A provisional description of the concept of “literarity” needs to bring out Ranciére's distinctive intermeshing of the fields of aesthetics and politics. As we shall see in the first section, the concept of “literarity” is what the political term “equality” would do were it to become an aesthetic principle of analysis. It is not that “literarity” transposes a set of political concerns into aesthetics, but that if one were to ask what “equality” could mean in aesthetics, then one would answer: “literarity”.
How, we might ask, are we supposed to understand the political value of “equality” in the context of literature; how are we supposed to understand what “equality” does in the case of literature? In Ranciére's telling, the modern age is the age of equality. One of the features of this age, as we shall see, is the ways words and things are separated and united (FW 13–14; NH 57, 93). It is these relations between words and things that reconfigure the sensory field of experience and most especially social experience. It is important to emphasize, however, that the modern poetic revolutions are just one part of a broader revolution of societies' frameworks. In so far as literature uses words to endow things with meaning and in so far as anything at all is able to bear expressive meaning, “equality” is germane to understanding the significance and effects of the modern poetic revolution. The events, the status of words and the institutions of modern literary production can all be analysed under the concept of “literarity” precisely because they are not a “simple matter of words” (NH 7).