Loads of Learned Lumber

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Alain Badiou, _Metapolitics_, further notes

I PICKED THIS up partly on general principles, making the effort to at least sample various leading contemporary thinkers and so on, and partly because on checking the table of contents I saw that Badiou devotes two chapters to Jacques Rancière, whom I have been reading a fair amount of lately.

The three books by Rancière I have read, however, are devoted to matters aesthetic and literary, and Badiou is writing of Rancière's political thinking, so I was less well-prepared for Badiou-on-Rancière than I had hoped.

Still, and interestingly, Badiou's description of Rancière's politico-philosophical writings accords nicely with the aesthetic writings as well.

Rancière, Badiou writes, is "well-versed at detecting abolished or diverted strata of statements which lie beneath established discourses" and at "making their signifying energy circulate anew." He does this not by locating a "primordial ground" or "founding site," though.

What he discovers is a discourse plotted and held in the aftermath of an event, a sort of social flash of lightning, a brief and local invention, both prior to and coextensive with domination and its burdens.  This invention circulates horizontally rather than vertically, for it constitutes the surfacing of a latent force of the dominated, and amounts to a demonstration that this force, which in most cases is diverted from its true course, is what drives the machinations of the dominators. (108-09)

Mutatis mutandis, this will work as a statement about how what Rancière calls the aesthetic regime of art announces itself towards the end of the 18th century (a "social flash of lightning") within the mimetic regime of art, nourished by energies the mimetic regime could not or would not acknowledge ("the surfacing of a latent force of the dominated"), redefines art's audience ("circulates horizontally rather than vertically"), and continues to make itself felt in our time, with commodification ever and always at its heels, trying to tame and market it ("the machinations of the dominators").

Badiou sees Rancière's politics and his own as strikingly similar, at least superficially, a similarity that makes it necessary that Badiou "set out the radical discord between us, which so many similarities conceal [...]". Rancière, Badiou, should make more explicit what he thinks about the State and about the figure of the militant, and should recognize that philosophy emerges from politics, not the other way around. Rancière could stand to be a bit more (Sylvain) Lazarus-ien, in short.

But Rancière has at least avoided falling into the pit of Thermidoreanism.  Which I will have to take up in a final note.

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