The Politics of Aesthetics
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The Politics of Aesthetics

Jacques RanciĂšre, Gabriel Rockhill, Gabriel Rockhill

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eBook - ePub

The Politics of Aesthetics

Jacques RanciĂšre, Gabriel Rockhill, Gabriel Rockhill

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The Politics of Aesthetics rethinks the relationship between art and politics, reclaiming "aesthetics" from the narrow confines it is often reduced to. Jacques RanciĂšre reveals its intrinsic link to politics by analysing what they both have in common: the delimitation of the visible and the invisible, the audible and the inaudible, the thinkable and the unthinkable, the possible and the impossible. Presented as a set of inter-linked interviews, The Politics of Aesthetics provides the most comprehensive introduction to RanciĂšre's work to date, ranging across the history of art and politics from the Greek polis to the aesthetic revolution of the modern age. Available now in the Bloomsbury Revelations series 10 years after its original publication, The Politics of Aesthetics includes an afterword by Slavoj Zizek, an interview for the English edition, a glossary of technical terms and an extensive bibliography.

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Année
2013
ISBN
9781780936871
PART ONE
The Distribution of the Sensible
Chapter 1
Foreword
The following pages respond to a twofold solicitation. At their origin was a set of questions asked by two young philosophers, Muriel Combes and Bernard Aspe, for their journal, Alice, and more specifically for the section entitled ‘The Factory of the Sensible’. This section is concerned with aesthetic acts as configurations of experience that create new modes of sense perception and induce novel forms of political subjectivity. It is within this framework that they interviewed me on the consequences of my analyses – in Disagreement – of the distribution of the sensible that is at stake in politics, and thus of a certain aesthetics of politics. Their questions, prompted as well by a novel reflection on the major avant-garde theories and experiments concerning the fusion of art and life, dictate the structure of the present text. At the request of Eric Hazan and StĂ©phanie GrĂ©goire, I developed my responses and clarified their presuppositions [8] as far as possible.4
This particular solicitation is, however, inscribed in a broader context. The proliferation of voices denouncing the crisis of art or its fatal capture by discourse, the pervasiveness of the spectacle or the death of the image, suffice to indicate that a battle fought yesterday over the promises of emancipation and the illusions and disillusions of history continues today on aesthetic terrain. The trajectory of Situationist discourse – stemming from an avant-garde artistic movement in the post-war period, developing into a radical critique of politics in the 1960s, and absorbed today into the routine of the disenchanted discourse that acts as the ‘critical’ stand-in for the existing order is undoubtedly symptomatic of the contemporary ebb and flow of aesthetics and politics, and of the transformations of avant-garde thinking into nostalgia. It is, however, the work of Jean-François Lyotard that best marks the way in which ‘aesthetics’ has become, in the last twenty years, the privileged site where the tradition of critical thinking has metamorphosed into deliberation on mourning. The reinterpretation of the Kantian analysis [9] of the sublime introduced into the field of art a concept that Kant had located beyond it. It did this in order to more effectively make art a witness to an encounter with the unpresentable that cripples all thought, and thereby a witness for the prosecution against the arrogance of the grand aesthetico-political endeavour to have ‘thought’ become ‘world’. In this way, reflection on art became the site where a mise-en-scùne of the original abyss of thought and the disaster of its misrecognition continued after the proclamation of the end of political utopias. A number of contemporary contributions to thinking the disasters of art or the image convert this fundamental reversal into more mediocre prose.
This familiar landscape of contemporary thought defines the context in which these questions and answers are inscribed, but it does not specify their objective. The following responses will not lay claim yet again, in the face of postmodern disenchantment, to the avant-garde vocation of art or to the vitality of a modernity that links the conquests of artistic innovation to the victories of emancipation. These pages do not have their origin in a desire to take a polemical stance. They are inscribed in a long-term project that aims at re-establishing a debate’s conditions of intelligibility. This means, first of all, elaborating the very meaning of [10] what is designated by the term aesthetics, which denotes neither art theory in general nor a theory that would consign art to its effects on sensibility. Aesthetics refers to a specific regime for identifying and reflecting on the arts: a mode of articulation between ways of doing and making, their corresponding forms of visibility, and possible ways of thinking about their relationships (which presupposes a certain idea of thought’s effectively). Defining the connections within this aesthetic regime of the arts, the possibilities that they determine, and their modes of transformation, such is the present objective of my research and of a seminar held over the past few years within the framework provided by the University of Paris-VIII and the CollĂšge International de Philosophie. The results of this research will not be found in the present work; their elaboration will follow its own proper pace. I have nevertheless attempted to indicate a few historical and conceptual reference points appropriate for reformulating certain problems that have been irremediably confused by notions that pass off conceptual prejudices as historical determinations and temporal delimitations as conceptual determinations. Among the foremost of these notions figures, of course, the concept of modernity, today the source of all the jumbled miscellany that arbitrarily sweeps [11] together such figures as Hölderlin, CĂ©zanne, MallarmĂ©, Malevich, or Duchamp into a vast whirlwind where Cartesian science gets mixed up with revolutionary parricide, the age of the masses with Romantic irrationalism, the ban on representation with the techniques of mechanized reproduction, the Kantian sublime with the Freudian primal scene, the flight of the gods with the extermination of the Jews in Europe. Indicating the general lack of evidence supporting these notions obviously does not entail adhering to the contemporary discourses on the return to the simple reality of artistic practices and its criteria of assessment. The connection between these ‘simple practices’ and modes of discourse, forms of life, conceptions of thought, and figures of the community is not the fruit of a maleficent misappropriation. On the contrary, the effort to think through this connection requires forsaking the unsatisfactory mise-en-scĂšne of the ‘end’ and the ‘return’ that persistently occupies the terrain of art, politics, and any other object of thought. [12]
Chapter 2
The Distribution of the Sensible: Politics and Aesthetics
In Disagreement, politics is examined from the perspective of what you call the ‘distribution of the sensible’. In your opinion, does this expression provide the key to the necessary junction between aesthetic practices and political practices?
I call the distribution of the sensible the system of self-evident facts of sense perception that simultaneously discloses the existence of something in common and the delimitations that define the respective parts and positions within it.5 A distribution of the sensible therefore establishes at one and the same time something common that is shared and exclusive parts. This apportionment of parts and positions is based on a distribution of spaces, times, and forms of activity that determines the very manner in which something in common lends itself to participation and in what way various individuals have a part in this distribution. Aristotle states that a citizen is someone who has a part in the act of governing and being governed. However, another form of distribution precedes this act of partaking in government: the distribution that [13] determines those who have a part in the community of citizens. A speaking being, according to Aristotle, is a political being. If a slave understands the language of its rulers, however, he does not ‘possess’ it. Plato states that artisans cannot be put in charge of the shared or common elements of the community because they do not have the time to devote themselves to anything other than their work. They cannot be somewhere else because work will not wait. The distribution of the sensible reveals who can have a share in what is common to the community based on what they do and on the time and space in which this activity is performed. Having a particular ‘occupation’ thereby determines the ability or inability to take charge of what is common to the community; it defines what is visible or not in a common space, endowed with a common language, etc. There is thus an ‘aesthetics’ at the core of politics that has nothing to do with Benjamin’s discussion of the ‘aestheticization of politics’ specific to the ‘age of the masses’. This aesthetics should not be understood as the perverse commandeering of politics by a will to art, by a consideration of the people qua work of art. If the reader is fond of analogy, aesthetics can be understood in a Kantian sense – re-examined perhaps by Foucault – as the system of a priori forms determining what presents itself to sense experience. It is a delimitation of [14] spaces and times, of the visible and the invisible, of speech and noise, that simultaneously determines the place and the stakes of politics as a form of experience. Politics revolves around what is seen and what can be said about it, around who has the ability to see and the talent to speak, around the properties of spaces and the possibilities of time.
It is on the basis of this primary aesthetics that it is possible to raise the question of ‘aesthetic practices’ as I understand them, that is forms of visibility that disclose artistic practices, the place they occupy, what they ‘do’ or ‘make’ from the standpoint of what is common to the community. Artistic practices are ‘ways of doing and making’ that intervene in the general distribution of ways of doing and making as well as in the relationships they maintain to modes of being and forms of visibility. The Platonic proscription of the poets is based on the impossibility of doing two things at once prior to being based on the immoral content of fables. The question of fiction is first a question regarding the distribution of places. From the Platonic point of view, the stage, which is simultaneously a locus of public activity and the exhibition-space for ‘fantasies’, disturbs the clear partition of identities, activities, and spaces. The same is true of [15] writing. By stealing away to wander aimlessly without knowing who to speak to or who not to speak to, writing destroys every legitimate foundation for the circulation of words, for the relationship between the effects of language and the positions of bodies in shared space. Plato thereby singles out two main models, two major forms of existence and of the sensible effectivity of language – writing and the theatre – which are also structure-giving forms for the regime of the arts in general. However, these forms turn out to be prejudicially linked from the outset to a certain regime of politics, a regime based on the indetermination of identities, the delegitimation of positions of speech, the deregulation of partitions of space and time. This aesthetic regime of politics is strictly identical with the regime of democracy, the regime based on the assembly of artisans, inviolable written laws, and the theatre as institution. Plato contrasts a third, good form of art with writing and the theatre, the choreographic form of the community that sings and dances its own proper unity. In sum, Plato singles out three ways in which discursive and bodily practices suggest forms of community: the surface of mute signs that are, he says, [16] like paintings, and the space of bodily movement that divides itself into two antagonistic models (the movement of simulacra on the stage that is offered as material for the audience’s identifications and, on the other hand, the authentic movement characteristic of communal bodies).
Here we have three ways of distributing the sensible that structure the manner in which the arts can be perceived and thought of as forms of art and as forms that inscribe a sense of community: the surface of ‘depicted’ signs, the split reality of the theatre, the rhythm of a dancing chorus. These forms define the way in which works of art or performances are ‘involved in politics’, whatever may otherwise be the guiding intentions, artists’ social modes of integration, or the manner in which artistic forms reflect social structures or movements. When Madame Bovary was published, or Sentimental Education, these works were immediately perceived as ‘democracy in literature’ despite Flaubert’s aristocratic situation and political conformism. His very refusal to entrust literature with any message whatsoever was considered to be evidence of democratic equality. His adversaries claimed that he was [17] democratic due to his decision to depict and portray instead of instruct. This equality of indifference is the result of a poetic bias: the equality of all subject matter is the negation of any relationship of necessity between a determined form and a determined content. Yet what is this indifference after all if not the very equality of everything that comes to pass on a written page, available as it is to everyone’s eyes? This equality destroys all of the hierarchies of representation and also establishes a community of readers as a community without legitimacy, a community formed only by the random circulation of the written word.
In this way, a sensible politicity exists that is immediately attributed to the major forms of aesthetic distribution such as the theatre, the page, or the chorus. These ‘politics’ obey their own proper logic, and they offer their services in very different contexts and time periods. Consider the way these paradigms functioned in the connection between art and politics at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth. Consider, for example, the role taken on by the paradigm of the page in all its different forms, which exceed the materiality of a written sheet of paper. Novelistic democracy, on the one hand, is the indifferent democracy of writing such as [18] it is symbolized by the novel and its readership. There is also, however, the knowledge concerning typography and iconography, the intertwining of graphic and pictorial capabilities, that played such an important role in the Renaissance and was revived by Romantic typography through its use of vignettes, culs-de-lampe, and various innovations. This model disturbs the clear-cut rules of representative logic that establish a relationship of correspondence at a distance between the sayable and the visible. It also disturbs the clear partition between works of pure art and the ornaments made by the decorative arts. This is why it played such an important – and generally underestimated – role in the upheaval of the representative paradigm and of its political implications. I am thinking in particular of its role in the Arts and Crafts movement and all of its derivatives (Art Deco, Bauhaus, Constructivism). These movements developed an idea of furniture – in the broad sense of the term – for a new community, which also inspired a new idea of pictorial surface as a surface of shared writing.
Modernist discourse presents the revolution of pictorial abstraction as painting’s discovery of its own proper ‘medium’: two-dimensional surface. By revoking the perspectivist illusion of the third dimension, painting was to regain [19] the mastery of its own proper surface. In actual fact, however, this surface does not have any distinctive feature. A ‘surface’ is not simply a geometric composition of lines. It is a certain distribution of the sensible. For Plato, writing and painting were equivalent surfaces of mute signs, deprived of the breath that animates and transports living speech. Flat surfaces, in this logic, are not opposed to depth in the sense of three-dimensional surfaces. They are opposed to the ‘living’. The mute surface of depicted signs stands in opposition to the act of ‘living’ speech, which is guided by the speaker towards its appropriate addressee. Moreover, painting’s adoption of the third dimension was also a response to this distribution. The reproduction of optical depth was linked to the privilege accorded to the story. In the Renaissance, the reproduction of three-dimensional space was involved in the valorization of painting and the assertion of its ability to capture an act of living speech, the decisive moment of action and meaning. In opposition to the Platonic degradation of mime-sis, the classical poetics of representation wanted to endow the at surface’ with speech or with a ‘scene’ of life, with a specific depth such as the manifestation of an action, the expression of an interiority, or the transmission of meaning. Classical poetics established [20] a relationship of correspondence at a distance between speech and painting, between the sayable and the visible, which gave ‘imitation’ its own specific space.
It is this relationship that is at stake in the supposed distinction between two-dimensional and three-dimensional space as ‘specific’ to a particular form of art. To a large extent, the ground was laid for painting’s ‘anti-representative revolution’ by the flat surface of the page, in the change in how literature’s ‘images’ function or the change in the discourse on painting, but also in the ways in which typography, posters, and the decorative arts became interlaced. The type of painting that is poorly named abstract, and which is supposedly brought back to its own proper medium, is implicated in an overall vision of a new human being lodged in new structures, surrounded by different objects. Its flatness is linked to the flatness of pages, posters, and tapestries. It is the flatness of an interface. Moreover, its anti-representative ‘purity’ is inscribed in a context where pure art and decorative art are intertwined, a context that straight away gives it a political signification. This context is not the surrounding revolutionary fever that made Malevich at once the artist who painted Black Square and the revolutionary eulogist of [21] ‘new forms of life’. Furthermore, this is not some theatrical ideal of the new human being that seals the momentary alliance between revolutionary artists and politics. It is initially in the interface created between different ‘mediums’ – in the connections forged between poems and their typography or their illustrations, between the theatre and its set designers or poster designers, between decorative objects and poems – that this ‘newness’ is formed that links the artist who abolishes figurative representation to the revolutionary who invents a new form of life. This interface is political in that it revokes the twofold politics inherent in the logic of representation. On the one hand, this logic separated the world of artistic imitations from the world of vital concerns and politico-social grandeur. On the other hand, its hierarchical organization – in particular the primacy of living speech/action over depicted images – formed an analogy with the socio-political order. With the triumph of the novel’s page over the theatrical stage, the egalitarian intertwining of images and signs on pictorial or typographic surfaces, the elevation of artisans’ art to the status of great art, and the new claim to bring art into the dĂ©cor of each and every life, an entire well-ordered distribution of sensory experience was overturned.
[22] Th...

Table des matiĂšres

Normes de citation pour The Politics of Aesthetics

APA 6 Citation

RanciĂšre, J. (2013). The Politics of Aesthetics (1st ed.). Bloomsbury Publishing. Retrieved from https://www.perlego.com/book/817272/the-politics-of-aesthetics-pdf (Original work published 2013)

Chicago Citation

RanciĂšre, Jacques. (2013) 2013. The Politics of Aesthetics. 1st ed. Bloomsbury Publishing. https://www.perlego.com/book/817272/the-politics-of-aesthetics-pdf.

Harvard Citation

RanciĂšre, J. (2013) The Politics of Aesthetics. 1st edn. Bloomsbury Publishing. Available at: https://www.perlego.com/book/817272/the-politics-of-aesthetics-pdf (Accessed: 14 October 2022).

MLA 7 Citation

RanciĂšre, Jacques. The Politics of Aesthetics. 1st ed. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2013. Web. 14 Oct. 2022.