Academic journal article Philosophy Today

There's No Regime beyond Representation: Deconstructing Rancière's Antinomies

Academic journal article Philosophy Today

There's No Regime beyond Representation: Deconstructing Rancière's Antinomies

Article excerpt


Jacques Ranciere is a thinker of emancipation. His philosophical view is led by his effort to rethink various politics of semantic sharing. By constructing the problems to be solved, philosophy opens new spaces for thinking and transforms the common register of the visible and the audible. According to Ranciere, philosophy should be the moving power, which could resolve the political problem of emancipation.

The activity of emancipation goes beyond the logic of what is declared as reasonable common sense: Ranciere conceives of emancipation as a revolutionary and transformative activity capable of escaping the police while trying to eliminate it. Guided by the effort to face the codes of legitimate sharing, emancipation acts from inside a well-established regime and constantly crashes its integrity. As such, it reconfigures the spaces and redistributes the spheres of experience: sensible objects are redefined as objects of sharing, subjects are understood as being able to name these objects and argue for the benefit of their common visibility and audibility.

According to Ranciere, the process of emancipation is always initiated in the name of the category whose equality is denied: in the name of labourers, women, homosexuals, as well as racial, ethnic, and religious minorities. In order to understand the process of emancipation, Ranciere proposes analyzing the modes of separation. Inspired by Foucault's archaeology, he analyses the different settings of discursive formations that eliminate unwanted elements and keep them imperceptible. In this way, Ranciere redirects attention to the regimes of sensibility: he's interested in the practices of distribution of privileged artefacts, which are made visible and audible (objects of legitimate sharing and distribution), and of excluded artefacts, which are made imperceptible (objects rejected as senseless "noises,""doodles," "barbaric" expressions).

For this reason, Ranciere devoted a considerable part of his reflexions to the problem of legitimate sharing of the visible and the audible. By introducing the concept of sharing of the sensible,1 defined as a regime of distribution2 of the visible and the invisible within the time and space of a given culture, he wanted to call attention to the fact that we are able to perceive certain objects as artistic thanks to the principle which legitimates a privileged way of understanding them. The legitimate way for a sharing of the sensible defines the common competencies or incompetencies of being visible in a public space, to speak in public (Ranciere 2000: 13). Different modes of this distribution of visibility and invisibility in public space lead to different regimes of semantic identification of images, which are supposed to be shared and understood by means of a collective unconscious.3

In the next pages, I will focus mainly on the last regime described by Ranciere, which he named the aesthetic regime. According to Ranciere, the contemporary aesthetic or democratic regime of sharing is characterized by the absence of common meanings. In this regime of semantic sharing, images were freed from their task to spread representations. The politics of this aesthetic regime is led by neither ethical nor representative ambitions.

Ranciere himself believes that his concept of the democratic politics of the aesthetic regime is close to Derrida's deconstruction of the metaphysical aporia of democracy.4 But, as he points out, Derrida never came up with the idea of a regime totally emancipated from representation, the origin, the "self"5 Indeed, Derrida even declares the opposite: the ambition of deconstruction is not to establish a politics without representation, as Ranciere proposes. It would be a vain attempt-in the perspective of deconstruction, we can never totally emancipate ourselves from metaphysics and from its representations.

As I do agree with this view of Derrida, I find that Ranciere's proposal to consider the aesthetic regime without the concept of representation leads him into a precarious situation: on the one hand, he states that the aesthetic regime takes images for art; on the other hand, he doesn't pay attention to the fact that it shouldn't be possible to conceive any regime of sharing without the concept of representation. …

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