Authority, Reading, Reflexivity: Pierre Bourdieu and the Aesthetic Judgment of Kant

Diacritics 27 (1):20-43 (1997)
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In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:Authority, Reading, Reflexivity: Pierre Bourdieu and the Aesthetic Judgment of KantKoenraad Geldof (bio)Translated by Alex Martin (bio)1. AuthorityFor some time now, Pierre Bourdieu has been a true author 1 —a producer, in other words, of an impressive number of theoretical and analytical discourses in a wide variety of research fields. 2 Whether in anthropology or ethnology, in the sociology of institutions or of the structure and workings of the market of symbolic goods, or in the sociology of literature, the name Bourdieu imposes itself: it establishes authority. Contributing to this is another particularity quite typical of authority: it gets itself talked about; it generates, at accelerated speed, discourses that in one way or another (re-)produce and thus reinforce the authority of the author who was their point of departure and origin. The international proliferation of articles dealing with one aspect or another of Bourdieu’s thought, 3 essay collections, 4 and introductions to Bourdieu’s work 5 testifies to this. The intensity of metadiscursive production not only gives material form to the intrinsic analytic pertinence and richness of the discourse on which it comments—these are evident—but also shows, independent of the pieces’ intentions, that the proliferation is situated in a process of (re-)production of authority, that it is an integral part of a canonizing effort. The articles and introductions problematize, implicitly or explicitly, the direct accessibility of Bourdieu’s discourse. They make the oeuvre into a complex totality, difficult and diversified to the extreme, whose coherence can be revealed only with the help of a gradual, exegetic, and essentially submissive reading practice.To put it another way, and to examine the question more closely, the metadiscursive (re-)production of the authority of the author we call Pierre Bourdieu reveals itself to be [End Page 20] ambivalent: it is at once innovative—it invites the uninitiated to get to know a fascinating new universe of thought—and authoritarian, indeed even conservative. An introduction is never a simple mediation of discourse between an author and his or her potential readers: it provides a sort of user’s guide, it (re-)produces a reading habitus, an ideology of the correct interpretation the reader must learn and interiorize to be able to distinguish orthodox from false, heterodox, readings. Between the metadiscourse/commentary and the authority it discusses, a relationship of tautological circularity is established that surreptitiously transforms the discourse read into a legend (into what must be read): the possibility of an autonomous reading practice is erased by a pedagogy of legendary decoding. 6The authority of an author, that of Bourdieu for example, is consequently implicated in a dynamic of opening (the proliferation of metadiscourses) and closing (the tendency to discipline reading, to make it obey certain norms of legibility). It would be erroneous, however, to attribute the paradoxical aspect of authority simply to the ambivalent effect of metadiscourses/commentaries. This is because authors who establish authority can only rarely escape the canonizing efforts of which they are the object: in many cases, authors themselves participate in the production and reproduction of a mode of reading and interpretation judged to be legitimate. The fact that no authority can completely and exhaustively control its discursive and institutional space does not in any way contradict, therefore, that other distinctive and essential feature of authority: its intrinsic animation by a desire to control, by the desire to see itself respected. Authority wants to become Law and be recognized as such. Thus the tendency of certain authors to become actively involved in the modes of appropriation of their name and their discourses, to endeavor to make the reading of the author’s work not simply an act of connaissance but also a proof of reconnaissance. Authority detests being insufficiently or poorly known. Let us take the case of Bourdieu. As an author, he is first and foremost the one to whom we owe Raisons pratiques, La distinction, Homo academicus and Les règles de l’art, the producer, in other words, of a series of momentous works that, upon publication, established authority. Furthermore, Bourdieu is also the author of a considerable number of accompanying discourses, dominated by the...



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