How does the spectator act? Benjamin and Rancière on the task of the spectator-­‐translator

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstract

4 Downloads (Pure)


Not the least relevant aspect of Rancière’s path-breaking work on aesthetics is his focus on the emancipation of the spectator (cf. Le spectateur emancipé, 2008). Questioning both Brecht’s and Artaud’s views of theatre, Rancière stresses the autonomy of spectatorship and argues against the assumption that the spectator is tendentiously, if not intrinsically, passive. Despite their huge differences, both Brecht and Artaud would have shared such an assumption, inasmuch as according to them the spectator should either gain distance toward the spectacle, in order to become actively critical regarding the social situation represented (Brecht), or to abolish that distance once for all so as to get involved in the very action performed (Artaud). So viewed, they both may be said to have disregarded the peculiar kind of activity at stake in spectatorship. As Rancière puts it, “[e]mancipation begins when we challenge the opposition between viewing and acting [...]. It begins when we understand that viewing is also an action that confirms or transforms this distribution of positions. The spectator also acts, like the pupil or scholar. She observes, selects, compares, interprets.” (1)But how may one lend weight to the autonomy of the spectator without falling prey to relativism? This question takes on the form of the problem to which my paper aims to bring, if not a solution, an attempt of response. To do so, I’ll bring Benjamin’s view of translation (cf. “Die Aufgabe des Übersetzers”, 1921) to bear on the question of spectatorship. Two facts influenced such a theoretical choice. On the one hand, Rancière’s approach, though centred in reception, has nothing to do with a traditional aesthetics of reception (and such a distinction is worth being clarified). On the other hand, the links between spectatorship and translation are too systematic in Rancière’s essay to be deemed merely rhetorical.In fact, Benjamin conceived of translation as having a completely autonomous purpose. In other words, although a translation is not a mere means for a text to be read in a different language, the task of the translator is independent from that of the poet. The translation, in contrast to the original text, is to be faithful to a pre-existing text – not, however, to the “meaning” [Gemeinte], but to the “way of meaning” [Art des Meinens] of that text. To that extent it would enlarge the means of expression of the language into which the text is being translated, rather than become idiomatic.Drawing on the original, but unfolding beyond its form and contents, the translation constitutes a process, which might analogically shed light on the very activity involved in being a spectator, and thus clarify the hypothesis that a spectator may lend meaning to the work he or she comes across without reducing the latter to a mere, interchangeable, pretext.(1) Jacques Rancière, “The Emancipated Spectator”, The Emancipated Spectator (London & New York: Verso, 2009), 13.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages2
Publication statusPublished - 2013
Event19th International Congress of Aesthetics: "Aesthetics in Action" - Krakow, Poland
Duration: 21 Jul 201327 Jul 2013


Conference19th International Congress of Aesthetics: "Aesthetics in Action"


  • Benjamin
  • rancière

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'How does the spectator act? Benjamin and Rancière on the task of the spectator-­‐translator'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

  • Cite this

    Cachopo, J. P. (2013). How does the spectator act? Benjamin and Rancière on the task of the spectator-­‐translator. 1-2. Abstract from 19th International Congress of Aesthetics: "Aesthetics in Action", Krakow, Poland.