Savitri Era of those who adore, Om Sri Aurobindo and The Mother.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Neoliberal governance, with its two institutions of State and Market, is fundamentally and at the core anti-democratic

Rancière (1) from The Pinocchio Theory by Steven Shaviro
The protestors in Seattle in 1999 were entirely Rancièrean when they chanted, “This is what democracy looks like.” And the city’s response to the protests — effectively suspending civil liberties and imposing martial law for several days — demonstrated how “policing” is the inverse of politics, how the smooth functioning of both government and capitalist commerce depends upon the suppression of democracy, or of politics proper.
I can see two major consequences that follow from this. One is to point out the way that neoliberal governance, with its two institutions of State and Market, is fundamentally and at the core anti-democratic. There is a continuity between allowing decisions to be made by the “market” or by supposedly nonpartisan “experts” (like the Fed) in order to shield these decisions from the supposedly noxious effects of political controversy, and bringing out the cops in force to protect the WTO meeting from popular discontent. (I can’t remember the author or title right now, but I remember reading some reviews of a recent book that argues that, since voters always act “irrationally,” it is better to leave as many social decisions as possible to market mechanisms instead of democratic ones. While we may question how “democratic” the opportunity to choose between Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani actually is, it is clear that leaving issues to the “decisions” of the “market” is far more autocratic. The “market” is supposedly the sum of individuals’ “preferences”; but in reality, it is both the sphere of maximized inequality — since unequal income distribution is very far from one-person-one-vote — and also, we cannot avoid confronting the “market” as a vast impersonal force against which we have no power whatsoever. Neoliberal ideology regards the “market” as an ineluctable force of nature, like gravity or the speed of light).
The second consequence of Rancière’s argument is to shed a new light on the political dimensions of art. It is no longer a question of looking at a work of art’s “ideology,” nor of asking what the artwork’s actual political “efficacy” might be. Rancière allows us to get away from both of these tired ways of looking at the politics of art. It is rather that art and political action run parallel, because both of them, against the backdrop of a socially given distribution of the sensible, both enact and contest this distribution, work to reconfigure it, and to bring out potentials within it that have not previously been realized. Art is thus already a political intervention — not in what it says, but in its very being, in its formal and aesthetic qualities.
Rancière probably wouldn’t like this assimilation, but I think that his theory of art fits well into the Kantian-Deleuzian genealogy of aesthetics that I have been trying to pursue. Kant’s aesthetics has to do with the singularizing limits and extremities of the mental faculties, with the points at which they break down or enter into discord with one another, or (as Deleuze reads Kant) find a harmony only through this discord. In other words, commonality and universality are precisely problems for “aesthetic judgment”; Kant takes commonality and universality for granted in the First and Second Critiques, but problematizes them in the Third. The problem of aesthetic judgment is the problem of communicating things (sensations) that are absolutely singular, and heterogeneous in relation to one another. In a way, therefore, the problem of aesthetic judgment is the same as the problem of the commodity in Marx (how a universal equivalent can be found for things that in themselves are heterogeneous), and also as the problem of how to find a “common” or commonality or communism that is not just a reductive quantification via translation in terms of the universal equivalent (this is the side of the Marxist problematic that is highlighted in Hardt and Negri’s discussion of “the common”; following it out would seem to involve both thinking Marx and Kant together as Karatani does, and thinking about alternative currencies and trading systems, which Karatani approaces vis his interest in LETS networks, and which Keith Hart has done a lot to illuminate, referring to Mauss’ The Gift as well as to the Marxist tradition).
Now, Deleuze radicalizes Kant in this respect by the way that he rewrites, and radicalizes, Kant’s pushing of the mental faculties to their limits. Drawing on Blanchot and Klossowski, among others (and implicitly drawing, as well on Foucault’s Kantian reading of Bataille in “A Preface to Transgression,” despite Deleuze’s own evident contempt for Bataille), Deleuze in Difference and Repetition and elsewhere outlines a scenario in which each of the faculties pushes to the point where it breaks down: which means that, going to the maximum extent of “what it can do,” it both uncovers the (transcendental) force or energy that impels it but that it cannot apprehend directly, and ruptures itself, thereby compelling thought to jump discontinuously to another faculty, which (precisely through this discontinuity or discord) picks up the process, pushing itself to its own limit, and so on in turn…
What I am trying to suggest is, that, in his examinations of the distribution of the sensible, Rancière in effect historicizes the process that Deleuze describes in more absolute terms — just as Foucault, in his middle period (The Order of Things) historicizes the a priori conditions of thought that Kant describes in absolute terms. (Actually, this is an oversimplification; because Foucault in effect historizes Kant’s Categories, his “Transcendental Deduction of Concepts”; whereas Deleuze radicalizes, and Rancière then historicizes what corresponds more to Kant’s “Transcendental Aesthetic.” This is something that comes up in the Kant/Whitehead/Deleuze book, but that I eventually need to work out more careflly here).
There’s a lot more to be said on Rancière’s aesthetics — and particularly on the way that he rewrites the history of art since the Renaissance, and especially of the transition to modernism, in terms of changing distributions of the sensible. But I will defer that for now, as well as the even bigger question of the consequences of Rancière’s understanding of “democracy.” Hopefully I will now be able to start posting more frequently than I have in the last few months. To be continued

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