Brown Council: Critical Comedy

In his proposition for ‘the emancipated spectator’ philosopher Jacques Rancière argues for a rethinking of the relationship between performance and spectatorship.[1] For Rancière, considering these terms binary is problematic in that it is based on a paradox that frames spectators as necessary for performance, but entirely without agency. He characterises this lack of agency in the following terms: being a spectator means looking at spectacle; looking is the opposite of knowing and of acting, and so the spectator is by nature disempowered. As a counterpoint, he calls for an understanding of spectators as active interpreters—as such, able to bridge the divide between looking and acting.

This idea has gained significant traction among commentators on visual arts performance, particularly in relation to participatory practices, though some, such as Caroline A. Jones, have pointed to its utopian idealism…