Jacques Rancière is in scintillating form in his recent London talk "Modernity Revisited" hosted by the Humanities and Arts Research Centre at the University of London, Royal Holloway on 9 March 2012. In rapidfire succession over the course of fifty minutes Rancière acrobatically moves from a critical reading of Clement Greenberg's theory of modernist aesthetics to Soviet film director Dziga Vertov to a genealogical overview of Denis Diderot, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Johann Winckelmann, around to Ralph Emerson and Walt Whitman, before returning almost full circle to Dziga Vertov once again.
Such an expansive and rapidly paced journey is a fitting trail for the project of his presentation which seeks to restage the issue of time "as a form of distribution of the sensible to see what problem it raises at the core of the modernist project". Carefully dissecting two Soviet posters advertising Vertov's Man with a Movie Camera [pictured above], Rancière highlights the modernist transformation of the artwork medium into a "global sensorium" which conflates not merely representation and performance but also form, words and movements and thus seeks to destroy an entrenched dependence on a representational aesthetic paradigm that privileges the active, organic body. Unseating the hierarchical order of action and purpose, he suggests that it is towards an purposeless, endless and egalitarian concept of movement that modernity's aesthetic project turns in order to model its new artistic sensibility.
"What appears on the impossible surface of these posters is not only the passage from representation to direct performance, nor is it only the wedding of the human body with the machine, it's a new configuration of space and time in which the daily activity of men and women is identical with the indifference of free movement and the inactivity of play embodied in collective freedom."
The posters and Vertov's Man with a Movie Camera are also available on Backdoor Broadcasting along with audio files of the lecture and the following questions.