Everything is Bourgeois

Jacques Ranciere places an absolute faith in the human spirit in the book The Philosopher and His Poor [2004 (1983)]. The dead weight of capital’s attack does not warrant a complete erosion or erasure of the same, he argues. In the corpus of Marx’s work, we find, and Ranciere shows us that the worker emerges as an empty subject, a kind of anti-subject. A dead soul. Someone who is too tired to think, to speak, to feel even. The preserve of art and philosophy is protected from his tainting shadow. Capital progresses by stamping out possibilities of subjecthood of the worker. And the philosopher rises above the founding violence of capital.

Ranciere, on the other hand, says ‘everything is bourgeois’. The horizon of humanness is available to everyone. A philosophical and aesthetic register exists in everyone’s life. The worker especially. Marx’s emphasis on two kinds of subjects on either side of the class divide is at best a crude one, says Ranciere. My joy at reading this book is immense. And yet, my question, as a humanistic anthropologist, is how do we find ways to read and interpret this register of subjectivity? Are we Othering the worker in asking about his separate cosmology? Is this akin to Ranajit Guha’s iteration of ‘autonomous consciousness’? Aman Sethi (2011) and Katherine Boo (2012) find horizons of ethical, aesthetic and political being among the proletariat in ethnography - that heartens our anxiety on the question of the interiority of the worker. They have it too – freedom desire etc., we now know. But my question is – are we using known categories of knowing and being to ask of the aesthetic, ethical and spiritual life of someone whose horizon is completely different. Is Ranciere pandering to our metropolitan guilt? He seeks to liberate philosophy of its current shackles. He says (p.128):

A world of generalized production, of a philosophy furloughed, released from duty. It no longer ahs to stand guard since now there is a new guardian, represented on stage in front of the chimneys on the painted backdrop, but active above all in the wings above to keep the stage itself in good operation: the worker-machinist. Philosophy can enjoy the new form of its leisure; it no longer has any hills to climb, suns to contemplate, or souls to educate. It sings the democracy of productive bodies.

My question for JR is what if it is not an alternate philosophical sensibility that they have, but an alternate to philosophy? Something that has not featured in our vocabulary, something that we do not know that we do not have?


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