Posts Tagged ‘Zone of Indistinction’

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.

Beginnings and (hopefully) Becomings…

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010

In brief, what I want to discuss for the upcoming thesis:

The Greek word “Agon” denotes both a place of assembly (a space of contest – often in the theatre) and conflict, it is a mode of the appearance of struggle, which implicates its very notion in an aesthetic order. Typically, what is understood as constituting the sphere of “politics” are the sets of institutions, organizations of power and the “distribution of places and roles, and the systems of distribution” – which Rancière proposes to rename, in a non-pejorative fashion, ‘the police’. What he postulates as ‘politics’, rather, is the activity “antagonistic to policing: [as] 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.” Modes of contestation proper to politics, as such, cannot occur within a preconfigured, preordained space, for such a notion presupposes ‘recognized’ actors and roles that are already acknowledged as ‘parties’ (those possessing the capacity of ‘understandable’ speech). The Agon, as such, if it is to be understood as within the realm of politics, is an appearance of an aesthetic sphere that is forever becoming, continually re-drawing lines of demarcation, roles, names, operations and modes of speech / communicative acts.

The making visible of Agon, hinges on the realm of the invisible, uncounted, un-placed and non-situated. But, following up on Agamben’s analysis of ‘exceptionality’, one cannot simply polarize the counted and the uncounted, the ‘police’ and politics, for the two domains pass through one another (Agamben calls this ‘di-polarities’). Rather what is necessary is to examine the ‘modes of indistinction’ that accommodate such a ‘passing through’. Such a conceptual configuration of ‘politics’ and ‘exclusion’ reposition the ethics of the author who seeks to engage in the ‘political’ realm; whose task is not merely to make visible the invisible, but rather to allude to the more complicated, nameless terrain, that constitutes the indifference between inside and outside.

Nietzsche’s “virtù” ethics will spur on the discussion surrounding the ethics of the authorial, in close attention to Bonnie Honig’s account of a “virtue / virtù” political ethics that perpetuate modes of contest and unsettlement. Arendt’s reading of Kant, in particular her notes on the Kantian spectator will also factor in since any discussion of an aesthetic appearance must include reference to the one who has the capacity to experience.