Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Ranciere, the History of Philosophy, and Contemporary Continental Philosophy,

Something I've been working on. Comments welcome before it goes to press in two weeks.

I consider equality, in its political and aesthetic forms, as a significant problem within the history of philosophy from Descartes to Rancière. The purpose of Egalitarian Moments is to outline an egalitarian frame of reference for rethinking modern philosophy after Descartes. The analyses of a number of egalitarian moments in philosophy are meant to engage Rancière’s terse and sometimes polemical historical shorthand. For example, he insists that political subjectivation is modeled on Descartes’s ‘ego sum, ego existo,’ and in Chapter 1, I aim to make historical and conceptual sense of this claim. But what follows is not an exegesis of Rancière’s—or anybody else’s—work. Instead, I place Rancière’s work in a historical context of considering equality as a political, philosophical, and aesthetic problem, while reading the history of modern philosophy from an egalitarian standpoint. Using Rancière’s concepts and arguments to reconsider the history of philosophy while using this counter-history of egalitarian moments to situate Rancière’s work amounts, perhaps, to a hermeneutic circle or, as he would say, a historical fiction. But it is no more of a historical fiction than the way that the predominant frameworks of continental philosophy—such as post-Heideggerian phenomenology and deconstruction, psychoanalysis, and post-Marxism—formulate historical or genealogical accounts of thinking their present problematics. What counts is whether or not Rancière’s work and this history of egalitarian moments offer new and compelling ways to think our present engagements with politics and art. 

The Egalitarian Moments is motivated by the fact that evaluating Rancière’s work using the assumptions and methods of these established frameworks in some way occludes important aspects of his thought. If one supposes that politics—or the political (which is something other than politics)—must be grounded in political ontology or the deconstruction of the metaphysics of presence, Rancière’s work might seem disappointing or even incoherent. Likewise if one expects his politics to decipher in the surfaces of political discontent the true demands of radical struggle. However, I do not attempt to adjudicate the differences between Rancière’s egalitarian method and these established theoretical frameworks and problematics. Instead, by tracing a provisional—and let me stress that it is provisional and non-exhaustive—account of a history of egalitarian moments in philosophy, I hope to show, first, how Rancière, in ways unforeseen by other approaches in contemporary continental philosophy, asks compelling questions and makes compelling claims about equality. More importantly, though, I hope to draw attention to previously overlooked concepts and claims that could still be taken up by new forms of dissensus.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Final Countdown

I know that very little has appeared on the blog during 2014. That's largely due--at least in my case--to the fact that I've been writing Egalitarian Moments: From Descartes to Rancière (here). At this point, the book is almost done. I'm currently writing up the conclusion, which summarizes the contents and then proceeds to compare my reading of Rancière to the politics of aesthetics elaborated in his book Aisthesis. These concluding remarks will in part respond to Peter Gratton's review of the book for Society and Space. He notes a vitalist undercurrent in this work. More specifically, Peter shows that the politics of the aesthetic regime of art, as it is framed in Aisthesis, aims to uncover the singular moments of life unburdened by reified representative structures:
In these pages, Rancière privileges the clown, the prisoner awaiting execution, the de-gendered dancer, and so on, all in the name of an inactivity that is but another name for the pure vital force of living, while calling for an indifference to differences that for the author would only be hierarchical and power driven. Indeed they are and have been, but isolating non-hierarchical moments in some sort of eidos of pure inactivity in these descriptions becomes a phenomenological epoché that has to bracket so much away from given contexts, and thus only reinforces what a pretense the “ignorance” and invisibility of the writer were in the first place.
Unlike Peter, however, I don't think this is the culmination of Rancière's work (I also have some qualms with Peter's characterization of Ranicière's account of mimetic norms in the representative regime of the arts, but that discussion has to wait for Chapter 3 of my book). While the book is doubtlessly important, I don't think its vitalist resonances are foregrounded by his other major works on aesthetics (Aesthetics and Its Discontents, The Emancipated Spectator, etc.), which focus on how new forms of social practices become visible and intelligible. I argue that there isn't one politics of aesthetics, but that it takes multiple forms. Thus Rancière's Aisthesis elaborates one possible account of the politics of aesthetics. In my book, I defend a different theoretical approach, emphasizing Rancière's account as a micropolitics of aesthetics that works in the interstices of egalitarian politics and policing. It's also an account of art that is non-teleological (à la Benjamin) and non-monumental (as in Badiou and Schelling).