Archive for the ‘Ranciere’ Category

Who is the Avant-Garde Spectator?

Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

In his book ‘Secret Publicity’ Sven Lütticken outlines an account of artistic and intellectual movements to the (desired) forging of a new or radicalized public sphere in relation to the ‘marginal’ or intimate events and appearances of counter-strategies. The avant-garde dream of effecting actual socio-political change through the art-life paradigm is the central point of debate in his thought, especially considering that many contemporary art practices are contingent on an ethos of re-enactment of sorts, of such ideals, forms and modes of distribution located within avant-garde tactics. Lütticken firstly reinvigorates the term ‘publicity’, which has now becomes synonymous with advertising or PR, to it’s original connotation, which is what we would now name ‘public-ness’. He calls on this double significance of the term to address both the public sphere and the media driven apparatuses in becoming ‘visible’ within said sphere. Historically speaking, the efforts of Bataille (and, often, the surrealist project) are of particular focus, in his going underground, forming of secret societies and obscure publications – in the words of Lütticken, Bataille used “secrecy as a weapon rather than a retreat”. Further, Bataille grew spitefully critical towards the Surrealists in their inability to actually ’surrealize’ (and perhaps ’sacralize’) an increasingly consumerist and rational public sphere. What Secret Publicity investigates and questions, in the most general way, is the operativeness of the marginal, semi-private activities, images and discourses and their affect (or not) on what Lütticken names the creation of ‘counter-publics’.

What is left hanging in the discussion is the situation of the spectator within an avant-gardist aesthetic strategy. If the avant-garde’s desire is to tangibly infiltrate the sphere of the lived, and effect change therein (and not the bubble of an art-world) what is the presumption as to the plight or potentiality of the spectator? Does the inability of the avant-gardist project to effect real, social change outside the discipline of art and intellectual circles, (to a large extent), point to an inherently flawed depiction (or under-evaluation) of the spectator herself? Lütticken, does argue that, to some degree, the avant-gardist project completely succeeded, in the sense of infiltrating the real-life spectacular society, where contemporary art is no longer so easily distinguishable from fashion, pop-media and the like – artists often use such every-day modes of disseminating their work outside of a conventional gallery structure – this is already old news. The ‘success’, of the avant-garde, in this sense, is, of course, a cynically perverted one. The large question begets the artist as to what sort of assumptions one places on her prospective audience or spectator? Could this form of relationship with a presumed and largely, imaginary spectator constitute an ethical seat of the authorial act, the authorial gesture.

Rancière’s ‘Emancipated Spectator’ (the full length book, and not merely the Artforum article), which argues to a large degree from the perspective of the ‘Ignorant Schoolmaster’, and Jacotot’s ‘experimental pedagogy’, obviously has a lot to offer to this trajectory of discussion, but I’ll have to save that for a later date once that text is properly digested. Nonetheless, there is a strong Kantian bond in the perception of the spectator – one taken up by Hannah Arendt in her ‘Lectures on Kant’s Political Philosophy’, that could be mentioned here, that re-examines the ‘activity’ of the spectator and spectating. Kant takes up the old philosophical debate: If the actors are acting how are they able to perceive what is it they are doing? How can they perceive of their own affect when they cannot observe themselves? This is a simplified paraphrasing, but it’s hopefully sufficient to get the point across. Kant’s position on the matter, is purely in the court of the spectator:

“The general viewpoint or standpoint is occupied, rather, by the spectator, who is a “world citizen” or, rather, a “world spectator.” It is he who decides, by having an idea of the whole, whether, in any single, particular event, progress is being made.” – Arendt 1992: 58


“…in Kant the common distinction or antagonism between theory and practice in political matters is the distinction between spectator and the actor, and to our surprise we saw that the spectator had precedence: what counted in the French Revolution, what made it a world-historical event, a phenomenon not to be forgotten, were not the deeds and misdeeds of the actors but the opinions, the enthusiastic approbation, of spectators, of persons who themselves were not involved.” – Arendt 1992: 65

Arendt’s interest in pursuing the Kantian spectator is towards the development of a concept of freedom contingent on the faculty of thought that occurs in the formation of judgement – an argument that presupposes a ‘sensus communis’ (a fundamental plurality, a common ‘sense’), a judgement which ‘…weighs the possible judgments of an imagined Other…”.

I realize that these are very unfinished thoughts (typing while thinking so to speak), and with so much discussion placed on the spectator, one cannot of course forget to mention the co-dependent relationship between both actors and spectators – there must be indeed something to spectate in order to activate the possibility for judgement and communicability that creates a community of sense. Nonetheless a point of departure for more in depth reflection to come. But one that starts to pull me in the direction of seeking a perception of the spectator, outside of the ‘normalized’ futility of the ‘culture of critique’, as a wholly contingent, and often neglected, character in the theatre of appearances, a figure that must be imagined and accounted for in any authorial gesture.

Paradox of the “Agon”

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010

If the Agon, was a instituted site of contestation, struggle and/or conflict, be it either theatre or politics for the Ancients, how does such a mode of instituted visibility play out within a Rancierian framework of what constitutes politics proper? It is my gut feeling (hopefully a more detailed, referenced posting to come), that the institutionalization of ‘agon’ is not compatible within the sphere of politics outlined by Ranciere (and Agamben for that matter). The mode of contestation, proper, is precisely occupying the realm of the invisible, the not-yet-appearance of the political, since in order to have participated within an instituted ‘Agon’ one would already operated under the presupposition of the ‘counted’. The Real situation of the ‘Agon’ is inoperative invisibility, is the site par excellence that needs that is yet-to-be delineated…in the Actual mode of operativity it remains unseen. The task of politics as such, is the reinstate the equality of ‘Agon’, of contestation within the order of the ‘police’ (see previous posting), but it seems to me that the ‘Agon’ the space where one would possess the clout of counting as speech-from-a-party, is precisely the terrain that must be continually excavated, not something that is already-actualized, albeit, always existent, simply not yet counted or rendered as counting as a qualifyable ’speech-act’. The struggle itself, occur not within the Agon per se, but rather, carving out a space in which Agon can be understood as legitimately appearing.

Equality and Potentiality

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010

Equality is the contingent force operating under the philosophy of Ranciere, likewise, so is Potentiality under Agamben…here is a brief paragraph linking the two, situating Rancierian equality as a mode of potentiality…

In the existence of potentiality outlined by Agamben, (the liminal terrain between the capacity to actualize and the capacity not-to actualize), there is a fundamental equality between the states of acting and non-acting. This notion of equality is at the core of politics outlined by Rancière in Disagreement: Politics and Philosophy (1998). Here we can trace a parallel between different terms employed by each thinker which point in a similar direction: for Agamben the term ‘indistinction’ can be tied to Rancière’s ‘equality’ for it is as-of-yet undifferentiated; whereas his inequality can be tied to Agamben’s ‘distinction-making’, since it is the instantiation of difference, of the partitioning of roles, places and bodies. Rancière sets up his description of a radicalized notion of equality, by firstly outlining the plight symptomatic of any social order: “The foundation of politics is not in fact more a matter of convention than of nature: it is the lack of foundation, the sheer contingency of any social order. Politics exists simply because no social order is based on nature, no divine law regulates human society.” After pointing out the “sheer contingency” upon which any social order rests, Rancière goes on to say: “Before the logos [an argument of reason] that deals with the useful and the harmful, there is the logos that orders and bestows the right to order. But this initial logos is tainted with a primary contradiction. There is order in society because some people command and others obey, but in order to obey an order at least two things are required: you must understand the order and you must understand that you must obey it. And to do that, you must already be the equal of the person who is ordering you. It is this equality that gnaws away at any natural order. Doubtless inferiors obey 99 percent of the time; it remains that the social order is reduced thereby to its ultimate contingency. In the final analysis, inequality is only possible through equality.”

The foundational ‘equality’ that Rancière addresses of in his conception of politics, speaks to the indistinctive zone insofar are those who ‘obey’ must have the equal capacity of understanding what to obey and that they should obey; they have the capacity to “recognise” power (aesthesis) “but not […] to possess it (hexis)” Every social order rests on this elementary potentiality of equality, every system of power and hierarchy rests on this fundamental indistinction before the operations of actualization take over and parcel out roles, delineate bodies and map out places. The equal capacity presupposed by any social system is that of an aesthetic order, for it is precisely the equal capacity to perceive and recognise the distribution of inequality, of power, vis-à-vis the inequality in the possession of power. The unpossess-ability of aesthetics is where the shared equality of comprehension is manifest, in the appearance of that which cannot be apprehended. The domain of aesthetics is where one can recapture the existence of potentiality and release it from its restricted twinning with perpetual actualization.

Like Agamben, Rancière sets up an ‘exclusive/inclusive’ paradigm of sorts, in his outlining of social structures, describing two distinct categories, the ‘police’ and ‘politics’ which imply one another in their referentiality. Rancière uses the term ‘police’ (in a non-pejorative fashion) to delineate, “… the set of procedures whereby the aggregation and consent of collectivities is achieved, the organization of powers, the distribution of places and roles, and the systems of distribution and legitimizing this distribution.” Politics, for Rancière is, rather, “antagonistic to policing: whatever breaks with the tangible configuration whereby parties and parts or lack of them are defined by a presupposition that, by definition, has no place in that configuration – that of the part of those who have no part.” The ‘police’ is the actualized domain of social operativeness, as the collection of institutions and conventions that carve out the partitioning of places, peoples and roles, inscribing inequality and distinctions amongst its constituent parts. Politics, on the other hand, is wholly unactualized, it is the existence of potentiality reasserting itself, reappropriating the indistinction of equality at the contingent core of social structuration.