Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

"Move around! There Is Something to See Here": The Biopolitics of the Perceptual Pedagogy of the Arts

Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

"Move around! There Is Something to See Here": The Biopolitics of the Perceptual Pedagogy of the Arts

Article excerpt

The work of Jacques Rancière has become more and more prominent in art and aesthetic education. Authors in the field have utilized Rancière to critique the notion of "expertise" (Smith & Weisser, 2012); to problematize the role of the image in critical pedagogy (Lewis, 2012); to reconnect art, aesthetics, and politics (Tanke, 2010); and to challenge the normative rules of aesthetic education, teaching, and conference presentations (Barney & Kalin, 2014; De Boever, 2012; Lambert, 2012) One consistent thematic interest that unites almost all of these varied interventions is an appropriation of Rancière's (2006) important concept of the "distribution of the sensible" (p 12) The politics of art, so Rancière argued, rests first and foremost in its ability to re-distribute taken-for-granted partitions between seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching, and thinking so as to allow for new permutations of speaking, making, and doing that would otherwise be silenced, marginalized, and excluded The importance of such an observation cannot be underestimated for art educators trying to understand the relation between teaching and doing art and broader political concerns Yet, what I find lacking in Rancière's analysis is a more engaged focus on the body and affect (see also Means, 2011) Such an oversight is relevant to art and aesthetic education precisely because of the fundamental role that bodies, gestures, and the new sensorium (Duncum, 2012) play in such curricula Although suspicious of what has come to be called "biopolitics," Rancière's own work on the partitioning of the sensible gestures toward a biopolitical rethinking of perceptual distributions

In this article, I "flesh out" Rancière's emphasis on the sensible by giving it a body To help in this project, I enlist the Italian critical theorist Roberto Esposito and his concept of immunization While differing in some respects, I locate immunization at the heart of both Esposito's theory of bios and Rancière's analysis of the police In this interpretation, Rancière's politics of aesthetics becomes a biopolitics of embodied perceptual distribution against an immunizing logic of the police that maintains a certain distribution of bodies, gestures, and sensations In conclusion, I turn to contemporary artist Pedro Reyes in order to demonstrate how the biopolitics of a perceptual pedagogy of the arts can promote new forms of life beyond economies of fear, terror, and destruction without necessarily waving political flags or dictating overt political action Instead, the real "political lesson" of art is that we can see otherwise than, develop new distributions of affectivity, and, thus, embody alternative perceptual orientations that suspend and render inoperative violence

Move Along: The Immunization of Perception

In his "Ten Theses on Politics" (2001), Rancière made an important distinction between his theory of the police and that of his former teacher, Louis Althusser Though Althusser argued that the police function through a hailing or interpellation of the subject, Rancière posited that the police are essentially concerned with maintaining the field of what is perceptual As such, the quintessential police injunction is not, "Hey, you there!" but rather, "Move along! There is nothing to see here" (Rancière, 2001, para 29) There are two important points to make about this observation First, for Rancière, the police maintain a space and time of circulation The movement of people and goods should not be interrupted by distractions or by the appearance of that which is out of place or dislocated from its proper location To move along is to remain within the immanent flow of data, services, and commodities that defines the "freedom" of the market Moving along is, therefore, the fundamental logic of global capitalism defined by its ability to move-unfettered and unobstructed-across boundaries and borders within a largely deterritorialized space

On the economic level, moving along is akin to commodity exchange; on the social level, it is akin to consensus In his Tenth Thesis, Rancière (2001) argued that consensus is "the reduction of the people to the sum of the parts of the social body, and the political community to the relationship of interests and aspirations of these different parts" (para 41) Consensus ensures an enduring correspondence between classes, roles, and qualifications The consensus enforced by the police injunction to "move along" concerns the maintenance of the proper-the proper distribution of things, people, occupations, and so forth The resulting arche (first principle) "grounds the power of parents over children, old over young, masters over slaves, and nobles over serfs" (para 12) The ordering of things through consensus does not mean that consensus is merely harmonious Rather it means that there is a policing of where, when, who, and how debates are to be scheduled, carried out, and staged "Moving along" is the kinetic momentum of consensus which aims to organize the polis under an arche that does not allow for deviations, distractions, or interruptions of its fundamental principles Schooling under the police paradigm would be nothing more than an institutional mechanism for ensuring that students "move along" (by getting their degrees in a timely manner) to their predetermined positions within this consensus (as productive citizens and workers)

Second, the concept of the police emphasizes the idea that "there is nothing to see here " If the first injunction concerns the movement of bodies, the second concerns the "partition of the sensible" (Rancière, 2001, para 26) For Rancière, this partitioning of what can be sensed is "a general law that defines the forms of parttaking by first defining the modes of perception in which they are inscribed" (para 27) The police principle sets parameters on what kinds of access we have to the world and, in turn, what variations of worldly presence are available In short, the police are not an institution so much as a distribution of what can be seen, heard, tasted, touched, or smelled as meaningful or relevant It is a perceptual orientation toward certain things and not toward others-which are, therefore, rendered invisible, inaudible, and so forth In this second sense, education as sensual distribution is not merely an institution but a rule of perceptual orientation, inscribing certain modes of perceptual distribution so as to ensure that "there is nothing to see here "

This means that the police principle is essentially a form of perceptual immunization against some kind of excess or surplus that endangers the flow of commodities, communal consensus, or educational outcomes In the book Immunitas (2011), Roberto Esposito expounded upon the logic of immunization in theology, philosophical anthropology, and biopolitics Here, I only take up his analysis of biopolitical immunization because it is most relevant in further explicating the police principle outlined by Rancière Although Rancière does not engage with biopolitical theory on any substantive level, I hope to demonstrate that (1) biopolitics is most properly understood as biopolicing over the perceiving body and (2) the police principle is, in turn, embodied through immunizing logic

As Foucault (1990) famously argued, biopolitics is called upon to protect the life of the species, make this life safe, and promote population health The mechanism through which these goals are achieved is, according to Esposito, immunization Here immunization is not merely a medical category of interest to specialized fields of immunology or biology but also a political and social category More aptly stated, immunization has become a kind of apparatus that, throughout the centuries, finds purchase in multiple, seemingly unrelated domains Beginning with the spread of major epidemics in the 16th century, immunization was conceptualized as a defense mechanism that guards the life of an organism against external threats and invasions by creating barriers These barriers protected the organism from contamination by invading germs Yet, at the very heart of immunization lies a strange paradox Even though disease was seen as the dialectical opposite of health, it also became increasingly understood as having a potentially positive or restorative power Through illness, one's internal self-defenses could be fortified, leading to a stronger overall constitution Parallels to the political work of Machiavelli are obvious; Machiavelli likewise argued that political power could productively use popular uprisings to legitimize and expand a repressive political regime The very poison that threatens the community can be used productively to strengthen the very body (personal or collective) that is threatened

Death, as Foucault (1990) pointed out, is not merely excluded from biopolitics but is rather put in the service of life This is the logic of immunization Through immunization, death enters life as a homeopathic cure for death By the middle of the 18th century, the domains of medical knowledge and of sociopolitical theory became inextricably interwoven through the discourse of "public health " The rise of public health made the life of the population indistinguishable from the life of the state As life has become the business of government regulation, so too have we seen a growing emphasis placed on the biopolitical language of norms and normativity What I call biopolicing is the investment in life through administration, regulation, and normalization It ensures that bodies move in proper ways, maintain their health according to optimal planning, and develop efficient and productive skills The excesses of the body are to be minimized through the continual circulation of energies guided by the principle of "move along " Moving along in this sense is about the flow of bodies at the right speed, in the right direction, guided by a collective norm that dictates the proper use/ distribution of energies, equipment, and intentional actions Moving along is a kind of perceptual orientation to the direction and velocity of life within an immunized polis It concerns the attentiveness of the eyes toward the details that order the world according to predetermined plans of action, meaning, and significance

Yet the paradox remains As Esposito (2011) summarized, "this objective involves the use of an instrument that is bound to it though the negative, as if the very doubling that life experiences of itself through the political imperative that 'makes it live' contained something that internally contradicted it" (p 139) This paradox becomes clear when the defenses of life develop through an increase in death to the point where death overtakes the very life that it was intended to safeguard For Esposito (2008), the dialectic of immunization explained the horrors of Nazi genocide: "It is only by killing as many people as possible that one could heal those who represented the true Germany" (p 115) Such cases have indicated that, all too easily, the protective mechanism of immunization can violently turn against the very body that it intended to save, resulting in a kind of autoimmune disorder of catastrophic proportions Mass genocidal war against one's own population in the name of that very population signals the "absolute normalization of life" and the coterminous "biologization of the nomos" (p 138) The result was the institutionalization of absolute death in the form of the concentration camp in the very heart of Nazi biopolitical vitalism And this condition did not end with the fall of the Nazi regime Esposito is keen to point toward recent phenomena like the preventative war on terror as yet another manifestation of autoimmunitary biopolitics In such war, war turns against its own population to the point where citizens become subjected to exceptional policies of surveillance, capture, and even torture Immunization thus doubles back on itself to the point where "excessive defense. …

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