Monday, December 17, 2012

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

The normal relation, in Platonic terms, is the domination of the better over the worse. Within the game it is the distribution of two complementary and opposite powers in such a way that the only possible perturbation is the struggle of the worse against the better—for instance, the rebellion of the democratic class of desire against the aristocratic class of intelligence. In this case there is no dissensus, no perturbation of the game. There is a dissensus only when the opposition itself is neutralized.

This means that neutralization is not at all tantamount to pacification. On the contrary, the neutralization of the opposition between the faculties, the parts of the soul, or the classes of the population is the staging of an excess, a supplement that brings about a more radical way of seeing the

But there are two ways of understanding this excess.

Just as there are two ways to think of matters of conflict—a consensual one and a dissensual
one—there are also two ways of thinking the nature of dissensus and the relationship between consensus and dissensus.

This point is decisive.There are two ways of interpreting matters of consensus and dissensus, an ethical one and an aesthetic one.

The ethical must be understood from the original sense of ethos. Ethos first meant abode before it meant the way of being that suits an abode. The ethical law first is the law that is predicated on a location. An ethical relation itself can be understood in two different ways, depending on whether you consider the inner determination of the location or its relation to its outside.

Let us start from the inside. The law of the inside is doubled. Ethical in the first instance means that you interpret a sphere of experience as the sphere of the exercise of a property or a faculty possessed in common by all those who belong to a location.

There is poetry, Aristotle tells us, because men differ from animals by their higher sense of imitation; all men are able to imitate and take pleasure in imitation. In the same way, there is politics because men not only share the animal property of the voice that expresses pleasure or pain but also the specific power of the logos that allows them to reveal and discuss what is useful and what is harmful and thus also what is just and what is unjust.

As is well known, it soon is made apparent that this common property is not shared by everyone; there are human beings who are not entirely human beings. For instance, Aristotle says, the slaves have the aisthesis of language (the passive capacity of understanding words), but they don’t have the hexis of language (the active power of stating and discussing what is just or unjust).

More generally, it is always debatable whether a sequence of sounds produced by a mouth is articulated speech or the animalistic expression of pleasure or pain.

In such a way, the ethical universal is usually doubled by an ethical principle of discrimination. The common location includes in its topography different locations that entail different ways of being; the workplace, according to Plato, is a place where work does not wait, which means that the artisan has no time to be elsewhere. Since he has no place to be elsewhere, he has no capacity to understand the relation between the different places that make up a community, which means that he has no political intelligence.

This relation can be turned around; insofar as the artisan is a man of need and desire he has no sense of the common measure and therefore cannot be anywhere other than the place where the objects of desire and consumption are produced.

This is the ethical circle that ties together a location, an occupation, and the aptitude—the sensory equipment—that is geared toward them. The ethical law thus is a law of differentiation between the class of sensation and the class of intelligence.

To summarize, the ethical law, considered as the law of the inside, is a distribution of the sensible that combines—according to different forms of proportionality—the sharing of a common capacity and the distribution of alternative capacities.

But the law of the ethos can also be set up as the law of the outside [...]

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