Thursday, December 20, 2012

From "The Aesthetic Dimension: Aesthetics, Politics, Knowledge," by Jacques Rancière

On the one hand, there is the sociological criticism that saw an ignorance of the social law of the ethos. Pierre Bourdieu’s work epitomizes this type of criticism, namely, arguing that the view of aesthetic judgment as a judgment independent of all interest amounts to an illusion or a mystification. The disinterested aesthetic judgment is the privilege of only those who can abstract themselves—or who believe that they can abstract themselves—from the sociological law that accords to each class of society the judgments of taste corresponding to their ethos, that is, to the manner of being and of feeling that their condition imposes upon them. [...] Such judgments are also part of the mystification that hides the reality of social determinism and helps prevent victims of the system from gaining access to the knowledge that could liberate them.


Lyotard dismisses the heterotopy of the beautiful in favor of the heteronomy of the sublime. The result of this operation is the same as that of the sociological critique, though it is made from a very different angle; in both cases the political potential of the heterotopy is boiled down to a sheer illusion that conceals the reality of a subjection.


Ignoring to whom the palace actually belongs, the vanity of the nobles, and the sweat of the people incorporated in the palace are the conditions of aesthetic judgment. This ignorance is by no means the illusion that conceals the reality of possession. Rather, it is the means for building a new sensible world, which is a world of equality within the world of possession and inequality.


Aesthetic ignorance thus neutralizes the ethical distribution insofar as it splits up the simple alternative laid down by the sociologist that claims you are either ignorant and subjugated or have knowledge and are free. This alternative remains trapped in the Platonic circle, the ethical circle according to which those who have the sensible equipment suitable for the work that does not wait are unable to gain the knowledge of the social machine.

The break away from this circle can only be aesthetic. It consists in the disjunction between sensible equipment and the ends that it must serve. The joiner agrees with Kant on a decisive point: the singularity of the aesthetic experience is the singularity of an as if. The aesthetic judgment acts as if the palace were not an object of possession and domination. The joiner acts as if he possessed the perspective. This as if is no illusion. It is a redistribution of the sensible, a redistribution of the parts supposedly played by the higher and the lower faculties, the higher and the lower classes. 

As such it is the answer to another as if: the ethical order of the city, according to Plato, must be viewed as if God had put gold in the souls of the men who were destined to rule and iron in the souls of those who were destined to work and be ruled. It was a matter of belief. Obviously Plato did not demand that the workers acquire the inner conviction that a deity truly mixed iron in their souls and gold in the souls of the rulers. It was enough that they sensed it, that is, that they used their arms, their eyes, and their minds as if this were true. And they did so even more as this lie about fitting actually fit the reality of their condition. The ethical ordering of social occupations ultimately occurs in the mode of an as if. The aesthetic rupture breaks this order by constructing another as if.

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