Friday, December 21, 2012

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

Disciplines delineate their territory by cutting through the common fabric of language and thought. They thereby draw a line of partition between what the joiner, for example, says and what his phrases mean, between their raw materiality and the materiality of the social conditions that
they express.

They engage in a war against aesthetic ignorance, which means aesthetic disjunction. In other words, they must engage in a war against the war that the worker is himself fighting. They want the bodies that compose society to have the ethos—the perceptions, sensations, and thoughts that correspond to their ethos—proper to their situation and occupation.

The point is that this correspondence is perpetually disturbed. There are words and discourses that freely circulate, without a master, and divert bodies from their destinations. For the joiner and his brothers those words may be the people, liberty, or equality.

They may be passion, felicity, or ecstasy for their distant sister Emma Bovary. There are spectacles that disassociate the gaze from the hand and transform the worker into an aesthete.

Disciplinary thought must ceaselessly stop this hemorrhage in order to establish stable relations between bodily states and the modes of perception and signification that correspond to them. It must ceaselessly pursue war but pursue it as a pacifying operation.

To speak of an aesthetics of knowledge thus is not an occasion to get closer to the sensuous experience. It is an instance to speak of that silent battle, to restage the context of the war—what Foucault called the “distant roar of the battle.”

In order to do so, an aesthetics of knowledge must practice a certain ignorance. It must ignore disciplinary boundaries in order to restore their status as weapons in a struggle. This is what I have done, for example, in taking the phrases of the joiner out of their normal context, that of social history, which treats them as expressions of the worker’s condition. I have taken a different path; these phrases do not describe a lived situation but reinvent the relation between a situation and the forms of visibility and capacities of thought that are attached to it. Put differently, this narrative (re´cit) is a myth in the Platonic sense; it is an anti-Platonic myth, a counterstory of destiny. The Platonic myth prescribes a relationship of reciprocal confirmation between a condition and a thought. The countermyth of the joiner breaks the circle. In order to create the textual and signifying space for which this relation of myth to myth is visible and thinkable, we must initiate a form of “indisciplinary” thinking. We must create a space without boundaries that is also a space of equality, in which the narrative of the joiner’s life enters into dialogue with the philosophical narrative of the organized distribution of competencies and destinies.

This implies another practice—an indisciplinary practice— of philosophy and its relation to the social sciences. Classically, philosophy has been considered a sort of superdiscipline that reflects on the methods of the social sciences or provides them with their foundation. Of course these sciences can object to this status, treat it as an illusion, and pose themselves as the true bearers of knowledge about philosophical illusion. This is another hierarchy, another way of putting discourses in their place. But there is a third way of proceeding that seizes the moment in which the philosophical pretension to found the order of discourse is reversed, becoming the declaration, in the egalitarian language of the narrative, of the arbitrary nature of this order.

This is what I have tried to do by connecting the narrative of the joiner with the Platonic myth. The specificity of the Platonic myth is constituted by the way in which it inverts the reasons of knowledge (savoir) with the purely arbitrary insistence on the story (conte).

While the historian and the sociologist show us how a certain life produces a certain thought expressing a life, the myth of the philosopher refers this necessity to an arbitrary, beautiful lie that, at the same time, is the reality of life for the greatest number of people.

This identity of necessity and contingency—the reality of the lie—cannot be rationalized in the form of a discourse that separates truth from illusion. It can only be recounted, that is, stated in a discursive form that suspends the distinction and the hierarchy of discourse.

It is here, Plato claims in Phaedrus, that we must speak the truth (vrai), there where we speak of truth (ve´rite´). It is here also that he has recourse to the most radical story, that of the plain of truth, of the divine charioteer, and of the fall that transforms some into men of silver and others into gymnasts, artisans, or poets.

In other words, taking things the other way around, at the moment when he most implacably states the organized distribution of conditions, Plato has recourse to what most radically denies this distribution: the power of the story and the common language that abolishes the hierarchy of discourse and the hierarchies that this underwrites. The foundation of the foundation is a story, an aesthetic affair.

From this we can imagine a practice of philosophy that points to the story that is implied in each of the methods that define how a certain ethos produces a certain form of thinking. The point is not to claim that the disciplines are false sciences or that what they actually do is in fact a form of literature. Nor is it to annul them from the point of view of some figure of the other or the outside: the traumatic revelation of the real, the shock of the event, the horizon of the messianic promise, and so on.

The point is neither to reverse the order of dependence inside the ethical consensus nor to refer to the subversive power of the wholly Other. If an aesthetic practice of philosophy means something, it means the subversion of those distributions.

All territories are topoi predicated on a singular form of the distribution of the sensible. A topography of the thinkable is always the topography of a theater of operations. There is no specific territory of thought. Thought is everywhere. Its space has no periphery, and its inner divisions are always provisory forms of the distribution of the thinkable. A topography of the thinkable is a topography of singular combinations of sense and sense, of provisory knots and gaps.

An aesthetics of knowledge creates forms of supplementation that allow us to redistribute the configuration of the topoi, the places of the same and the different, the balance of knowledge and ignorance. It implies a practice of discourse that reinscribes the force of descriptions and arguments in the war of discourses in which no definite border separates the voice of the object of science from the logos of the science that takes it as its object. It means that it reinscribes them in the equality of a common language and the common capacity to invent objects, stories, and arguments.

If this practice is named philosophy, this means that philosophy is not the name of a discipline or a territory. It is the name of a practice; it is a performance that sends the specificities of the territories back to the common sharing of the capacity of thinking. In this sense the aesthetic practice of philosophy can also be called a method of equality.

No comments:

Post a Comment