Rancière demonstrates the uncontrollable democratic impulse lying at the heart of literature's still-vital capacity for reinvention.
"Ranciere is refreshingly unorthdox in unearthing examples of 'mute speech' not from modernism, but from relatively prosaic realist and naturalist novels." — Times Literary Supplement
"Although the text does not lend itself to quick, light-hearted reading, it does reward thoughtful consideration. The tensions, paradoxes, and contradictions that characterize poetics and aesthetics are given space to move in this text" — Jerilyn Sambrooke, Church and Postmodern Culture
"An excellent English translation of Jacques Ranciere's study of literary style..." — Edmund Campion, The European Legacy
"Ranciere offers us fresh ways to understand how we got from a system of poetics that organized a number of particular arts, to an aesthetic regime in which it is now possible to speak of art in the singular." — TOPIA: Canadian Journal of Cultural Studies
"One welcomes [an] ambitious, iconoclastic work like Gabriel Rockhill's Mute Speech" — Radical History, Radical Philosophy
"Mute Speech counts among Jacques Rancière's most intensive and compelling studies of the origins and consequences of modern literature. Taking German Romantic philosophy as a point of departure and setting his sights on Flaubert, Mallarmé and Proust, Rancière draws his readers through the many contradictions that give rise to the aesthetic turn of our age. Elegantly translated by James Swenson, Mute Speech invites us to think afresh the philosophical, aesthetic and political dilemmas that ground the modern canon." — Tom Conley, Lowell Professor of Romance Languages and Visual & Environmental Studies, Harvard University