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Why Rancire Now? Author(s): JOSEPH J. TANKE Source: Journal of Aesthetic Education, Vol. 44, No.

2 (SUMMER 2010), pp. 1-17 Published by: University of Illinois Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5406/jaesteduc.44.2.0001 . Accessed: 27/03/2014 09:58
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Why Rancire Now?


JOSEPH J. TANKE
I. Introduction As philosophys representative at an art college, a question is put to me by my colleagues, students, and other art-world types frequently enough that it is worth considering systematically: Why Rancire now? The query is in large part prompted by a recent issue of Artforum devoted to the work of the French philosopher Jacques Rancire, the publication of which caps a seemingly overnight ascendance within discussions of art and politics. The very temporality of the question indicates that the discovery of Rancire by art professionals is a relatively recent development. Why is this taking place now? To begin to answer this question, we must rst understand something about the current relationship between theoretical discourse and artistic practice. That Rancire is only now beginning to be discussed within the art world is indeed surprising, given the long-standing reliance upon theoretical approaches and the fact that Baudrillard, Derrida, and Deleuze now function as standard reference points. While it would be incorrect to say that Rancire was an unknown quantity in the Anglophone world until recently, the sense of revelation suggested by the query Why now? must be understood in terms of the ongoing exchange between European theory and contemporary art. This is a conversation that, independent of ones perspective as to whether it has had positive or negative consequences, cannot be denied. With this relationship between Continental philosophy, art making, and critical discourses, one is justied in asking, Why is Rancire only now coming to be read with any seriousness in art circles? The point is sharpened when we note that Rancires work, unlike that of some of the more
Joseph J. Tanke is the Chalsty Professor of Aesthetics and Philosophy at California College of the Arts in San Francisco and Oakland, California. He has published and lectured extensively on issues in Continental philosophy, with a special emphasis on aesthetics and politics, as well as the works of Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze, and Jacques Rancire. Tanke is the author of Foucaults Philosophy of Art: A Genealogy of Modernity (Continuum, 2009), and Jacques Rancire: Philosophy, Politics, Aesthetics (forthcoming from Continuum). Journal of Aesthetic Education, Vol. 44, No. 2, Summer 2010 2010 Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois

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2 Tanke celebrated names, is more readily suited for an interface with critical art discourse, concerned as it is with aesthetic issues and the analysis of contemporary art. One might be tempted to nd lurking behind our question a certain amount of suspicion about further incursions by theory and detect a sense of exasperation at having yet another French name to pronounce. Those of us who nd this interaction between art and theory edifying, however, should not simply shrug off this question and attribute it to an aversion to philosophy, or to a backlash against the excess of the past two decades. Understanding the context in which the question is posed allows us to expand it. And, while not all would agree, I think it is safe to say that there is a tacit consensus that fruitful arrangements between art and philosophy can be forged. With this situation in mind, we might, therefore, transform our question into something like the following: What might Rancire contribute to the work of the nonphilosopher, placed, for good or ill, within a dispositif wherein art and European theory discourse about many of the same phenomena, but in different idioms? The advantage of this formulation, of course, is that it allows us to avoid many of the facile responses to our initial question, variations on a theme suggesting that Rancire is simply one of the few members of that esteemed generation of thinkers still living and that the turning to his work is indicative of a generalized anxiety about the future of theoretical developments. We might also, in thus expanding our question, sketch an answer directed at those working at the edges of their respective disciplines: philosophers, artists, critics, historiansin short, all those interested in questions of contemporary culture. In accordance with what Rancire describes as the fortuitous breakdown of specializations, my efforts in this essay are intended as a contribution to an interdisciplinary conversation that is grappling with the intellectual issues raised by works of art, their reception, and the historical discourses that are created around them. II. To Avoid Two Discourses of Mourning The temporality of our question, why now?, is hinted at by Rancire at various points throughout his own work and pertains to what might be characterized as the default theoretical position of art, that of mourning. For Rancire, this mourning takes two major forms: spectacle and the impossible. The former nds its genesis in the Situationist Internationals (S.I.) critique of commodity capitalism, while the latter emerges from Jean-Franois Lyotards reactivation of the Kantian sublime within an aesthetic-political context. Both discourses ascribe to art a greatly diminished role and, indeed, on Rancires telling, hasten the end of art. While Rancires work is by no means polemical, it works against these two positions in order to clear the

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Why Rancire Now? 3 ground for possible interventions. That is, his work attempts to cultivate a theoretical position that will allow us to understand how art can be active on the political stage rather than simply lament the failures of aesthetic and political collaboration throughout the twentieth century. One should hear in his emphasis on possibility the repudiation of all discourses that turn art into the dressing for some type of wound, just as one should understand titles such as The Emancipated Spectator as indicative of the positive features that he locates within contemporary viewershipdespite all that we know about spectacle, commodication, domination, and the narcissism of the gaze.1 For the Situationists the demands on art were placed so highthe complete transcendence of existing art and life in favor of authentically lived situationsthat many creative efforts can easily be denounced as partaking of their opposite, namely, spectacle. Culture, for the S.I., is the primary vehicle by which the commodity form dominates social life, and art is nothing but a further means of alienating spectators from life as it might be lived. In many ways it is astounding that the S.I. continues to be such an important reference point for contemporary artistic practice, given that the spectacle is such an all-consuming category that most forms of cultural production can, from its vantage point, be easily denounced as ideological manipulations or moments of false clarity.2 From Rancires perspective, this self-defeating discourse turns practice into failure from the outset, inasmuch as art can never play the role of a radical negation in the way that the S.I. would have liked. He demonstrates how a type of Platonism creeps into what is ostensibly one of the freshest theoretical perspectives, by means of Feuerbachs inuence on Debords formulation of the spectacle. Accordingly, what we nd is that the image is always contrasted with real being and spectatorship construed as passivity.3 Rancire seeks to rehabilitate looking as an activity, arguing that it involves the redistribution of allotted roles, customary expectations, and established identities. Why identify looking with passivity if not by the presupposition that looking means looking at the image or the appearance, that it means being separated from the reality that is always behind the image?4 For Rancire, these very distinctions partake of a historically contingent way of dividing up our experience of the world. In accordance with his formulation of the aesthetic regime of art, and Joseph Jacotots radical theses on the equality of intelligences, Rancire reexamines the question of spectatorship in order to show how, far from being the place in which individuals are locked into positions of passivity, viewership recongures the division of labor by implementing practices of equality. Despite Lyotards many engagements with works of visual and literary art, his philosophical analysis of the epistemological-political situation of postmodernity strips art of any of the emancipatory hopes that modernity placed upon it. For Lyotard, the role of postmodern art is to bear witness to

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4 Tanke the unpresentablethat is, to attest to the irreconcilable gulf separating an Idea of reason and its realization and to do this without generating nostalgia for their unication.5 Within the Kantian framework, the sublime emerges from the ability of the mind to conceive of an Idea for which no representation is possible. Lyotard, however, takes the experience of the sublime to be emblematic of reality more generally, transforming it into shorthand for the failure of the modern projects of political emancipation. His thinking, of course, is deeply inected by the horrors of the twentieth century and the disastrous efforts to give sensuous form to political Ideas. Art, for Lyotard, can attest to these atrocities, but it should do so only obliquely. Art should never attempt to give a representation of the horrors of the Nazi camps but instead demonstrate that, with the failure of thought and language, such events are unrepresentable.6 Admittedly, this is a limit case, but one which is nevertheless indicative of Lyotards position in general.7 In response, Rancire attempts to demonstrate how the very question of the possibility or impossibility of representation partakes of a historical error, one that tacitly ascribes to art the duty of faithfully imitating a given action or experience. That is, he argues that the discourses that mourn the impossibility of providing an adequate depiction of experience rely upon an understanding of art that is no longer our own. In making the case, Rancire invokes his oftencited distinction between the representative regime of art and the aesthetic revolution that has eclipsed it.8 III. The Distribution of the Sensible: Three Regimes of Image and Art Given that Rancires language is only beginning to penetrate artistic and philosophical circles, it will be helpful to develop some of his central notions before proceeding. Essential to his thinking is the notion of the regime, which has three forms and corresponds to three different distributions of the sensible: the ethical regime of images, the representative regime of art, and the aesthetic regime of art. To say that these three regimes are historically constituted, as Rancire does, is not to place them within a strict chronological relation that corresponds to the history of styles and forms. Even though the ethical regime of images emerges from the thinking of Plato, the representative from that of Aristotle, and the aesthetic regime from, among other things, nineteenth-century literature, they are active within different historical periods and, in some cases, contemporaneous. Rancire, for example, understands cinema as negotiating the dictates of both the representative and aesthetic regimes.9 Regime, therefore, should be understood as only loosely chronological schema, given that all three ways of discursively ordering the arts still exist. The notion is used by Rancire to designate a grid of historical interpretation that allows for the politics of a particular conception and practice of art to come into view. At points, he compares

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Why Rancire Now? 5 his search for the historical conditions of possibility with Michel Foucaults archaeological method, and it can be helpful to think of a regime as similar to the episteme, provided that we understand that for Rancire regimes are not historical thresholds that are mutually exclusive. I would say that my approach is a bit similar to Foucaults. It retains the principle from the Kantian transcendental that replaces the dogmatism of truth with the search for conditions of possibility. . . . I differ from Foucault insofar as his archaeology seems to me to follow a schema of historical necessity according to which, beyond a certain chasm, something is no longer thinkable. . . . I thus try . . . to historicize the transcendental and to de-historicize these systems of conditions of possibility.10 What the notion of the regime does is to allow us to reconstruct the practical and conceptual networks that account for the emergence of a given distribution of the sensible. As the term indicates, the stakes of a regime are political in that they structure, mostly generally, subjectivity. With the formulation of the regime, Rancire is attempting to analyze le partage du sensible. Numerous translations for this important phrase have been put forward, none of which entirely capture the levels of resonance that it has throughout Rancires work. Both distribution of the sensible and partition of the sensible highlight the fact that politics is aesthetic and aesthetics political inasmuch as both are activities that dene forms of inclusion and exclusion at the level of what is perceptible. A given distribution thus delimits, in advance, forms of participation and subjectivity, by rst dening what is visible or invisible, audible or inaudible, and said and unsaid. As Rancire repeatedly argues, the very construction of these binary oppositions is political to the degree that they dene ways of being, that is, forms of subjectivity. Rancire never ceases denouncing the legacy of Platos injunction that laborers are barred from political activity because they are temporally incapable of devoting themselves to anything other than manual work. What Rancires study of nineteenth-century workers archives taught him was that resistance often took the form of artistic or literary expression. Workers were, he found, usurping the privileges of literary language to assert an equality denied by the division of labor. Time is again the key, as the title of his doctoral dissertation, La Nuit des proltaires, indicates. In order to reframe the space-time of the occupation, the workers had to invalidate the most common partition of time: the partition according to which workers would work during the day and sleep during the night. . . . That basic overturning involved a whole reconguration of the partition of experience. It involved a process of disidentication, another relation to speech, visibility and so on.11 As these examples indicate, Rancire understands aesthetics in a rather specialized sense. It is not for him, as one might expect, the eld of r esearch

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6 Tanke known as the philosophy of art, even though his work is replete with consequences for such pursuits. Aesthetics, as it was for Kant, pertains to the a priori forms of sensible intuitionthat is, the factorstime and space that occasion the way things appear. These transcendental conditions are not, however, located in the subject but embodied in practices, institutions, and cultural divisions. Time and space are political questions because their distributions dene forms of subjectivity and political participation. This means that politics, for Rancire, takes on an interventionist form: Politics consists of reconguring the distribution of the sensible that denes the common of a community, by introducing into it subjects and new objects, in rendering visible those who were not, and of making understood as speakers those who were only understood as noisy animals.12 Art is political and politics artistic because both are practices of contesting the historicaltranscendental factors that delimit the social and ascribe to individuals a particular mode of subjectivity. There is another sense to le partage du sensible that tends to be lost in English discussions of Rancires work. This hinges on the word partage. The French verb partager indicates the activity of distributing or dividing up; it is also employed to describe the action of sharing something. A common expression, for example, is the saying On partage comme des frres, that is, We will share like brothers. The noun form, le partage, carries this same sense. A distribution of the sensible is also a sharing of the sensible. Therefore, at the same time as we hear distribution or partition we should also understand that these arrangements are shared, that is, that they are ways of dening a world that is common: [W]hat links the practice of art to the question of the common is the constitution, at once material and symbolic, of a certain space-time, of suspense with respect to the ordinary forms of sensible experience.13 It is on this basis that Rancire questions one of our familiar art historical narratives, namely, that modernism is the period in which the arts set themselves that task of separating themselves from one another. In contrast, he argues that art has been undergoing a process of despecication witnessed in the relentless questioning of traditional boundaries and identities. As Rancire reads the development of what is called modernism, the various arts are increasingly engaged in the activity of constructing the shared world; in undertaking this project they continually swap strategies and employ common approaches. It is important to emphasize the shared aspect of a distribution of the sensible, not only to describe the social nature of these distributions but also to highlight their political potential, that is, the possibility that lurks in art for instituting practices of equality. Rancire was rst read in the United States for his presentation of the life and writings of Joseph Jacotot, and this work deeply informs his thinking on art, education, and politics. Jacotot was a revolutionary pedagogue who, in the nineteenth century, devised a

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Why Rancire Now? 7 method of instruction that promised to overthrow educational hierarchies. Jacotots practice was termed universal teaching (enseignement universel), and he and his disciples were not shy about its aspirations: namely, intellectual emancipation. They demonstrated, in the midst of the French Restoration, that all intellects were equal and that an illiterate peasant could teach a child to read through sheer force of will. For Jacotot and Rancire, the equality of persons is not a goal to be advanced by educational or political reform. It is a principle that is either veried or denied by our educational, cultural, and political practices. Rancire, taking up the position of Jacotot, explains: What interests us is the exploration of the powers of any man when he judges himself equal to everyone else and judges everyone else equal to him.14 Aesthetic experience reafrms this principle by treating all to whom a work is addressed as capable of understanding and translating its message: The artists emancipatory lesson, opposed on every count to the professors stultifying lesson, is this: each one of us is an artist to the extent that he carries out a double process; he is not content to be a mere journeyman but wants to make all work a means of expression, and he is not content to feel something but tries to impart it to others. The artist needs equality as the explicator needs inequality.15 While not all distributions of the sensible partake of equality, the intersubjective veriability of aesthetic experience tacitly posits Jacotots prin ciple. The promise that Rancire locates within aesthetic experience relates directly to its potential for overturning established hierarchies, and the principle of equality provides him with a means for adjudicating amongst the regimes that he analyzes. Rancire has described three major distributions of the sensible, the rst of which he calls the ethical regime of images. Within his discussions of art, this rst distribution is employed the least frequently for the simple reason that, within the ethical regime of images, art as such does not exist. This regime is articulated in Platos critique of imitation (mime sis) and his famous expulsion of the poets from the Republic. In The Philosopher and His Poor, Rancire demonstrates how this inaugural gesture springs from the division of labor in which, for Plato, one man must perform one and only one job.16 It follows that mime sis must be restricted to the extent that imitation overturns this strict distribution of roles and competencies. Indeed, as Rancire presents the motivations of Platonism, it is only the philosopher who has the right of imitation, the right to adjudicate amongst the claims of the sensible, and the right to construct ctions. Poetry (poie sis), understood in the broadest sense as bringing something new into being, was rightly judged as subversive to the distributions of time and space that Plato inscribed within the Republic. When justice resides in harmony amongst the various parts of the city, and when this order is guaranteed by a ctionthe so-called

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8 Tanke noble lie that convinces everyone that his/her position is naturalnew narratives have the potential to unbind established communities. New im ages, therefore, both plastic and literary, must be contained. Plato achieves this by evaluating two things: an images faithfulness to an Idea, and its effects upon a community. Within the ethical regime of images, there is no art, because all arts/crafts (techne ) are judged by these two factors. For Plato, there are only the true arts, which preserve the integrity of the community, and malicious simulacra. The latter category of images must be discarded because of their ethical effects. As Rancire explains, it is a matter of knowing in what way images mode of being affect the ethos . . . of individuals and communities.17 This problematic prevents art as such from emerging, subordinating its ways of doing and making to the distributions of roles that dene a given polity. The representative regime of art emerges through the operations that Aristotle carried out in his critique of Plato. Linking poie sis with the imitation of action, Aristotle is attempting to dene a form of ction that would be acceptable to the Platonist. The representation of great and noble deeds, which Aristotle denes as the task of tragedy, insulates mime sis from the Platonic critique, tying it to a subject deemed worthy of attention. The Poetics declares that the arrangement of a poems actions is not equivalent to the fabrication of simulacrum.18 The emphasis on tragic action informs the internal structure of the poetic work, and thereby subordinates other dramatic elements to the faithful representation of events. Character development and description are distributed around the axiom of action and, by and large, left underdeveloped. The representative regime of art thereby generates a form of normativity that denes appropriate forms of representation for different subjects. It prescribes correct ways of representing a corresponding subject matter and pins judgment to the assessment of this relationship between form and matter. The representative primacy of action over character or of narration over description, the hierarchy of genres according to the dignity of their subject matter . . . these elements gure into an analogy with a fully hierarchical vision of the community.19 The relative prestige accorded to various genres mirrors the social hierarchies from which such arrangements spring, distributing the ways in which things, held to be of different ranks, are seen. Two major consequences follow from the poetics of the representative regime. First, Rancire sees this distribution as providing the essential en ergy behind paintings divisions between so-called high and low subjects and the corresponding ways in which they are handled throughout a large part of its history. This poetics is what informed the historical priority that placed mythological, religious, and historical scenes over so-called genre painting. Following the logic spelled out by Aristotle, the former deal with actions of great signicance, while the latter present the viewer with mere

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Why Rancire Now? 9 uriosities. The representative distribution of the sensible provides the c conditions for the possibility of the well-known differences of scope and size in paintings throughout the classical age: large canvases were reserved for the representation of events, while scenes from the lives of common people were handled on a diminutive scale. Secondand this is a related point representative poetics provide Rancire with a means for describing various stylistic transformations carried out at the level of paintings formal properties. The fact that painting is, for a large part of its history, structured around the task of pulling three dimensions out of two stems from the relationship that is established between painting and discursivity. Classical poetics established a relationship of correspondence . . . between speech and painting, between the sayable and the visible, which gave imitation its own specic space.20 This means that, for Rancire, the appearance of painting must be understood according to the dictates of the representative regime, which privileges the imitation of action. Painting rediscovers the illusionistic space of representation in the fteenth century when it adopts the Aristotelean idea that a painting ought to convey a story. Abstraction can appear only through the invalidation of this distribution of the sensible, that is, by challenging the convention that art must imitate action. In order for painting to concern itself with itself, the subject matter of painting must rst be treated with a certain amount of indifference, or, in Rancires terms, equality. The aesthetic regime of the arts is, above all, the abolition of the hierarchies entailed by the representative regime. It undermines the rules of distribution that equate subjects with certain forms of presentation, positing the equivalence of subject matter. By bringing previously neglected aspects of existence into the space of the page or place of the canvas, the aesthetic regime redenes the contours of what can be seen and said. The aesthetic regime of the arts did not begin with decisions to initiate an artistic rupture. It began with decisions to reinterpret what makes art or what art makes.21 Such a questioning overturns the normativity of the previous regime, which insisted upon a strict correlation between aesthetic form and subject matter. For Rancire, the aesthetic regime encompasses a broad selection of currents as diverse as Realism, Romanticism, abstraction in painting, the supposed intransitivity of modern literature, and even the development of the social sciences. What unites these disparate endeavors is their elimination of the partitioning of the representative regime in favor of what Rancire calls a sensorium, that is, the idea that anything sensible, when beheld from the right angle, could captivate the mind, and instruct it in a new way of being. The sensorium breaks from everyday experience, suspending the opposition between the activity of reason and the passivity of sensibility. In positing their reconciliation, the sensorium overturns the hierarchies that spring from reasons dominion over the sensible and that are manifested in the aesthetic proprieties of the representative regime.22 As Rancire understands

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10 Tanke it, the sensorium of the aesthetic regime negates any necessary relationship between form and content through its insistence upon the equality of all subject matter.23 In this context, Rancire often cites Flaubert, a novelist who, despite his reactionary politics, was accused by critics of smuggling democratic ideals under the guise of literature. By equating the inner life of a provincial doctors wife with epic heroes, Flaubert gives voice and visibility to that which had previously been located out of bounds. The aesthetic regime is marked by the attitude that nds in the material and situations of everyday life grounds for aesthetic contemplation. It contends that, when presented in the correct way, the lives of common people, the interiors of bourgeois homes, the markets of Paris, and commodity form can all be viewed as providing subject matter for the arts. Through afrming equality at the level of subject matter, it thus invalidates the representative regimes distribution of the sensible. IV. The Politics and Promise of the Aesthetic Regime Rancires work is critical of the theories of art that threaten to obscure the politics and promise of the aesthetic regime by diverting it into any number of discourses on arts failure. In his work he traces the historical development of two such dead ends: the total effacement of the boundary between art and life, and the complete separation of art from life. By returning to the original scene of aesthetics, as it is articulated in Schillers Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Mankind, he shows that the aesthetic regime of art maintains an intimate connection between art and life, which he terms the heterogeneous sensible. The promise of this connection is, at various points, obfuscated by different ways of enacting this link between art and life. Rancires efforts are intended to prevent both art and theory from stumbling into an impasse by opposing to discourses of mourning the analysis of possibility. With Schiller, Rancire is interested in how aesthetic experience is charged with the twofold promise of creating a new world of art and a new communal life. In a sense, the whole problem lies in a very small preposition. Schiller says that aesthetic experience will bear the edice of the art of the beautiful and the art of living. The entire question of the politics of aestheticsin other words, of the aesthetic regime of artturns on this short conjunction. The aesthetic experience is effective inasmuch as it is the experience of that and.24 Since the aesthetic regime is born of this fundamental heterogeneitythe copresence of art and nonartit must avoid going to extremes when grap pling with this internal tension. Insisting exclusively upon arts autonomy turns it into mere art; denying the differences between the aesthetic experience and the practices of life turns art into mere life. Both options simultaneously

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Why Rancire Now? 11 end art and its political possibilities. For Rancire, a successful philosophy of art navigates these two extremes, holding to the ambiguous political destiny of art within the aesthetic regimethat of making promises that it itself cannot realize. It is only when we demand of art more than it can deliver that discourses of mourning take root. Rancire argues that the characterizations of art found in the works of Debord and Lyotard are merely two ways of responding to the promise of the aesthetic revolution. Accordingly, the former discourse, in which all art is marred by spectacle, is described as the vestige of the Romanticism that attempted to head off the end of art that was posited by German Idealism under the inuence of museum chronologies. Responding to these temporalities that inscribed death in the very life of art by presenting it as the development of styles and forms, Romanticism posited a new poetics through which life and art exchange their properties. Finding within everyday life the makings of aesthetic experience, Romanticism sought to re-enchant the work of art: The principle of Romanticism is . . . found in a multiplication of the temporalities of art that renders its boundaries permeable. Multiplying its lines of temporalities means complicating and ultimately dismissing the straightforward scenarios . . . of the end of art; and replacing them with scenarios of latency and re-actualization.25 This strategy for avoiding the death of art, however, carries its own risk. Romanticisms poetics temporarily circumvents the end of art, but in seeking to re-aestheticize the work by aestheticizing the world, it blurs the boundaries that served as a guarantee for the promise of the aesthetic experience. When all becomes artistic, we are hard pressed to justify the critical hopes that we placed upon the work of art. Spectacle merely conrms this process, marking the point at which art is no longer able to distinguish itself from the refuse of consumer culture. Lyotards aesthetics of the sublime also responds to the thesis of the end of art, but it does so by moving in the opposite direction. It advances a line of thinking that contends that art runs aground when it effaces the borders that separate it from life. It follows that the duty of aesthetic theory and the avant-garde is to lay claim to the autonomy of art, thereby insulating it from the ravages of kitsch that would hasten its disappearance. Lyotard adds a twist, however, when he contends that art must not merely separate itself from other forms of life, but that in doing so, it must expose the illusions of reconciliation carried by the aesthetic form itself. As Rancire explains this imperative: The avant-garde is endowed with the paradoxical duty of bearing witness to an immemorial dependency of human thought that makes any promise of emancipation a deception.26 Art is thereby diverted from politics into ethics. For Rancire, the affront is compounded when art is prescribed an impossible ethical task: the innite mourning of the fundamental unrepresentability of the Ideas of human reason. This is

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12 Tanke the equivalent of ending art, in that it undermines the fragile politics of the aesthetic regimethat is, the lines that it draws between changes in the distributions of time and space and the demand that we change life. Rancires work afrms through its analysis of the history of aesthetics, as well as concrete artistic arrangements, that the political vocation of art remains open. The critical reappraisals of the history of modernism that he proposes are designed to show that the domain of possibility ought not to be abandoned at this critical point when both politics and art are discovering their global identities. In doing so, he speaks to many of our anxieties about citizenship in the twenty-rst century, proposing that we once again take up the vexing question about the relationship between art and politics in order to reinvigorate both domains. He argues that both of these terms should be understood in a rather specialized sense in order to highlight how both are engaged in a common project of sharing the sensible: 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.27 Art, he argues, has a political function, independent of its explicit content. It instructs viewers in alternative temporalities and spacings, and, in its best moments, calls upon us to question what we take for granted. Art, like politics, is an action that engages in the distribution of the sensible, challenging the apportionment of time and space and contesting the allotment of subjectivity. As Bettina Funcke explains in Artforum, this is a particularly appealing message for an art world that has been conned by its supposed autonomy for too long and is struggling to articulate how it might contribute to the emerging century.28 If art prots from the comparison, politics does so as well. According to Rancire, the latter can nd in art the impetus for renewing the effort to reinstate the equality that is denied by our current division of labor and assignation of subject positions. For Rancire, politics is not a reection on the sources of, or justications for, the exercise of power. It is an intervention at the level of what is visible and audible. Politics is the action by which a distribution of the sensible is called into questionthat is, it is the process by which the exclusions embodied in sensible congurations are made explicit and their allotments of identity are challenged. Rancire, as he himself frequently points out, rejects Walter Benjamins thesis about the aestheticization of politics, arguing that politics is aesthetic in its very essence: 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.29 Concretely, this means that politics is aesthetic in that it operates upon the transcendental conditions that structure the distribution of the sensible and thus the subjects that inhabit it. Rancire demonstrates that by deploying a voice that one was thought not to possess, one alters the distributions of hierarchical society: Politics

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Why Rancire Now? 13 occurs wherever a community with the capacity to argue and make up metaphors is likely . . . to crop up.30 Art and literature are often the rst places where marginalized subjects rst assume the right of the voice. Aesthetic acts are interventions within the distribution of the sensible and form points for resistance by opening up worlds where subjects are constituted as political subjects. The worker who . . . attempts to make rhymes according to the fashion of the day is perhaps more dangerous to the existing ideological order than one who recites revolutionary songs.31 In redistributing the sensible, these actions bear witness to an equality that had been denied by the division of labor. In this sense, one cannot overestimate the inuence of Joseph Jacotots thought on Rancires own. The radical nineteenth-century pedagogue did more, however, than simply teach us about the equality that exists between intelligences; he exposed the mechanisms by which the division of laborthe divide between those who are active in thought and those who are its passive recipientsmanages to preserve itself. Stultication is the name given to any cultural procedure that convinces one person of her inferioritythat is, that deviates from the equality promised by the materiality and thus the veriability of the page, canvas, screen, or installation. The aesthetic regime, in Rancires telling, is conrmation of Jacotots principle and an indictment of the social forces that conspire to block its promise. Aesthetic art suspends the oppositions between active and passive, between form and content, thus positing communication between equals. Rancire summarizes the experience of the aesthetic regime within nineteenth- century thought: The fabricating activity and the sensible emotion (lmotion sensible) meet each other freely, like two pieces of nature which no longer testify to any hierarchy of the active intelligence on the sensible passivity (la passivit sensible). This separating of nature from itself is the place of a new equality. And this equality inscribes itself in a story that bears . . . a new promise.32 Rancires work consists of holding open this promise. In returning us to some sources that are, admittedly, no longer fashionableKant, Schiller, and Schlegelhe attempts to shed light on the metapolitics of our current art practices, that is, on the demands made by our forms of doing and making. In holding open this promise, Rancire employs the notion of the aesthetic regime to contest and expand the traditional categories of modernism. His work challenges the narratives that blind us to what is common to the various arts: the re-creation of social life. He contends, for example, that what unites both the supposedly pure poetry of Stphane Mallarm and the industrial engineering of Peter Behrens is the effort to generate forms of art that will usher in new forms of life. In The Future of the Image Rancire argues against the conventional wisdom that presents modernity as a period in which the arts set about their respective efforts of self-purication. With

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14 Tanke the examples of Mallarm and Behrens, he shows how, within the aesthetic regime, an unprecedented series of borrowings occur, inasmuch as both artists are attempting to dene a new mode of collective life. By referring their respective practices to the common art of design, both the poet and the engineer lay out, within the blank space of the page, types in which it is hoped that new forms of existence can be found. Analyses such as this are not, I suggest, instances of an excessively broad philosophical approach to the history of artistic practices. It is in line with one of the features of the aesthetic regime that Rancire highlights: the disdain for traditional institutional identities and competencies. Both Mallarm and Behrens are examples of the despecication that takes place as the arts exchange their strategies. For Rancire, the chronological markers of modernity and postmodernity need to be challenged because they obscure the becoming common of the arts in their demand for a new way of life.33 V. Conclusion At rst glance, it might seem foolhardy to analyze practices as dynamic and diverse as video, sculpture, installation, painting, and performance armed with an understanding of art fashioned two centuries ago. How, one might ask, can we possibly understand what takes place within these media from a vantage point as traditional as aesthetics? Likewise, we should ask, how is it possible to do justice to the wealth of perspectives that have been opened up by the analyses that locate art within a sociocultural eld? Do we not risk abandoning many of the tremendously important critical discourses Marxism, feminism, queer theory, and ethnic studiesthat have, on the one hand, unmasked the privileges that are entailed in representation, and, on the other, been so essential for stimulating new practices and strategies? The more focused understanding of aesthetics that Rancire proposes need not detract from these endeavors, nor the many analyses that have been performed under the headings of the philosophy of art and visual studies. On the contrary, the methods that Rancire proposes share with these approaches the aim of politicizing artistic arrangements or, more precisely, showing how artistic arrangements carry their own politics. One of the advantages of his approach, as I see it, is that it demonstrates how art is political at the level of its very existence. Art, for Rancire, is not simply political when it engages political content but in its essence as that which challenges the distribution of roles by reconguring our experiences of time and space. Rancire shows how the work of art can be politicized from the insidethat is, how it does not require an added layer of discourse in order to, as Foucault once put it, make a force pass.34 By attending to the political stakes of a given work, at the level of its distributions of space and time, the notion of the aesthetic regime allows us to see how an arrangement either conrms a hierarchical arrangement or engages in an act of disidentication. The lat-

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Why Rancire Now? 15 ter is the movement by which art contests what is and posits a new way of c onguring the possibilities of space and time. As the term disidentication indicates, this action has everything to do with subjectivity, given that the partitioning of the sensible is also the distribution of political roles. A regime traces in advance modes of political participation. The aesthetic attitude is the moment of their overturning. Rancires approach, moreover, is particularly suited to the so-called new media that populate our side of the aesthetic regime. These are practices in which time and spacethat is, the conditions for the possibility of subjectivityare taken as the object of experimentation. In pushing at the limits of what can be seen and what can be said, we are, Rancire contends, simultaneously experimenting with new ways of living. Art is a way of doing and making that teaches that everything can be undone and remade. Here, one thinks of the multifaceted installations of Olafur Eliasson and the careful reshaping of time and space that take place therein. These are rareed works that are seemingly far removed from the politics of everyday life; however, when viewed through Rancires lens, one can argue that these altered experiences remind us that the possible emerges by means of the slightest intervention. In this sense, Eliassons recent admonition to the city of San Francisco, Take your time, could be understood as the watchword for the arts in general, and the demands that they place upon the viewer. Works such as Eliassons do not just instruct viewers in patience by insisting upon the temporal unfolding of meaning; they testify to the possibility of redistributing the practices of life along new lines.35 If Rancires work often sounds a utopian note, it is because it is contesting the antiutopian discourses that renounce the difcult terrain wherein aesthetics and politics refer to one another incessantly. Opposing the discourses of mourning that limit in advance what can be done and said, Rancire opens up a new temporal plane within our present distribution of the sensible. He rejects the theoretical accounts that prescribe art the role of providing ironic commentary on the domination of life by the commodity form, just as he challenges the diversion of its political capacity into an impossible ethics of the sublime. Both theoretical positions amount to a renunciation of the aesthetic regimes radical vision: that of overturning the hierarchies that distribute subjectivities and limit potentialities. What Rancire teaches is that the eld opened up by the aesthetic regime of art contains the promise of the much more difcult art, that of living well.

NOTES 1. The Emancipated Spectator is the title of the essay that was republished in Artforum. In that piece, Rancire questions the long-standing position that identi es spectatorship with passivity. He argues that lookingin particular the looking demanded by theatre and contemporary artis a way of being active, and

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16 Tanke
such a looking has the potential to recongure political subjectivity. See Jacques Rancire, Emancipated Spectator, Artforum (March 2007): 217-80. See Guy Debord, La Socit du Spectacle (Paris: ditions Gallimard, 1992), in particular chap. 8, La ngation et la consommation dans la culture, 177-200. Ranciere detects a similar type of defeatism in the notion of relational aesthetics and the idea that the best that art can offer is an ironic commentary on the commodication of social life. See Jacques Rancire, Malaise dans lesthtique (Paris: Galile, 2004), 34-36. All translations of this text are my own. Jacques Rancire, The Emancipated Spectator, 277. Let us be clear: both modern art and postmodern art are understood in terms of the Kantian sublime, and the impossibility of providing a representation for the Ideas of reason. The key difference is that the modern demonstrates nostalgia for the possible reconciliation, whereas the postmodern takes delight in the pain induced by nally giving up such utopian aspirations. For Lyotards discussion of Claude Lanzmanns Shoah, see Jean-Franois Lyotard, Heidegger et les juifs (Paris: Galile, 1988). Jean-Franois Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, trans. Geoff Bennington and Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984), 81. The postmodern would be that which . . . puts forward the unrepresentable in presentation itself; that which denies itself the solace of good forms, the consensus of a taste which would make it possible to share collectively the nostalgia for the unattainable; that which searches for new presentations, not in order to enjoy them but in order to impart a stronger sense of the unpresentable. Rancire discusses the Shoah and its supposed unrepresentability in a number of places. His argument is that the very question relies on a misunderstanding of art within the twentieth century, one which incorrectly equates art with the means and goals of the representative regime. Rancire argues that the type of description found in the memoirs of survivors and the witnessing to the unrepresentable that is attributed to Claude Lanzmanns Shoah partake of the aesthetic regime of art. The short notations at the beginning of Antelmes book LEspce humaine, describing the latrines and setting the scene of the camp at Buchenwald, answer to the same pattern of description of Emma Bovarys farmyard. Similarly, Claude Lanzmanns lm Shoah . . . can be traced back to Orson Welless Rosebud in Citizen Kane. The argument of the unrepresentable does not t the experience of artistic practice. Rather, it fulls the desire that there be something unrepresentable, something unavailable, in order to inscribe in the practice of art the necessity of the ethical detour. For Rancire all such ethical detours are an avoidance of the politics of aesthetics, and the implicit claims the aesthetic makes upon equality. See Jacques Rancire, The Aesthetic Revolution and Its Outcomes, in New Left Review (MarchApril 2002): 9. For an in-depth discussion of the same topic, and an engagement with Lyotard, see Are Some Things Unrepresentable? in Jacques Rancire, The Future of the Image, trans. Gregory Elliot (New York: Verso, 2007), 109-38. Jacques Rancire, Film Fables, trans. Emiliano Battista (New York: Berg, 2006), 1-20. Jacques Rancire, Interview for the English Edition, in The Politics of Aesthetics: The Distribution of the Sensible, trans. Gabriel Rockhill (New York: Continuum, 2006), 50. Jacques Rancire, From Politics to Aesthetics? Paragraph 28, no. 1 (2005): 14. Jacques Rancire, Malaise dans lesthtique, 38. Ibid., 36. Jacques Rancire, The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons on Intellectual Emancipation, trans. Kristin Ross (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1991), 56-57. Ibid., 70-71.

2. 3.

4. 5.

6. 7.

8.

9. 10. 11. 12. 13. 14. 15.

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Why Rancire Now? 17


16. Jacques Rancire, The Philosopher and His Poor, trans. John Drury, Corinne Oster, and Andrew Parker (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003), 3-53. 17. Jacques Rancire, The Politics of Aesthetics, 21. 18. Ibid., 36. 19. Ibid., 22. 20. Ibid., 16. 21. Ibid., 25. 22. Jacques Rancire, Malaise dans lesthtique, 22. 23. Jacques Rancire, The Politics of Aesthetics, 14. 24. Jacques Rancire, The Aesthetic Revolution and Its Outcomes, 1. 25. Ibid., 6. 26. Ibid., 9. 27. Jacques Rancire, The Politics of Aesthetics, 13. 28. Bettina Funcke, Displaced Struggles, Artforum (March 2007): 284. 29. Jacques Rancire, The Politics of Aesthetics, 13. 30. Jacques Rancire, Disagreement: Politics and Philosophy, trans. Julie Rose (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999), 60. 31. Quoted in Kristin Ross, May of 68 and Its Afterlives (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002), 129. This initially appeared as Jacques Rancire, Le bon temps ou la barrire des plaisirs, Rvoltes Logiques 7 (SpringSummer 1978): 30. 32. Jacques Rancire, Malaise dans lesthtique, 24. 33. For Rancires discussion of Mallarm and Behrens, see The Surface of Design, in The Future of the Image, trans. Gregory Elliot (New York: Verso, 2007), 91-107. Rancire explains that the commonality he locates in the work of Mallarm and Behrens exemplies the tendencies of the aesthetic regime more generally: The modern aesthetic revolution . . . is the abolition of the parallelism that aligned artistic hierarchies with social hierarchies; the assertion that there are no noble or base subjects and that everything is a subject for art. But it is also the abolition of the principle that separated the practices of imitation from the forms and objects of ordinary existence (106). 34. Foucault, in a little-known essay on the painter Paul Rebeyrolle, once explained: Painting has at least this in common with discourse: when it makes a force pass, which creates history, it is political. See Michel Foucault, La force de fuir, in Foucault: Dits et crits I, 1954-1975, ed. Daniel Defert, Franois Ewald, and Jacques Lagrange (Paris: ditions Gallimard, 2001), 1269. This essay rst appeared as Michel Foucault, La force de fuir, Derrire le miroir: Rebeyrolle, no. 202 (March 1973): 1-8. Derrire le miroir was a publication of the Maeght Gallery of Paris and accompanied the gallerys exhibitions. This issue devoted to Rebeyrolle accompanied an exhibition of his paintings in March of 1973. All translations of this text are my own. 35. Take Your Time: Olafur Eliasson, was the rst major survey of the Icelandic artist in the United States (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, September 8, 2007 to February 24, 2008). Eliasson works in a number of media, including sculpture, photography, and installation. His work thematizes issues of perception and often immerses viewers in large-scale multisensory worlds.

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