Monday, October 5, 2009

Jacques Rancière Day 2

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Jacques Rancière taught a class entitled: POLITICS OF AESTHETICS wherein we discuss the relationship between what is allowed to be seen and the dominant political regime.

NOTE: As with all my notes from the EGS, there will likely be mistakes because I did not record the lectures, I made notes as they spoke, so I am perhaps interpreting what they are saying as I am writing.

The possibility of choosing to be alone is impossible in the banlieus; these would have to be spaces where it would be possible to generate useless art and disinterested pleasure
  • Who is able to have this or that sensory experience?
  • How are matters of capacity and incapacity integrated into structures?
There is a rupture in sensory experience that can be discerned in the "women of the banlieus"

Free beauty is where we can appreciate the form directly and don't need to make any reference to signification or function or the perfection of the work itself; sublimity is not an experience of pleasure - it is the impossibility to apprehend the form.

Free beauty is an experience of the form; sublime is the impossibility of the form's apprehension, a passage through the aesthetic experience. The experience of the sublime is an experience of dispossession, a limit experience, the unrepresentable.

Schiller's Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Man
These are meditations on the conditions of experiences. How does this new aesthetic experience show us what are the possibilities of the future of humanity?

Fifteenth Letter §8
Reason, however, declares: The beautiful is to be neither mere life, nor mere form, but living form, i.e., Beauty; for it imposes upon man the double law of absolute formality and absolute reality. Consequently Reason also makes the pronouncement: With beauty man shall only play, and it is with beauty only that he shall play.

Fifteenth Letter §9
For, to mince matters no longer, man only plays when he is in the fullest sense of the word a human being, and he is only fully a human being when he plays. [...] But it is, after all, only in philosophy that the proposition is unexpected; it was long ago alive and operative in the art and in the feeling of the Greeks, the most distinguished exponents of both; only they transferred to Olympus what was meant to be realized on earth. Guided by the truth of that same proposition, they banished from the brow of the blessed gods of all the earnestness and effort which furrow the cheeks of mortals, no less than the empty pleasures which preserve the smoothness of a vacuous face; freed those ever-contented beings from the bonds inseparable from every purpose, every duty, every care, and made idleness and indifferency the enviable portion of divinity - merely a more human name for the freest, most sublime state of being. [...] It is not Grace, nor is it yet Dignity, which speaks to us from the superb countenance of a Juno Ludovisi; it is neither the one nor the other because it is both at once. While the woman-god demands our veneration, the god-like woman kindles our love; but even as we abandon ourselves in ecstacy to her heavenly grace, her celestial self-sufficiency makes us recoil in terror. The whole figure reposes and dwells in itself, a creation completely self-contained, and, as if existing beyond space, neither yielding nor resisting; here is no force to contend with force, no frailty where temporality might break in. Irresistibly moved and drawn by those former qualities, kept at a distance by these latter, we find ourselves drawn at one and the same time in a state of utter repose and supreme agitation, and there results that wondrous stirring of the heart for which mind has no concept nor speech any name.
Juno Ludovisi (leaving aside the imagery and language of the time) we must remember this is not a pronouncement on the work of art but a pronouncement on divinity and its shift to humanity's self-containment, humanity in a certain sense of wholeness.

Self-containment is not the purpose of art or divinity but the perfection of humanity to be regained.
  • The qualities of divinity and perfect humanity is freedom from any purpose; that the perfection of God is free from wanting or doing or being interested in anything.
  • This is a break from the traditional view of the efficiency of art - where I show this and you see what should be or should not be done. There is, of course, this old quarrel about mimesis from Plato and theatre; where there is this addiction to imagery. Aristotle said it's about action, not characters. Thus, dance became an art in the 18th century when it could prove that it wasn't just movement but advanced a plot.
  • From this Aristotellian discussion we arrive at the idea that art will inform us about living a moral life.
  • Rousseau asked, "how can we celebrate the entertainment of vice that is the nature of instructing morality through entertainment?"
  • Brecht doesn't talk about morality, but about ignorance; Barthes also, we see what the character does not see. Still, we have this representational model - the efficiency of art. An implicit inverse law: people will, after watching this, do the opposite of what they've seen.
What Schiller presents is against Rousseau, we must free from art any thought, or affect, or attitude, unlike Rousseau's call to get rid of representation so as to live together.

Rousseau: "Down with appearance!" A move from appearance to reality and Schiller says the opposite - we have to purify appearance from any pretension to moral instruction or action.

Letter 22 §5
In a truly successful work of art the contents should effect nothing, the form everything; for only through the form is the whole man affected, through the subject-matter, by contrast, only one or other of his functions. Subject-matter, then, however sublime and all-embracing it may be, always has a limiting effect upon the spirit, and it is only from form that true aesthetic freedom can be looked for. [...] The psyche of the listener or spectator must remain completely free and inviolate.... No less self-contradictory is the notion of a fine art which teaches (didactic) or improves (moral); for nothing is more at variance with the concept of beauty than the notion of giving the psyche any definite bias.
Here is the definition of the aesthetic effect and also politics. To the extent that the subject matter....
  • This is about form as an experience, the point is not to give an indication of its contents.
  • It is about the autonomy of the aesthetic experience not being moved by the content; without any mark of the artist's intention.
  • The effect is separation.
  • The work is supposed to be the means to an end in the Classical model, but here we see a call to banish representation, a radical call at the time of the French Revolution.
  • The affirmation of radical rupture from all affect so that the viewer is not denied of their ability, equally, to feel and express this capacity and thus form a community.
A new political potential is possible only if we dismiss any defined affect, it is not just refining the experience but illuminating the new capacity of everyone to feel, discarding the old model so to have a new humanity.

Letter 15 §9: the distance from any instrumentalization of the aesthetic experience; to sum, the word is play. A playing community as opposed to the Roman community, that community of laws as opposed to the free people united by the way they feel together, "the art of living."
  • a new way of art and a new politics of living
Guy De Bord's Society of the Spectacle is one where there is all play; Schiller takes form Kant's Critique and says there can be the free play of the faculties.
  • Understanding imposes unity on the mulitiplicity of the senses and imagination presents this multiplicity of senses to understanding.
  • As in aesthetic judgement there is ....
  • Free play of faculty means there is the riddance of the hierarchy of the senses.
  • It doesn't deal with the reality of the object, there is the dismissal between activity and passivity.
  • It's on this idea of free play is not only the basis of judgement but the essence of human kind.
Play is the faculty that is the basis of a new humanity which dismisses the social hierarchy as well as the distribution of the sensible. It's in opposition to the structuring of oppression. At the time of the Revolution there was still this distinction between active and passive citizens, the latter were denigrated by the former; a legacy of the traditional distribution of the sensible.

Those who can play are those who are not committed to the necessity of maintaining life. Play is an activity whose end is itself, thus those that could not play were those who must engage in ends-to-means. In opposition to play is earnestness, that is toward an end.
  • Full humanity is possible when there is no hierarchy of occupation.
  • Play comes to those who know no distinction between activity and passivity; thus a community that is not based on any kind of preoccupation.
  • The Revolution saw a shift in power but Schiller saw that there was no shift in the sensory experience of the individual.
  • The idea of a new way of communicating with this new sensory experience that would be the ground of a new community so as to overcome the problems that brought about "The Terror" of the Revolution.
A community united not by restraint, but shared sensory experiencing, the Aesthetic State related in sensory experience. This is a starting point of an idea that accompanies what we call Modernity, a revolution of all human relations. We should have a multiplicity of communities is the idea.

We see these tendencies in Soviet art, but, as Stalin grows more and more into "The Man of Steel", we also see that normative pressure is applied such that the imagery becomes more and more about representing the worker in the worker's paradise and of course more and more like the former modes of repression.

There is the idea of the Aesthetic State, a gathering of individuals enjoying a new form of common life and also it can be interpreted in a pedagogical manner - that people should have an aesthetic education so as to reduce the disparities in the distribution of the sensible. Holderlin, Schelling, and Hegel's letter describes both a new utopian community and is the first event in German Idealism. We have this idea that the common man will incorporate philosophy into everyday life.

There is the idea that we can have a community that shares its new form of experience, that dismisses the occupational distinctions, and is ultimately disinterested.

There is a tension between the new community and the image of people who are truly human when they are acting only for the sake of acting itself.

The Communist community is a prime example of this problem: we must have productivity so as to maintain the State, but the workers are to understand that the highest virtue is doing nothing - a leisurely pleasure and gathering in this leisure that marks the new sensory experience.

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