SLabrecque Ranciere Art Pedagogy Politics

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    THE COMMUNITY THAT COUNTS: Parts & Places, Maturity & Emancipation, and Scenes/Stages in Jacques Rancires Account of Art, Pedagogy, and Politics

    Le plus simple serait de ne pas commencer. Mais je suis oblig de commencer. Cest dire que je suis oblig de continuer.

    Samuel Beckett, Linnommable

    Where to begin? At the beginning, it goes without sayingor so the saying goes. The

    injunction to begin at the beginning is a recurrent trope in Western political thought, from

    Platos Republic (let us begin again at the beginning (348a); the first step, as you

    know, is always what matters most (377a)) and Aristotles Politics (In this field, as in

    other fields, we shall be able to study our subject best if we begin at the beginning

    (1252a24); as the proverb goes, The beginning is half the job (1303b17))these two

    texts being commonly held as marking something like the beginning of political

    philosophyto the writings of someone like Jacques Rancire (Commenons par le

    commencement (1995, 19; 2003, 9)), for instance, who uses it more playfully.

    Interestingly, and althoughor rather, becausethey are usually presented as necessary,

    the beginnings in question often appear puzzling (at least in the beginning, that is until

    what follows starts to make sense) and in need of further justification. Where one begins

    does not quite go without saying, then, for it is only determined by a singular decision

    that makes a given beginning something that is precisely not given.

    In this paper, I attempt to delineate some of the stakes involved in the decisions

    about where and how to begin to think and write about the relations between art,

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    pedagogy, and politics. This means that I am attemptingthis is literally un essaito

    make beginnings into a question and a problem, rather than into a given (for arguably,

    givens are also made). In that sense, this essay can be contextualized within an array of

    scholarly works where the questioning and problematization of beginnings and related

    notions of origins, founding, novelty, and emergence, to name but a few, have already

    been engaged by many and in a variety of ways (more rigorously and with much more

    amplitude than I can master), in political philosophy (e.g. Arendt 1998; Walker 2010) as

    well as in other more or less disciplined disciplinary fields (e.g. Derrida 1974; Said

    1975)not to mention the importance that beginnings are given in the founding texts

    of Plato, Aristotle, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Kant, etc. If such critical inquiries constitute a

    marginal fraction of what is published in the social sciences and humanities, they

    nevertheless partake in making the givenness of beginnings into a proper question, or at

    least in making the unquestioning of beginnings into a slightly more uncomfortable

    posture in contemporary academe. Responding to this uncomfortableness, I am

    principally interested, here, in questioning beginnings in relation to a series of concerns

    about the interrelations taking place between the practices of art, pedagogy, and politics

    in the present moment (putting aside for now the problematic character of this very

    expression). More precisely, I am trying to think these interrelations as a field of

    problems by investigating the very uses of the notions of art, pedagogy, and politics as

    qualifications, especially when they take place at sites where associations operate

    between the three and where, in return, something of the limitsof the beginnings and

    endsof each notion might be expressed. I thus assume that thinking through what is at

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    stake in the decisions about where and how to begin engaging this field of problems is an

    interesting point of departure for actually engaging it.

    A beginning implies an end, and now I ought to begin by the end for it is that

    which can justify in advance the present work. In the end, my objective is twofold: on the

    one hand, I want to understand how specific notions of art, pedagogy, and politics are

    mobilized together in contemporary claims about the possible and plausible effects of

    practices of cultural research dealing with biotechnologies. This is the general research

    orientation within which this intervention is situated; it responds to the observation that,

    in the discourses intertwined with the practices at stake, their effects are recurrently

    qualified as more or less political through the use of the analogical trope: art as pedagogy

    as politics, the implications and effects of which are worth unfolding, I argue, if only

    because what it puts into play are aspects of our political imagination. On the other

    hand, I want to test the usefulness of Jacques Rancires work on the logics of art,

    pedagogy, and politics for starting to build this understanding. In effect, I read Rancire

    as one of the most stimulating and rigorous thinkers to have written about the logics of

    these manifold practices and their interrelations in recent years, in both francophone and

    anglophone academe. It is this second (yet preliminary) objective that I explore below

    with a critical intent, for critique is called for even more against what seduces us that

    against what repels us (Musil 1990, 267). I proceed by way of two main gestures. First, I

    address where and how, according to Rancire, one can and ought to begin, namely by

    considering a certain given on the ultimately ungrounded ground of what he calls the

    presupposition of equality. I address this claim by engaging the (now famous) distinction

    that he makes between a logic of the police that presupposes and reproduces inequality,

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    and a logic of politics that verifies equality as both the condition of possibility of

    inequality and as what possibly undermines it. What is at stake in these reflections is a

    sensibility to what different beginnings enable and disable. Second, I thus try to delineate

    what the mode of thought that sustains the distinction between police and politics cab

    itself enable and disable for thinking the beginnings of art, pedagogy and politics. I

    insist that these beginnings are best thought formally, that is in terms of practical

    operations, and that engaging them calls for an account of how artistic, pedagogical, and

    political practices have been and remain linked with the notion of emancipation in

    Western thought. This brings me to critically address the Rancires work as a thought of

    emancipation that both displaces canonical understandings of this processual notion as a

    passage to a maturity or an adulthood of sorts, but that nonetheless maintains a place,

    in the last analysis, for a certain figure of maturity. Finally, I bring this exploration to

    an end by briefly reassessing the critical role played by the notion of scnes (meaning

    both scenes and stages) in Rancires account, and I insist on its usefulness for thinking

    about beginnings as a problem when art, pedagogy, and politics are at stake.

    To Start With: The Distribution of Parts & Places and the Question of Equality

    La fin est dans le commencement et cependant on continue.

    Samuel Beckett, Fin de partie

    In order to understand where and how one can and even ought to begin, according to

    Jacques Rancire, when thinking and writing about the interrelations between artistic,

    pedagogical, and political practices, lets begin by considering where and how he himself

    begins in his practices of writing. If Rancire does not explicitly incite his readers to

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    follow his example, to begin just where and as he begins, it is nonetheless useful to ask if

    and how his mode of writing is in line with the implications of his claims, to question

    how his own beginnings relate to his insistence on the importance of the decisions about

    where and how one begins for what can possibly and plausibly follow, and to assess

    whether where and how he begins constitutes an interesting example to take into account

    (unsurprisingly, I already presuppose that it is indeed an interesting example). The

    philosophers starting point is most often the description of a polemical configuration that

    characterizes academic conversations and/or broader commonsense discourses: an

    alleged return of a restored political philosophy (Rancire 1995, 9); a broad

    displacement of claims about emancipation from the political to the aesthetic terrain

    (2000, 8); a profusion of assertions about a disappearance of reality behind images and

    images behind reality (2003, 9); recurring diagnostics of an end of politics mixed with

    celebrations of its return (2004a, 9); denunciations of democracy as the reign of the

    unlimited desires of individuals in modern mass society (2005, 7); reiterated dismissals of

    spectatorship as the opposite of both knowledge and action (2008, 8); etc. Starting from

    such diagnostics enables Rancire to construct and present his texts as situated

    interventions, as a series of contingent analyses that do not add up to a system or a theory

    but that nevertheless have wider implications in that they reconstruct the conditions that

    made these configurations thinkable in the first place. More specifically, what the

    philosopher first and foremost questions in his polemical interventions is how idealities

    are produced, or in other words, how configurations of