Thursday, February 3, 2011

Gratton on Nancy's "The Truth of Democracy"

Peter Gratton's review of Jean-Luc Nancy's The Truth of Democracy is up on the CSCP website, in advance of its publication in Symposium (here).

Much in the way that I work with Rancière, Gratton takes Nancy as a starting point for thought, as a kind of provocation: in this case, about democracy, which has been used and abused by anti-democrats, and yet still is "unrivalled as a name for political aspirations the world over." He highlights the way that Nancy critiques the notion that democracy could name the activity of sovereign and autotelic, showing how politics-- democratic politics-- is a politics in common, that is organized as a distribution (partage) that is not organized through calculation or administration (Peter notes a similarity between Nancy and Rancière on the term partager and 'equality').

I am drawn to this review, in addition, because Gratton identifies several of those features that had frustrated me about Nancy's work when I was writing about it years ago (for my MA, to be precise). One of the most frustrating is his recourse to Heidegger's highly tenuous 'history of metaphysics'. Here's Peter again:
In this way, Nancy, like Giorgio Agamben and Heidegger before them both, accede to a view of history that mirrors the rise and fall of Western metaphysics: Heidegger’s analysis of das Man is mistaken for a sociology, and the societal ennui of Western Europe, no doubt powerful, is said to be mirrored across the world. [...]

It is puzzling that Nancy takes for granted that the impasses of democracy in Europe and the U.S. are a mark of the political the world over, which itself would be a direct result of impasses in Western metaphysics. But if the age of such world pictures is over, as Nancy himself argues here, what of this picture Nancy himself projects? The truth of democracy, if there is such a thing, should first take on this archaic European supposition, which is itself a haunting superstition, indeed a sovereign imposition, denegating the truth of democracy as such.
I agree wholeheartedly with Peter's conclusion. A few comments of my own: reading this review it struck me that in opposition to Nancy, Rancière would reject this identification of the destiny of metaphysics and democracy, especially because Rancière poses egalitarian logic as a direct challenge to 'political philosophy' of, for instance, Plato and Aristotle. Nor does politics have to take place in a European framework. Which is why, perhaps, people have been drawing connections between the recent uprisings in North Africa and elsewhere and the work of Rancière (myself, Peter, and Scu at Critical Animal) or Fanon (here) and not Jean-Luc Nancy.

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