What distinguishes fiction from ordinary experience is not a lack of reality but a surfeit of rationality – this was the thesis of Aristotle’s Poetics. The rationality of fiction is that appearances are inverted. Fiction overturns the ordinary course of events that occur one after the other, aiming to show how the unexpected arises, happiness transforms into unhappiness and ignorance into knowledge. In the modern age, argues Rancière, this fictional rationality was developed in new ways. The social sciences extended the model of causal linkage to all spheres of human action, seeking to show us how causes produce their effects by inverting appearances and expectations. Literature took the opposite path. Instead of democratizing fictional rationality to include all human activity in the world of rational knowledge, it destroyed its principles by abolishing the limits that circumscribed a reality peculiar to fiction. It aligned itself with the rhythms of everyday life and plumbed the power of the “random moment” into which an entire life is condensed.
Jacques Rancière is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the University of Paris-St. Denis? reputed internationally for his evocative and complex writings on democracy, aesthetics, culture, politics and literature.
Steven Corcoran is the accomplished translator of a wide-ranging body of French philosophical and literary works. He has translated six books by the eminent French philosopher Jacques Rancière.