[The following are ten re-arranged excerpts from Jacques Ranciere's essay, "The Paradoxes of Political Art" from his book Dissensus (ed. and trans. Steve Corcoran, Continuum, 2010).]
1. ‘Aesthetic’ designates the suspension of every determinate relation correllating the production of art forms and a specific social function.
2. This means that the aesthetic rupture arranges a paradoxical form of efficacy, one that relates to a disconnection between the production of artistic savoir-faire and social destination, between sensory forms, the significations that can be read on them and their possible effects. Let us call it the efficacy of dissensus, which is not a designation of a conflict as such, but is a specific type thereof, a conflict between sense and sense. Dissensus is a conflict between a sensory presentation and a way of making sense of it, or between several sensory regimes and/or ‘bodies’. This is the way in which dissensus can be said to reside at the heart of politics, since at bottom the latter itself consists in an acitivity that redraws the frame within which common objects are determined.
3. Politics is commonly viewed as the practice of power or the embodiment of collective wills and interests and the enactment of collective ideas. Now, such enactments or embodiments imply that you are taken into account as subjects sharing in a common world, making statements and not simply noise, discussing things lcoated in a common world and not in your own fantasy. What really deserves the name of politics is the cluster of perceptions and practices that shape this common world. Politics is first of all a way of framing, among sensory data, a specific sphere of experience. It is a partition of the sensible, of the visible and the sayable, which allows (or does not allow) some specific data to appear; which allows or does not allow some specific subjects to designate them and speak about them. It is a specific intertwining of ways of being, ways of doing and ways of speaking.
4. Politics breaks with the sensory self-evidence of the ‘natural’ order that destines specific individuals and groups to occupy positions of rule or of being ruled, assigning them to prviate or public lives, pinning them down to a certain time and space, to specific ‘bodies’, that is to specific ways of being, seeing and saying. This ‘natural’ logic, a distribution of the invisible and visible, of speech and noise, pins bodies to ‘their’ places and allocates the private and the public to distinct ‘parts’ – this is the order of the police. Police can therefore be defined by way of contrast as the activity that breaks with the order of the police by inventing new subjects. Politics invents new forms of collective enunciation; it re-frames the given by inventing new ways of making sense of the sensible, new configurations between the visible and the invisible, and between the audible and the inaudible, new distributions of space and time – in short, new bodily capacities. As Plato tells – a contrario – politics begins when those who were destined to remain in the domestic and invisible territory of work and reproduction, and prevented from doing ‘anything else’, take the time that they ‘have not’ in order to affirm that they belong to a common world. It begins when they make the invisible visible, and make what was deemed to be the mere noise of suffering bodies heard as a discourse concerning the ‘common’ of the community. Politics creates a new form, as it were, of dissensual ‘commonsense’.
ART AND POLITICS
5. Art and politics each define a form of dissensus, a dissensual re-configuration of the common experience of the sensible. If there is such a thing as an ‘aesthetics of politics’, it lies in a re-configuration of the distribution of the common through political processes of subjectivation. Correspondingly, if there is a politics of aesthetics, it lies in the practices and modes of visibility of art that re-configure the fabric of sensory experience.
6. Similar to political action, [art] effectuates a change in the distribution of the sensible. The difference might be said to lie in the fact that the re-configuration of the sensible carried out by politics is an effect of forms of subjectivation. In other words, such re-configurations are brought about by collectives of enunciation and demonstration (manifestation). The ‘aesthetics of politics’ consists above all in the framing of a we, a subject, a collective demonstration whose emergence is the element that disrupts the distribution of social parts, an element that I call the part of those who have no part – not the wretched, but the anonymous. The ‘politics of aesthetics’, as for it, frames new forms of individuality and new haeccities. It does not give a collective voice to the anonymous. Instead, it re-frames the world of common experience as the world of a shared impersonal experience in which new modes of constructing common objects and new possibilities of subjective enunciation may be developed that are characteristic of the ‘aesthetics of politics’. This politics of aesthetics, however, operates under the conditions prescribed by an original disjunction. It produces effects, but it does so on the basis of an original effect that implies the suspension of any direct cause-effect relationship.
THERE IS NO REAL WORLD
7. Within any given framework, artists are those whose strategies aim to change the frames, speeds and scales according to which we perceive the visible, and combine it with a specific invisible element and a specific meaning. Such strategies are intended to make the invisible visible or to question the self-evidence of the visible; to rupture given relations between things and meaning and, inversely, to invent novel relationships between things and meanings which were previously unrelated. This might be called the labour of fiction, which, in my view, is a word that we need to re-conceive. ‘Fiction’, as re-framed by the aesthetic regime of art, means far more than the constructing of an imaginary world, and even far more than its Aristotelian sense of ‘arrangement of actions’. It is not a term that designates the imaginary as opposed to the real; it involves the re-framing of the ‘real’, or the framing of a dissensus. Fiction is a way of changing existing modes of sensory presentations and forms of enunciation; of varying frames, scales and ryhthms; and of building new relationships between reality and appearance, the individual and the collective.
8. It thus appears that art does not become critical or political by ‘moving beyond itself’, or ‘departing from itself’, and intervening in the ‘real world’. There is no ‘real world’ that functions as the outside of art. Instead, there is a multiplicity of folds in the sensory fabric of the common, folds in which outside and inside take on a multiplicity of shifting forms, in which the topography of what is ‘in’ and what is ‘out’ are continually criss-crossed and displaced by the aesthetics of politics and the politics of aesthetics. There is no ‘real world’. Instead, there are definite configurations of what is given as our real, as the object of our perceptions and the field of our interventions. The real always is a matter of construction, a matter of ‘fiction’, in the sense that I tried to define it above. What characterises the mainstream fiction of the police order is that it passes itself off as the real, that it feigns to draw a clear-cut line between what belongs to the self-evidence of the real and what belongs to the field of appearances, representations, opinions and utopias. Consensus means precisely that the sensory is given as univocal. Political and artistic fictions introduce dissensus by hollowing out that ‘real’ and mulitplying it in a polemical way. The practice of fiction undoes, and then re-articulates, connections between signs and images, images and times, and signs tand spaces, framing a given sense of reality, a given ‘commonsense’. It is a practice that invents new trajectories between what can be seen, what can be said and what can be done.
THE INCALCULABLE TENSION
9. However, no direct cause-effect relationship is determinable between the intention realised in an art performance and a capacity for political subjectivation. …. The effect [of critical art] thereby produced is not a kind of calculable transmission between artistic shock, intellectual awareness and political mobilisation. There is no reason why the production of a shock produced by two heterogenous forms of the sensible ought to yield an understanding of the state of the world, and none why understanding the latter ought to produce a decision to change it. There is no straight path from the viewing of a spectacle to an understanding of the state of the world, and none from intellectual awareness to political action. Instead, this kind of shift implies a move from one given world to another in which capacities and incapacities, forms of tolerance and intolerance, are differently defined. What comes to pass is a process of dissociation: a rupture in the relationship between sense and sense, between what is seen and what is thought, and between what is thought and what is felt. What comes to pass is a rupture in the specific configuration that allows us to stay in ‘our’ assigned places in a given state of things.These sorts of ruptures can happen anywhere and at any time, but they can never be calculated.
10. …This way of addressing the ‘truly political’, however, does not manage to sidestep the incalculable tension between political dissensuality and aesthetic indifference. It cannot sidestep the fact that a film remains a film and a spectator remains a spectator. Film, video art, photography and installation art rework the frame of our perceptions and the dynamism of our affects. As such, they may open up new passages for political subjectivation, but they cannot avoid the aesthetic cut that separates consequences from intentions and prevents their from being any direct passage to an ‘other side’ of words and images.