Friday, December 21, 2012

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

What I call the law of the same can be epitomized by two notions that Derrida uses to characterize the consensual view of politics: sovereignty and brotherhood. Derrida endorses without discussion a widely accepted idea that the essence of politics is sovereignty, which is a concept of theological descent. Sovereignty in fact reaches back to the almighty God. God gave it to the kings. The democratic people got it, in turn, when they beheaded the kings. Political concepts are theological concepts that have hardly been secularized. According to this view the concept of the demos cannot have any specificity. It comes down to the concept of a sovereign, self-determined subject who is homogeneous to the logic of sovereignty that sustains the power of nation-states. Therefore the force of the democracy to come cannot be that of the demos. What comes under suspicion thus is not only the figure of the demos; it is the notion of a political subject itself and the idea of politics as the exercise of the capacity of anyone. Just as he identifies the concept of politics with the concept of sovereignty, Derrida equates the notion of the political subject with the notion of brotherhood. From his point of view there is no break between familial power and political power. Just as the nation-state is a sovereign father, the political subject is in fact a brother. Even the concept of citizen—which has so often been used and misused in French political discourse of the last twenty years—has no relevance in his conceptualization. Citizen is just another name for brother. We cannot but be struck by the force of Derrida’s polemics against brotherhood or fraternity, which include even a critique
of parity—as if an equal woman, a substitutable woman, a “calculable” woman still was a brother, a member of the sovereign family. As he conceives of it, a brother is anyone who can be substituted for another, anyone who bears a trait of substitutability.

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