An Interview with Jacques Rancière: Playing Freely, from the Other, to the Letter


When I first contacted Jacques Rancière in March 2017, nearly three-and-a-half years before the completion of this interview, a few basic questions were growing heavy. Questions limited to current political climates, trending philosophical systems, specific literary works, designated historical shifts, or particular Rancièrean terms would be reluctantly put aside in pursuit of certain elemental distinctions that might better inform the rest. The original proposal was to work around such slippery paradoxes as resistance, and to readdress tangible material like the letter, but the overall idea, communicated from the start, was to produce a sort of reintroduction to Rancière’s thought, for myself and an intended audience similarly comprised of those who know the least about his work and those who know the most. How that might be accomplished was twofold. Questions could be posed somewhat sequentially, as if in an outline form, moving from concept to the concrete. At the same time, questions and included examples could be put, now and again, into clarifying juxtapositions with other theorists that we too seldom see.

For instance, the interview begins with a critical first-step or positioning in Rancière’s oeuvre: a departure from that big Other framework which has for so long grounded and structured much of our theoretical discourses. Yet how does one abandon not the (small) other or difference but constant exclusion, the hidden master, body or mechanism behind it all? How might a transition or break from the big Other occur? It cannot be unrelated to whatever follows. What does follow in this case is an assumption that seems insurmountable enough: total equality. But if assuming total equality sounds reasonable, then how does one go about “ignoring inequality”? Simply disavowing inequality would only re-render some repression or Other. The interview could next turn to the subject of “resistance,” [End Page 173] contra Deleuze mostly, and then to “aesthetics”: a term Rancière once redefined by joining Kant with Foucault; therefore, this very pairing is inspected, before inquiring about Kant and Foucault separately. It also seemed relevant to wonder why phenomenology is generally unappealing to Rancière.

The interview returns to topics like “representation” and “community,” to touch on lingering debates in criticism, but the latter half narrows in on aspects of form. After probing into Rancière’s description of humans as “literary animals,” and assembled “blocks of speech,” it was worth clarifying, what exactly is “form” for Rancière? That trajectory, towards form or appearance, leads back to matters such as noise and the letter, where the envelope could be further pushed by raising the topos of the page itself—that traditional substrate or negative space below or outside letters. Since paginal or typographical space was definitive for many of Rancière’s contemporaries—not the least of which were Derrida and Lyotard, for whom such space epitomized that unpresentable Other framing the letter—it should be telling what the page presents for Rancière. In this way, the dialogue was free to wander across interlinking areas, with the hope of offering readers still more points of entry and departure.

Any substance or guiding thread in the interview was of course shaped by Rancière’s most unexpected engagement. His surprisingly timely and committed responses via email kept allowing for more preparation, more consideration, and his ongoing encouragement eventually led to two initial batches of questions, which later became the basis for informal discussions at his Paris home. Two more rounds of follow-up questions were also welcomed over the coming months, and, for one reason or another, every item received equal attention, which was a trait likely to leave the greatest impression.

Read Article On Muse