Friday, December 21, 2012

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

But, on the other hand, the other is whoever or whatever has a power over me without reciprocity. This is demonstrated in Spectres of Marx, for instance, by the analysis of the visor effect or helmet effect. The ghost or the thing looks at us in a way that rules out any symmetry. We cannot cross its gaze. Derrida adds that it is from that visor effect that we first receive the law—not justice but the law, the justice of which is tantamount to our ignorance, to our incapacity to check the truth of its words: “The one who says ‘I am thy Father’s spirit’ can only be taken at his word. An essentially blind submission to his secret, to the secret of his origin: this is a first obedience to the injunction. It will condition all the others.” In order to understand what is at stake in that matter of obedience, we must have in mind another scene between father and son for which the confrontation between Hamlet and the ghost has obviously been substituted. Hamlet is in the place of Abraham, and the ghost in the place of the God who orders him to kill his son. As Derrida puts it in Rogues, when emphasizing the principle of heteronomy that is at the heart of this relationship: “It is a question . . . of a heteronomy, of a law come from the other, of a responsibility and decision of the other—of the other in me, an other greater and older than I am.”

At this point, Derrida offers us, with the help of Kierkegaard, a theoretical coup de theatre: the God who commands Abraham to kill Isaac does ask him to obey his order. As Derrida puts it in Donner la mort, he says: you have to obey me unconditionally. But what he wants Abraham to understand is you have to choose unconditionally between betraying your wife and son or betraying me, and you have no reason to choose me rather than Sarah and Isaac. Sacrifice only means choice, and the choice between the absolute Other and the member of the family is no different than the choice I have to make whenever I enter a relation with any other, which obliges me to sacrifice all the others.

To obey the law of the absolute Other is to feel the equivalence of any other with any other. Tout autre est tout autre (any other is wholly other): this is the formula of the identity of contraries, the formula of the identity between absolute inequality and absolute equality. Anyone can play the part of the any other that is wholly other.

Thanks to the God of Abraham, anyone can play the role of the God of Abraham.

So the formula of radical heteronomy turns out to be equivalent to the formula of political equality; the ethical anyone is equivalent to the political anyone. 

But it is so only by the self-negation or self-betrayal of the ethical law of heteronomy, which means, in my view, that the whole construction of ethical heteronomy has to be self-cancelled in order to make a politics of the anyone possible.

As stated earlier, I am not willing to say that my notion of democracy is more appropriate than Derrida’s democracy. I am just trying to outline the difference between an aesthetic and an ethical understanding of politics. And Derrida’s democracy to come is all the more significant in this respect since it makes the radical difference between the two approaches appear in the closest proximity, at the very limit of the indiscernible.

No comments:

Post a Comment