Wednesday, December 12, 2012

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

To the extent that a power is political, the rulers rule on the ultimate ground that there is no reason why they should rule.

[...] the power of the demos is nothing but the inner difference that both legitimizes and delegitimizes any state institution or practice of power. As such it is a vanishing difference that is ceaselessly annulled by the oligarchic functioning of institutions. This is why, on the other hand, this power must be continuously reenacted by political subjects.


This also means that the political subject acts in the mode of the as if; it acts as if it were the demos, that is, as the whole made by those who are not countable as qualified parts of the community. This is the aesthetic dimension of politics: the staging of a dissensus— of a conflict of sensory worlds—by subjects who act as if they were the people, which is made of the uncountable count of the anyone.

When a small group of protesters takes to the streets under the banner We Are the People, as they did in Leipzig in 1989, they know that they are not the people. They create the open collective of those who are not the people that is incorporated in the state and located in its offices. They play the role of the uncountable collection of those who have no specific capacity to rule or to be ruled.

This is what I call the aesthetic understanding of the democratic supplement, which amounts to a political understanding. I think that we can oppose it to the ethical view of the supplement, which is epitomized in Derrida’s concept of democracy to come.

My observations should not be misinterpreted. I amaware that Derrida was also concerned with the elaboration of a concept of democracy that would break the consensual-ethical view of democracy as the way of governing and the way of being of wealthier countries. I am also aware that his search for a new concept of democracy was part of a commitment to a number of struggles against various forms of oppression throughout the world. I acknowledge this theoretical and practical commitment to the main issues of democracy.

Nevertheless I think that it can be said that the concept of democracy to come is not a political but an ethical concept. Democracy to come is not, for Derrida, the aesthetic supplement that makes politics possible. It is a supplement to politics. 

And it is because Derrida’s democracy actually is a democracy without demos. What is absent in his view of politics is the idea of the political subject, of the political capacity. The reason for this is simple. There is something that Derrida cannot endorse, namely, the idea of neutralization (or substitutability)—the indifference to difference or the equivalence of the same and the other.

Consistently, what he cannot accept is the democratic play of the as if. From his point of view there can be only one alternative: either the law of the same, the law of autonomy, or the law of the other, the law of heteronomy.

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