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The Aesthetic Unconscious

The Aesthetic Unconscious

Jacques Rancière

ISBN: 978-0-745-64643-5 February 2010 Polity 84 Pages


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This book is not concerned with the use of Freudian concepts for the interpretation of literary and artistic works. Rather, it is concerned with why this interpretation plays such an important role in demonstrating the contemporary relevance of psychoanalytic concepts.

In order for Freud to use the Oedipus complex as a means for the interpretation of texts, it was necessary first of all for a particular notion of Oedipus, belonging to the Romantic reinvention of Greek antiquity, to have produced a certain idea of the power of that thought which does not think, and the power of that speech which remains silent.

From this it does not follow that the Freudian unconscious was already prefigured by the aesthetic unconscious. Freud's 'aesthetic' analyses reveal instead a tension between the two forms of unconscious. In this concise and brilliant text Rancière brings out this tension and shows us what is at stake in this confrontation.

A Defective Subject

The Aesthetic Revolution

The Two Forms of Mute Speech

From One Unconscious to Another

Freud’s Corrections

On Various Uses of Details

A Conflict between Two Kinds of Medicine

'One of today's foremost French philosophers offers here a fascinating and illuminating take on the relevance of Freudian concepts and psychoanalytic interpretations, as emerging from the yet to be discovered meaning of the 19th century aesthetic revolution. In a philosophical dialogue with Lyotard, Ranciere contends that the Freudian inheritance that valorizes pathos over logos, goes against the grain of Freud's own effort to maintain their equal coexistence and inseparability: to preserve at once the pathos of the sickness and the logos of the cure. This erudite and brilliant book is a must-read for students of art, philosophy and psychoanalysis alike.'
Shoshana Felman, Author of Testimony (Crises of Witnessing), and The Juridical Unconscious

"Ranciere offers a fascinating new optic through which to read psychoanalysis, and his original positioning of Freud in relation to art and literature is valuable in a field where partisan defences and blanket dismissals tend to hold sway."
The Philosophers' Magazine

  • This book examines why the psychoanalytic interpretation of literary and artistic works plays such an important role in demonstrating the contemporary relevance of psychoanalysis
• Rancière shows that Freud's use of the unconscious as a device for interpreting literary and artistic works was preceded by a notion of the aesthetic unconscious that belonged to Romanticism
• In this concise and brilliant text, Rancière brings out the tension between the Freudian unconscious and the 'aesthetic unconscious' and shows us what is at stake in this confrontation
• Jacques Rancière is one of the leading philosophers in France today and is well-known for his work in aesthetics