Jacques Rancière is talking about the role of the philosopher here, but I cannot help but think that his comments extend further than even he might otherwise imagine. Indeed, while even I concluded a recent essay by distinguishing the task of the theologian from that of the philosopher — i.e. where the former “names,” the latter is concerned with “the conditions of naming itself” — suffice it to say, I’m not convinced that the disciplinary/discursive identities borne from the differentiation need be iron-clad and definitive. With that in mind, I think that the theologian in particular might find a peculiar value in reflecting on this particular exchange. In fact, I think doing so may well have a penetrating and creative effect on the valuation and task of theology:
OLIVER: We’ve talked a lot thus far about temptation—the temptation of fusion, immediacy, collective soul, enfleshment. The word signals the necessity of distinguishing the essential and the extraneous, the real and the fake, the short term and the long term, and implies an optimal path, an expectation or hope; and, of course, in religious traditions, the word signals the idea of destiny if not fate, the presence of something like the prophetic mode. What is the role of the philosopher or the cultural critic?
RANCIÈRE: There are many ways of understanding the role of the philosopher—in general or in the current situation. Most people seem to identify it today with some kind of prophecy about the disaster threatening culture, civilization, the symbolic order, and so on. All the elements of social criticism and the critique of culture have been recycled in order to sustain those prophecies about the impending disaster produced by individualism, democracy, consumption, the spectacle, and so on. From my point of view, the true philosophical or critical task is to do away with that so-called critical trend, which has become nothing more than the discourse of a police order. It is to do away with the prophetic tone and with the plot of decadence that is only the reversal of the former trust in the sense of history and to focus on the existing forms of intellectual, artistic, and political invention. Hope is not the precondition of action. On the contrary, it is the product of the openings and expectations brought about by the dynamic of those inventions.