Monday, November 5, 2007

Dis-agreement class discussion

Today was the class on Rancière’s Dis-agreement. We didn’t talk very much about the last two chapters of the book, which were for me some of the most interesting. For instance, I found Rancière’s discussion of the outlawing of Holocaust denial as a symptom of the contemporary situation telling about his own position. But we didn’t get to talk about it

[A note on this word, symptom: Rancière doesn’t use it, I think, but I can’t stop doing so. Even in inappropriate contexts. Perhaps I find the inexactitude of it attractive? I need to discipline myself to use it in a more precise medical or psychoanalytic sense.]

Indeed, the most interesting comments were all, for me, at the end of class. They also largely came through attempts to compare Rancière and Laclau—a necessary comparison, I think, and one that suggests what the real limits to this theoretical imagination might be. For one thing, the question of pluralism came up. This raises three cascading points/questions.

First, In light of Rancière’s articulation of politics as rising everywhere to meet police, Laclau seems to posit a convergent logic. I mean by this (I think it’s what other people meant as well), that for Laclau, politics is about building a unity, whereas unity does not seem to be necessary for Rancière. At least, it isn’t if politics is an interruption, or refiguring, of the police order of the perceptible. Even if we speak in terms of the creation of subjects, Rancière allows for a kind of multiplicity and disconnectedness between specific struggles that it is the whole point of Laclau’s project to transcend. Now—I wonder if things have changed for Rancière since 1995? The main thing here is Laclau's need to invoke one form of ego-ideal or another. Rancière doesn't feel this need.

[I’ll just say again, terminologically: I use ‘articulation’ and ‘problematic’ too often. I believe they are Althusserian technical terms which have entered common academic parlance—I should be more responsible. It makes my skin crawl when people say ‘deconstruct’ when all they mean is ‘argue against,’ or worse, ‘argue for the constructed nature of...’]

Second, on the other hand, Rancière does talk a great deal about the demos, and those of the part of no part, who must have everything or nothing. This is democratic politics. I don’t ever remember him adjudicating the relationship between politics and democracy—the two are by no means the same, though. I assume that we are to understand radical democratic politics as making totalizing claims, which would make it look very similar to Laclau’s radical democracy, or populism.

Third and finally, I wonder about the connection of this, the necessity, of the logic of equality. It is certainly the operative motor of politics for Rancière, so I suppose it cannot be excised from the system. But, if we re-orient Rancière’s chain of reasoning, what is it about subjectivization that requires equality? It seems that nothing requires this. It is just that the limit case of political subjectivization is that of the demos, which reaches this limit by radicalizing the logic of equality.

I suppose the question really is: can the Police order only be challenged qua order through the logic of equality? Rancière’s answer must be yes—to me this doesn’t make intuitive sense. I would toss in here also the problem of historicity. Again, I think the comparison between Rancière and Laclau is instructive. In some ways, Rancière is obviously the more transcendental and a-historicist of the two. The equality of speaking beings is not open, philosophically, to question. It is in the nature of speaking beings to be equal. The treatment Rancière gives to forms of government, especially republicanism, also seems very transhistorical. Republicanism goes straight from Plato and Aristotle to the French Third Republic. Yet, by the same token, history is present in the texture of Rancière’s writing—the slow evolution (this term is absolutely not teleological, and strictly speaking, means the same thing as mutation) of concepts and structures across history is very much on his mind. Laclau, for all his historical sketching of the progress of an idea, gives really the impression of creating a model which might safely be applied transcontextually.

I wish I had a better language to describe why the two writers seem so distinct to me, possibly it’s a matter of pure style. Laclau’s prose is expository: making provisional definitions, defining terms, returning to the definition; raising possible objections, dealing with them; even creating typologies of examples. Rancière demands that you follow the twisting line of his thought. There are certainly returns, spiraling redefinitions, but there is no regularity.

No comments: