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Proletarian Nights: The Workers' Dream in Nineteenth-Century France

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Proletarian Nights, previously published in English as Nights of Labor and one of Rancière’s most important works, dramatically reinterprets the Revolution of 1830, contending that workers were not rebelling against specific hardships and conditions but against the unyielding predetermination of their lives. Through a study of worker-run newspapers, letters, journals, and Proletarian Nights, previously published in English as Nights of Labor and one of Rancière’s most important works, dramatically reinterprets the Revolution of 1830, contending that workers were not rebelling against specific hardships and conditions but against the unyielding predetermination of their lives. Through a study of worker-run newspapers, letters, journals, and worker-poetry, Rancière reveals the contradictory and conflicting stories that challenge the coherence of these statements celebrating labor. This updated edition includes a new preface by the author, revisiting the work twenty years since its first publication in France.


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Proletarian Nights, previously published in English as Nights of Labor and one of Rancière’s most important works, dramatically reinterprets the Revolution of 1830, contending that workers were not rebelling against specific hardships and conditions but against the unyielding predetermination of their lives. Through a study of worker-run newspapers, letters, journals, and Proletarian Nights, previously published in English as Nights of Labor and one of Rancière’s most important works, dramatically reinterprets the Revolution of 1830, contending that workers were not rebelling against specific hardships and conditions but against the unyielding predetermination of their lives. Through a study of worker-run newspapers, letters, journals, and worker-poetry, Rancière reveals the contradictory and conflicting stories that challenge the coherence of these statements celebrating labor. This updated edition includes a new preface by the author, revisiting the work twenty years since its first publication in France.

30 review for Proletarian Nights: The Workers' Dream in Nineteenth-Century France

  1. 5 out of 5

    Stefan Szczelkun

    Proletarian Nights is a book made up of a series of paraphrasing, quotations and summaries of worker writings to make up a history from below. There are coherent thematic blocks but they are not strictly contained within the chapters. Themes are woven through studies of three experiments in worker association in or out of mid C19th France. The 'religion' of Saint Simonianism segues into a consideration of the phenomena of Worker Associations after 1848 and then we read on to a final chapter on t Proletarian Nights is a book made up of a series of paraphrasing, quotations and summaries of worker writings to make up a history from below. There are coherent thematic blocks but they are not strictly contained within the chapters. Themes are woven through studies of three experiments in worker association in or out of mid C19th France. The 'religion' of Saint Simonianism segues into a consideration of the phenomena of Worker Associations after 1848 and then we read on to a final chapter on the Utopian Communist experiment of Etienne Cabet's Icarian communities in The New World. The complexities of creating a historical account of such collectivities are expressed with a mass of detail and digressions into many sub-topics, that probably suggested themselves from the archival record, as well as discourses current when the book was being researched. A broad knowledge of French history is assumed but not essential and a timeline is provided at the end for those who might be getting lost. As much as possible it is the worker voices that are heard, or rather quoted in line with JRs thesis on equality of intelligence. This bass line giving respect to proletarian thinking is played throughout the book. A desire for intellectual emancipation is voiced by many of the worker writers he studies. See: The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation (1981) for his full exposition of this idea. Other major books of theory challenging Marxist orthodoxy came out at this point (e.g. Pierre Bourdieu's Distinction in 1979 and Jurgen Habermas's Theory of Communicative Action Vols 1 & 2 in 1981). Also Foucault (1976) idea's of bio power had followed his own pro worker activism after which he demanded that intellectuals let workers speak for themselves.  Proletarian Nights attempts to apply the idea of equality of intelligence to a period of time at which the germination of 'modern' capitalism and the concurrent foundation of a proletarian consciousness was underway. A British account would probably focus on the national federation of Chartists. Proletarian defined here is a worker in the context of a modern city. Ranciere uses the case studies of these three forms of worker association to explore the class dynamics of oppression with regard to interwoven subjects of work, relation to the middle and upper classes, intellect of the worker, and to a lesser degree gender. The book tracks archival evidence of the emergence of ideas of socialism within the minds of French artisans. He gives working people agency in giving form to the desire for a new world and the steps needed to get there. His account is nuanced toward their own desire to spend time being artists and writers as much as it is simply to escape base exploitation and poverty. Some of the early discussion is directed against work altogether. This discourse seems to be subsummed by later developments where socialist cadres become 'complicit in the dominant order'. He talks about bourgeois allies and how working class people can spot 'em. The Saint Simonians impress by proposing to ban inheritance and give up their own immediately. They also call for the emancipation of women. He writes 'It became apparent that workers had never needed the secrets of domination explained to them, as their problem was quite a different one.'  He talks about how important the gains in leisure-time were. The writings he examined provides us with counter-myths to the images and stereotypes that oppression beats into people and that mainstream histories omit. The book did not make the impact that the author had hoped for: in the new preface for the 2011 edition he says: "Equality of intelligences remains the most untimely of thoughts it is possible to nourish about the social order."p.xxi His surprising conclusion seems to be that: "The essential force behind progress: social love" p.424 He gives an elder woman, 'Jeanne Desiree'  leading woman in second international, the last word: "Everyone in the world is at work on it, whether they know it or not, and for those who see these things from on high, the evolution is marvelous." quoted by JR p.427/8 Its a long and often difficult slog for a slow reader like me. But still I regard it as useful reading for any working class intellectual or their allies. For a longer breakdown and discussion of each section see my blog on: http://stefan-szczelkun.blogspot.co.u...

  2. 4 out of 5

    Matt Finck

    An excellent example of labor history that manages to capture the experiences, ideas and dreams of working people. Some might be turned off by a structure that meanders down paths that do not seem to have conclusions, but maybe we should all be so bold as to follow thoughts that lack a definitive narrative.

  3. 4 out of 5

    mao

    It is rare that I get excited reading the work of history, but this is.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Alfredo Bojórquez

    Largo y complicado. Un poco más de lo necesario. Sin embargo, retrato interesante del movimiento saintsimoniano, el fourierismo y toda la radicalidad previa a 1848. Paralelo en esentido a la Historia de las utopías de Lewis Mumford y la Formación histórica de la clase trabajadora en Inglaterra de E.P. Thompson.

  5. 5 out of 5

    v.

    Una movida muy tocha para dicir que Althusser era un pouco dógmatico e tonto.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Hugo Filipe

    Excelente writing but the theme is just not that interesting

  7. 4 out of 5

    Sean G.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Ophion

  9. 4 out of 5

    Cátia Guerra

  10. 4 out of 5

    Syed Jamil

  11. 5 out of 5

    Chris

  12. 4 out of 5

    Patrick

  13. 5 out of 5

    骆驼

  14. 4 out of 5

    Michael

  15. 4 out of 5

    Oumaya

  16. 5 out of 5

    Cat On ahottinroof

  17. 4 out of 5

    Hiroyuki Shibata

  18. 5 out of 5

    Elvan

  19. 5 out of 5

    T H

  20. 5 out of 5

    Bookshark

  21. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Madsen

  22. 5 out of 5

    Yukiko

  23. 5 out of 5

    Carmen

  24. 4 out of 5

    Joeji

  25. 4 out of 5

    Gregory

  26. 5 out of 5

    Oralmajority

  27. 4 out of 5

    Matthew

  28. 4 out of 5

    Iván Higuera

  29. 5 out of 5

    Parisa Nasrabadi

  30. 4 out of 5

    Oralmajority

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