Mute Speech: Literature, Critical Theory, and Politics (New Directions in Critical Theory)
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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.
signs could no longer be discovered in anyone, all literature stopped speaking, what would be lacking is silence, and it is this lack of silence that would perhaps reveal the disappearance of literary language.”6 Are Voltaire’s definition and Blanchot’s sentences, however minimally, talking about the same thing? The first gives an account of a form of knowledge, partly erudite and partly amateur, that allows one to speak as a connoisseur of 32 | Introduction: From One Literature to Another
does tell a story, knots together and then resolves the destiny of its characters. But the title of the book is not thereby merely an indication of the time and place where the story occurs. It defines these adventures as another incarnation of what the cathedral itself expresses in the distribution of its spaces and the iconography or relief of its sculptures. It stages its characters as figures drawn from the stone and the meaning it incarnates. To accomplish this Hugo’s sentences animate the
and the topoi or modes of enunciation that have accompanied and The Fable of the Letter | 97 allegorized novelistic writing. In fact, it is the antigeneric genre of the novel that has carried the powers of the mute and loquacious letter ever since Antiquity. It has not only thrown together princes, merchants, and pimps, realistic scenes from daily life and tales of magic and scattered its stories here and there without knowing for whom they were or were not suitable. The novel also
everything—to signify everything on the symbolist model of signification, that is, by suggestion, by analogy between its tones and rhythms, its speeding up and slowing down, its blaring brass or dreamy woodwinds and strings, and the essential aspects of the world and their correspondences in the intimate theater of the spirit. Music claims to dismiss the mute and loquacious letter in order to enthrone the pure kingdom of spirit become sensuous. But if it can promise this castle of purity without
false bottom that Homer’s partisans had argued against Plato and the philosophers, just as the philosophers of paganism would later argue it against the Christian gospel. Vico’s response was that poems are not books of encrypted wisdom but simply poems. We need to keep in mind, however, the strangeness of this response and the singular displacement it produced, for it in fact transformed the very idea of the poem. Henceforth the essence of the poem is to be speech that says something other than